Where Did Mimes Originate?


The earliest mimes originated in ancient Greece where they performed the art of pantomimus, a solo art form featuring a masked dancer. Performances of pantomimus, which is translated as “imitating all,” involved music and dance, and they were not necessarily silent as they are in modern times.

During the Italian renaissance, a new type of mime came about with the creation of the improvisational theater known as Commedia dell’arte. This became a popular performance type throughout Europe and England but was primarily established in Paris. It was a common performance of fairgrounds and traveling troupes and placed emphasis on music rather than spoken dialog in order to keep costs down. In the early 1800s, Parisian mime Jean-Gaspard Deburau solidified many of the elements recognized in modern mimes, including silent performances and white, painted faces. Étienne Decroux, a student of Jacques Copeau, dedicated his life to developing corporeal mime, a type of pantomime using the human body to express emotion.

During the era of silent films, pantomime was commonly used by actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton when spoken dialog could not yet be captured on film. Many of these actors studied the art of pantomime for theatrical performances prior to working with motion pictures.