As we were introduced to the concepts of some of the styles, we were let in on some intriguing facts. Nobles would take on demanding training to be able to execute these social dances perfectly, because at social occasions everyone was watching and would judge you on your technique, or your knowledge of the steps. Often, a very important person; the monarch, for example, would be watching at court. The dance was performed for their pleasure.
Hazel Dennison led a great introductory session on Renaissance dance and the dance games from the sophisticated courts of 15th Century Italy. She got us started by getting us to walk the steps up and down the room, demonstrating that the steps themselves had a rather military feel to them.
Stepping in for Anne Daye, who could not make it to the workshop, Hazel also led a session in Tudor and Stuart dances, taking us through the livelier steps of the 16th and early 17th Centuries. We learnt the Galliard, which comprises a step mentioned by Shakespeare; the “cinque passi” or “sinkapace.” It seems that Elizabeth I was a fan of this form of dance, performing a number of Galliards as part of her daily exercises.
It was interesting to learn that, in the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries, dances lead with the left foot, then at some point between the 1600s and the 1700s, dancers switched sides. However, I’m convinced that it was much harder to switch your body’s allegiance to one foot after an hour’s lunch, than it was after a few decades!
Moira Goff, I must say – a very stylish lady, demonstrated the very beginnings of Classical Ballet in the Baroque dance style of the 18th Century. In this era, we see the first examples of turnout and we see the dancers holding themselves in a very different way than in the Renaissance dances. We were taught a minuet sequence; a very elegant and very intricate dance, whose creators claimed to not fully understand themselves.
Our final journey was in the Regency Dances of the 19th Century. You would be forgiven for mistaking the fabulous teacher, Sasza Zargowski, for a ballet dancer. However, he assured us that his knowledge and skill of certain steps came only from his studies in the Regency Dances. These dances contain some of the steps that modern ballet dancers will be extremely familiar with; the “Chassé”, the “Pas de Bouree” and the “Jeté”, to name but a few. We learnt a section of a quadrille; a lively and complex group dance that encompassed the ballet steps in quick succession. All in all, it was great fun, but absolutely knackering! And it was very difficult to imagine the people of the time taking 20 minutes to half an hour to complete each dance by sweltering candlelight (no air conditioning in sight, of course!) And I’m sure it’s quite hard to imagine just what I’m trying to describe. Fortunately, YouTube is filled with examples of historical dance, just like the one below…
However, Sasza had eased us into this workout, by first starting with a couples Waltz, with dizzying spins – not at all like the Waltz we see today on Strictly Come Dancing. In the 19th Century, the Waltz was seen as scandalous, due to the close proximity between men and women… now you see Bruce Forsythe having a go.
The day was genuinely a very unique experience, and I feel it’s a research trip that went very well. Jumping on the train back to Bournemouth, I somehow felt a strange throwback to the Ceilidhs I participated in with Warwick Folk whilst at university, and now I’ve got a weird urge to find me another Ceilidh very soon.
I’ll keep you posted on that one.