Creativity As A Product of Necessity: Through the Lens of Medicine and Ballet

Anisha Chirmule's picture

Does necessity mother creativity? Or is it an instinctual quality, an inner fire, that resides in every individual and appears when given the opportunity?

“It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.  These lines may have roots in quite different parts of human culture, in different times or different cultural environments or different religious traditions: hence if they actually meet, that is, if they are at least so much related to each other that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that new and interesting developments may follow.Werner Heisenberg, 1958

Creativity is the mental and social process that involves the generation of new ideas and concepts as a result of the conscious or unconscious mind.  The nature of American society has the tendency to suppress individual creativity by instilling a desire to find patterns and organize data into specifications determined by social institutions throughout a lifetime.  However, new advancements and breakthrough developments have emerged in the past and are continuing to emerge through the rigidity of social structure.  These advancements progress the society as a whole and allow for divergence and convergence as processes for further questioning and developing of new ideas.  As this is a course concerning evolution as well as literature and art, two essential advancements that arose from necessity and promote societal progress are medicine and ballet as a dance form. 

Medicine and ballet are integral parts of societies around the world as they shape social hierarchies, culture, and mental and physical health of individuals who are affected by them.  Those who are actively engaged in both medicine and ballet are educated, cultured individuals who typically have a high social standing.  Culture establishes these people as being more sophisticated than the general population due to the environment they are typically accustomed to as well as the lifestyle they choose to lead.  Those who have the ability to cure physical ailments of individuals have somewhat of an unspoken authority over others as they have the knowledge to control the health of individuals.  Ballet dancers have undergone disciplined training to develop and perfect the ability to emit a desired feeling while performing so that the audience can understand the character being portrayed.  The ability to understand these feelings as well as perform the movements that correspond to emanating the feelings requires knowledge and general understanding of balletic style from both the dancer and the audience.  All of these hierarchies are created as a result of the emergence of these advancements arising due to creativity, or divergence or convergence from their influences. 

The history of medicine can be traced back to human origin in Mesopotamia, where tradition establishes the beginnings of the human race.  Egyptian medicine had the largest and most variable medical practices for three thousand years of history.  In the Odyssey, Homer describes Egypt as a land where "the earth, the giver of grain, bears greatest store of drugs" and where "every man is a physician" (1).  Egyptian medicine originally had roots in the supernatural and illnesses and plague were understood to be a result of the influence of the Gods, but medical methods eventually developed groundings in anatomy, physiology and clinical diagnostics.  The earliest known surgery was executed in Egypt around 2750 BC (2). 

Today’s modern medical science, however, is heavily influenced by a Greek foundation which organized and assimilated different practices from India, Egypt, and their own discoveries in a manner that can be identified as the established origin.  Apollo, an Olympian deity, is known as one of the founders of medical science.  He was seen as a God who could bring bad health and lethal plagues to a society as well as having the ability to cure.  Sick individuals would pray, make offerings, and participate in pilgrimages to the local place of worship so the priests could receive their dreams and analyze them.  These priests would interpret the dreams and prescribe a treatment according to their analysis, showing the early rational forms of modern science, psychology.  Most of the treatments that were prescribed were primarily pertaining to changes in diet, as recorded on tablets used as offerings in temples.  Temple physicians, considered the same caste as priests, were considered to be the descendents of God and formed coalitions to learn and practice with each other.  The earliest known medical schools where physicians studied were at located in different areas of Northern Africa.  In the medical school adjoining the shrine of dedicated to physicians, arose the man who first established medicine upon a scientific basis, Hippocrates. Hippocrates is credited with being the first physician to reject the hypothesis that superstitions and divine forces caused health illnesses. By separating religion and science, he believed that illness was not a punishment from the gods, but instead a product of environmental factors and individual lifestyles. His medical school, The Hippocratic School, focused on administering prognoses as opposed to diagnoses which allowed for more efficient treatments and was a revolutionary medical method that is still implemented today.  According to Hippocrates, all medical illnesses were a result of imbalances in the four human humours, blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm.  Until these imbalances were corrected, the illness would persist in the individual.  Also, during the critical days of an illness, or a fixed period of time after exposure to the disease, the affected individual would come to a point of progression where the body would either succumb to death or recover due to natural processes. Hippocrates is also credited with publishing the Hippocratic Corpus, or Corpus Hippocraticum, which was a collection of medical works that occurred in Greece.  One of the important documents in his findings outlined the Hippocratic Oath (1). It is a document of ethics that describes an oath that was taken by physicians that agreed to abide to the ethical implications of medicine.  Some of these included:

To teach medicine to the sons of my teacher.

To practice and prescribe to the best of my ability for the good of my patients, and to try to avoid harming them.

To avoid violating the morals of my community.

To keep the good of the patient as the highest priority.


While this oath is not used in medicine today, it serves as a foundation for many modern day principles that define medical morals and ethics. 

The next most influential physician, Galen, paid homage to Hippocrates who he considered to be divine (1).  He developed his findings through observation, deductive reasoning and experimentation, such as the functions of the spinal cord.  He had a keen interest in anatomy, performing surgeries considered audacious for his time, such as of the eye and brain.  Galen took anatomical knowledge of his time and produced a work which was for centuries unchallenged.  He was the last influential man in the field of medicine during the Greek empire and his findings served as the basis for the medical field until the collapse of the Roman Empire. 

All of these new discoveries and progressions in the medical field, from curing simple physical illnesses to cataract surgery, arose from the necessity to help individuals survive so that entire populations may persist.  Physicians needed to find new innovative ways to cure people so that genes and traditions could be passed onto successive generations so the culture may persist.  This defied the definition of natural selection, or the basis of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, that stated “individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind” (3).  As medicine strives to overcome any obstacles that challenge human survival through the use of technological advancements and innovation, natural selection is no longer pertinent to current human evolution.  The challenging of Darwin’s notion of natural selection began as soon as humans developed the ability to heal those who would have typically not been able to pass on their genes to further generations. 

The development of modern medicine arose as a divergence from its origins during the Egyptian and Greek empires.  These divergences, or deviations from the standard course, allowed for new advancements to arise that changed the face of medicine as we know it now.  Vaccine development illustrates an excellent example of creativity arising from necessity along with divergences from normal procedures that inspire valuable developments.  Prior to the development of vaccines, the mortality rate of individuals not immune to commonplace diseases in their community was greater than twenty percent (4). In 1900, 21,064 smallpox cases were reported, and 894 patients died (5).  Since 1900, more than twenty-one vaccines have been developed that provide immunity for millions of individuals.  Ten of these vaccines are suggested for populations in high risk regions and the additional eleven are strongly recommended for children all over the world (5).  Currently, vaccines have become an integral part of the health community all throughout the world, protecting populations from terminal epidemics as well as seasonal outbreaks.  In 1796, the first successful vaccination was administered by immunizing individuals against smallpox in the English countryside by Dr. Edward Jenner (6).  By understanding the local farming customs, Jenner observed that individuals with cowpox pustules exhibited immunity when exposed to smallpox. He determined that cowpox not only protected against smallpox but also could be transmitted from person to person as a deliberate mechanism of protection.  He developed a smallpox vaccine by using the pus from a cowpox lesion from a milkmaid in contact with cows and injected it into two sites on the arm of an unaffected individual (6).  It was observed that this vaccinated individual did not show any symptoms of smallpox after the vaccination or after further exposure to the disease.  After the second exposure, Dr. Jenner determined that the vaccinated individual was indeed protected against smallpox and had developed immunity.  As there was a pressing need to protect individuals of a community from the threat of a lethal vaccine, Jenner used his knowledge and understanding of medical practices to develop one of the most important advancements in medical history.  Dr. Edward Jenner’s discoveries of vaccine development have provided the basic understanding for successive vaccines.  In 1885, Lewis Pasteur discovered the first known vaccine for rabies utilizing Jenner’s procedure.  After determining that rabies resided in the central nervous system of the body Pasteur took an extract from a spine of a rabid dog and injected it into healthy rabbits (7).  He examined the tissues of these infected rabbits and was able to produce a less virulent version of the disease and thereby create a successful vaccine. 

 From Hippocrates to Edward Jenner, creativity in the medical field arose as a result of the need for new and inventive methods to overcome diseases that were affecting the lives of millions of people.  Another important feature to note is that this creativity inspired others to develop new ideas and ways of thinking to effectively solve problems that they were presented with as seen with Galen and Pasteur.  However, there is the possibility of creativity becoming a mainstreamed process.  Thinking outside-of-the-box can become a socialized process where individuals learn from each other and pass on information from one person to the next, and therefore from generation to generation and culture to culture.  By passing on creativity the following generations, we are assuming that it is inherently present in individuals and is the result of nature as opposed to nurture.  Although creativity may become ingrained into society, there will always be constraints that place restrictions on individuals that can still give rise to developments that progress the society as a whole.

Another form of creativity is expression, especially a ballet dancer’s expressive ability during performances for large audiences.  Ballet is comprised of hundreds of individual steps, that when combined form the performances that one can observe in the theater.  The steps can be joined together in many different ways to form a multitude of combinations that can be repeated if performed again. Tombé, pas de bourrée, glissade, gran jeté” is a typical phrase that a ballet dancer would hear during a grand allegro, or the portion of class where the dancer performs combinations of big and fast paced jumps.  This combination is frequently integrated in a larger and more complex performance, and is characteristically danced by a principal male or female ballerina.  If ballet is considered to be a rigid, structured dance with history in tradition and consistency of movements from one generation to the next, then how can one account for individual expression that is seen from dancer to dancer?

Classical ballet originated as a dance performed by and for royalty.  During the Renaissance period in Italy, when much emphasis was placed on literature and art, dukes who controlled trade and commerce promoted the arts to their trading partners establishing Italy as a prominent leader in the art community.  Originally, dancers who participated in lavish performances were not professional; they were instead the members of the court and noblemen who danced to provide entertainment for the ruler.  In 1547, Catherine de Medicis, a member of the ruling Italian family introduced the court to Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx, a musician who went on to compose the first known ballet, the Ballet Comique de la Reine.  It told the story of a Greek myth, Circe, who possessed the magical power to turn men into beasts.  As the repertoire of ballet technique was limited, Beaujoyeulx relied on the use of elaborate costumes and scenery to create a performance fit for royalty.  The Ballet Comique de la Reine also recognized France as the capital of the ballet world especially in the seventeenth century during the reign of King Louis XIV.  He was very fond of dancing and took part in all of the ballets that were performed in his court.  He founded the Royal Academy of Dancing to train professional dancers to perform grand ballets for his entertainment.  These dancers learned technique and professionalism both essential when performing for royalty. However in 1790, French ballet choreographer Jean Georges Noverre criticized these professional dancers for their emphasis on technique and their failure to show the true nature of ballet and expressionism (8).  He urged dancers to remove the elaborate costumes that were essential for the audience to understand the character and instead use the natural ability of the body to create movement and exemplify the role.  In response to Noverre’s criticism, a transition was seen from the baroque style of ballet to a romanticized form that expanded ballet technique for women.  It was during this romantic period where female ballet dancers began to dance en pointe, which gave the impression that they were ethereal beings closer to heaven and therefore even more worthy of performing for royalty.  The female form was also idealized during this transition period and male ballerinas began to be accompanists to the female dancer, simply assisting her in lifts and turns (8). 

Since the emergence of this form of dance, many forms of ballet have arisen which have deviated from the original style. One example is a company titled Ballet X, a performance group in Philadelphia which aims to “redefine ballet and bring it into the new century” by “[bringing] a contemporary sensibility to the art form, infusing its work with a new vision of athleticism, emotion and intimacy” (9).  Although this individual style of work has the qualities of traditional ballet, it also is comprised of its own elements making it distinct from other dance forms and it is still considered a variation from the original art form of ballet.  This concept is similar to that of the observed variation among organisms in the world today which have evolved throughout the centuries.  George Balanchine, a prominent ballet choreographer, also established himself as a deviation from the norm of ballet technique.  It is customary for traditional ballets to have a storyline that influences the set, movements, costumes as well as music.  Balanchine defied these traditions when he began to create ballets that emphasized the movement and placed focus on the musicality and had no story line to his pieces (8). 

More contemporary forms of ballet have arisen as a result of the free will of individuals who desire to deviate from the widely studied forms of classical ballet.  The creation of new companies and styles of ballet are a result of an individual who has a desire to break away from the constraints of classical ballet movement.  Divergence proves once again to play a role in creating a larger palette for expressivity and creativity. While dancers participating in contemporary ballet forms may have classical training, they choose to create movement which is different from what they have been taught.  The necessity for change in outlets for expression fuels creativity and the emergence of new dance forms stemming from a divergence from the traditional aesthetic of ballet. Noverre and Balanchine both challenged the customary forms of ballet during their time and in Noverre’s case spurned change or created a revolutionary new style like Balanchine. 

Creativity through expression is also observed between dancers, despite the similarities in training and technique.  In the documentary, Portraits of Giselle, the amount of free will a dancer has during a performance is questioned.  One view states that the choreographer gives the dancer a series of steps that should be performed as directed.  If these combinations are executed as told, then the personality of the character that is being portrayed will be understood by the audience.  The opposing view states that the dancer should loosely use the choreography that is given and emit the emotions that the character should be feeling in each specific scene in order for the audience to further understand the character.  In this situation, free will is the determining factor of how successfully the dancer can portray a character.  The first view demonstrates the algorithmic process as described by Dennett, while the second view integrates randomness and an explanation for variation among performances.  Personally, I feel as though a combination of both views is necessary for the audience to fully understand the story line and appreciate the sentiments of the character. 

Creativity is a product of necessity and becomes apparent when a change is needed in society.  From medicine to ballet, divergences from the norm have resulted in new and innovative ways to solve problems as well as provide entertainment and new aesthetics.  Inspired by this course, this paper has evolved by providing explanations for the presence of variations and advancements in both science and art that are present in society today.  Starting from their origins and describing their history moving to the changes that have occurred throughout time that define and shape their effect on culture today, both medicine and ballet have evolved and changed from their beginnings with the entire process defining culture today.  Although the two fields may seem unrelated, convergences are apparent throughout each of their evolutions.  Currently, an experiment has been performed to combine both dance and science by Science magazine (10).  Choreographers have the task of making pieces inspired by significant scientific findings that have been published.  It is the audience’s task to match which dance corresponds to which research article.  Time will tell if we have the capability to do so.   


1. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: History of Medicine." NEW ADVENT: Home. 14 May 2009 <>.

2. M. Sara Rosenthal, The Type 2 Diabetic Woman, McGraw-Hill Professional 1999, p.311

3. Darwin, Charles. "On the Origin of Species" Ed. Joseph Carroll. Canada: Broadview Texts, 2003. Pg. 144

4.                 4. R.A. Meckel, "Levels and Trends of Death and Disease in Childhood, 1620 to the Present," in Children and Youth in Sickness and Health: A Handbook and Guide, ed. J. Golden, R.A. Meckel, and H.M. Prescott (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004), 3–24.

5.                5. "Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999 Impact of Vaccines Universally Recommended for Children -- United States, 1990-1998." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 07 May 2009 <>.

6.                 6. "Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination." PubMed Central Homepage. 07 May 2009 <>.

7.                 7.  B. Hansen, "America’s First Medical Breakthrough: How Popular Excitement about a French Rabies Cure in 1885 Raised New Expectations for Medical Progress," American Historical Review 103, no. 2 (1998): 373–418


The 8. History." The Ballet. 14 May 2009 <>.

       9.  Ballet X- general Information. 2008. Ballet X. 17 March 2009. <>

10. "The Science Dance Match-Up Challenge -- Bohannon 324 (5925): 332b -- Science." Science/AAAS | Scientific research, news and career information. 14 May 2009 <





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