5 Dancing Deities in Mythology

Even the gods love to get down now and then! To celebrate International Dance Day, designed to promote worldwide appreciation for the art of movement, here are the divine dance numbers, from mythological marimbas to deity disco, that tore up the mythical world.

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Scultpures of Euterpe, Erato, and Terpischore

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Terpsichore was one of the Nine Muses, goddesses of the arts in Greek mythology. These sisters were “nine daughters begotten by great Zeus” on Mnemosyne, a Titaness and the personification of memory, Hesiod writes in his Theogony.

Terpsichore’s domain was choral song and dance, which gave her her name in Greek. Diodorus Siculus writes that her name came about “because she delights (terpein) her disciples with the good things which come from education,” like grooving! But Terpsichore could shake it with the best of them. According to Apollonius Rhodius, the Sirens, deadly sea nymphs who attempted to lure sailors to their deaths with their beautiful voices, were her kids by Achelous, a river god whom Heracles once wrestled.

She also danced in honor of the Roman emperor Honorius, who ruled in the late fourth century A.D. In an epithalamium, or marriage song, Claudian honored the wedding of Honorius and his bride Maria, daughter of the general Stilicho. To celebrate the wedding, Claudian describes a mythical forest setting, in which “Terpsichore struck her ready lyre with festive hand and led the girlish bands into the caves.”

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Illustration of Ame-no-Uzume

Shunsai Toshimasa/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Ame-No-Uzume-No-Mikoto is a Japanese Shinto goddess who loved to kick up her heels. When the god of the underworld, Susano-o, rebelled against his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu, the solar sweetie went into hiding because she was really ticked off at her brother. The other deities made an effort to get her to come out and hang.

To cheer up the sun deity, Ame-No-Uzume-No-Mikoto stripped down and danced, half-nude, on an upside-down tub. Eight hundred kami, or spirits, laughed along as she boogied. It worked: Amaterasu got over her grumpy mood, and the sun shone again.

In addition to her dancing triumph, Ame-No-Uzume-No-Mikoto was also the ancestress of a family of shamanesses.

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Baal Marqod

Temple in Syria

Xvlun/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

Never heard of this guy? Baal Marqod, the Canaanite deity of dancing and chief god of Deir el-Kala in Syria, runs under the radar, but he loves to spin around. He’s an aspect of Baal, a popular Semitic god, but one that enjoys getting down. Baal Marqod’s nickname was “Lord of the Dance," in particular, cultic dancing.

Some think he might even have invented the art of dance, although other gods beg to disagree. Despite his party boy reputation (and hints that he didn’t mind coming up with a good hangover cure as a lord of healing), this god doesn’t mind flying solo now and then: his temple was on a lone mountain.

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Dancing apsaras

Jim Dyson/Contributor/Getty Images 

The apsaras of Cambodia are nymphs that appear in many Asian myths. In particular, the Khmer people of Cambodia derived their name from Kambu, a former hermit, and the apsara Mera (who was a dancer). Mera was a “celestial dancer” who married Kambu and founded the nation of the Khmer.

To celebrate Mera, ancient Khmer courts staged dances in her honor. Called apsara dances, they are still incredibly popular, even today. These beautiful, ornate works are shown worldwide at venues ranging from the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City to the Le Ballet Royal du Cambodge at the Salle Pleyel in Paris.

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Shiva Nataraja

Statue of Shiva Nataraja

Marc Chang Sing Pang/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Another dancing king was Shiva in his guise as Nataraja, "lord of the dance." In this boogie episode, Shiva is both creating and destroying the world, all at once, crushing a demon underneath his feet as he does so.

He symbolizes the duality of life and death; in one hand, he carries fire (a.k.a. destruction), while he holds a drum (a.k.a. an instrument of creation) in another. He represents the liberation of souls.

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Silver, Carly. "5 Dancing Deities in Mythology." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2021, thoughtco.com/five-dancing-deities-in-mythology-116551. Silver, Carly. (2021, September 1). 5 Dancing Deities in Mythology. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/five-dancing-deities-in-mythology-116551 Silver, Carly. "5 Dancing Deities in Mythology." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/five-dancing-deities-in-mythology-116551 (accessed June 2, 2023).