Dance any choreography to any piece of music

 

“Dancing, or saltation, is both a pleasant and a profitable art which confers and preserves health; proper to youth, agreeable to the old and suitable to all provided fitness of time and place are observed and it is not abused.” –Arbeau, 1596

 

by Maestro Lyev Davidovitch

 

It’s fun to try and do a dance to the “wrong” piece of music. This actually was a period practice in various ways. Each dance has three pieces of information associate with it: the name, the choreography of steps, and the music that fits the repeat patterns of the choreography. However bassadanza does not have a specific piece of music matching the choreography. The dancers don’t have the musical cues to rely on – such as, “when the music repeats, do the second chorus figure of steps.” The musicians would just play any bassadanza music of the appropriate length and pattern. Among the dances done in the SCA, there are many that have the same number of bars and repeat structure. So dancers could do more than one dance to the same piece of music.

Dancers who are familiar with Heart’s Ease (Playford 1st edition 1651, dance #54) will realize that the dance follows a simple pattern. During the verse, the dancers do something in the time of four doubles (a double forward and back repeated in verse one). I’m assuming one bar is the same amount of music to do a double or its equivalent (a tempo of music according to Guglielmo, see Sparti p.64). In the chorus, the dancers do something else in the time of four doubles (that is, back away from partners a double, meet partners a double, turn opposites two doubles). This chorus of four doubles time is repeated, switching people. Thus the pattern of the dance is: A part (verse): 4 doubles; B part (chorus): 4 doubles x 2. This repeats three times. There are many English dances that follow that same pattern, or one similar to it (such as 4 doubles then 8 doubles for each repeat of the music). If we substitute doubles of any dance genre, such asbranle doubles, Italian doppi, or alman doubles, then there are even more dances that fit the Heart’s Ease rule. Two dances that have that same music pattern are Black Nag and Lorrane Alman (Durham p.32). So the music and steps are interchangeable:

 

Music bars:

Heart’s Ease

Black Nag

Lorrane Alman

A part: 1-2

Meet a double and back

Double up and back

2 Doubles forward

3-4

Meet a double and back

Double up and back

2 Doubles forward

B part 1

Back a double from partner

1st couple do 4 slips up

Double forward

2

Meet partner a double

2nd does four slips

Double back

3

Start full turn your opposite

3rd does four slips

Double forward

4

Finish turning opposite

All turn in place

Cast a double

B repeats: 1

Back a double from opposite

3rd couple 4 slips back

Double forward

2

Meet opposite a double

2nd does four slips

Double back

3

Start full turn your partner

1st does four slips

Double forward

4

Finish turning partner

All turn in place

Cast a double

A part: 1-2

Continue with verse 2

Continue with verse 2

Start again from the beginning

 

Ambrosio in the late 15th c. described an exercise where good dancers would do dances to different music (Wilson, p.134-7), and also where dancers would try to keep in tempo but out of synch with the music (Sparti, p.101). Thus dancers in period would amuse themselves by dancing to the “wrong” melody line cues. Lo Spagnoletto (Negri 1604, f.116r) is also “Heart’s Ease-compatible”. It has 3 musical parts of 4 bars each, rather than one part of 4 bars and a part of 4 bars repeated. Since the dance has six repeats of the music, the Heart’s Ease music will have to be played for twice as long to get one repeat of Lo Spagnoletto. Some other dances that are “Heart’s Ease compatable” are: Chestnut, Parson’s Farewell, Horse’s Branle (actually 8:4 instead of 4:8), Branle l’Official (with lifting part repeated), Wherligig, Mayden Lane, Cuckolds all a Row, Jenny Pluck Pears (again 8:4, also some fudging has to be done when the time signature changes), Queen’s Alman, and Sellenger’s Round. For some of these dances, the number of repeats ends up being much different – Sellenger’s Round as done in the SCA has four repeats of the music, while Jenny Pluck Pears has six.

Incidentally, Gracca Amoroso (Caroso 1581, f.132r) and Washerwoman’s Branle (Arbeau/Sutton, p.156) each have the same pattern, as do Villanella (Caroso 1581, f.41r) and Pease Branle (Arbeau/Sutton, p.158). Dolce Amoroso Fuoco has the same 8 doubles worth of music repeated over and over, so it’s begging to be fit to many English country dances of that repeat the same strain of music lots of times like Nonesuch, Half Haniken, and Picking of Sticks. Italian 15th c. dances tend to switch time signature in the middle (Cellio and Stephens, p.2), which makes it more challenging to interchange the music for them, but still enjoyable.

The corollary to this is that a given dance could be done using many different pieces of music. Instead of dancing Heart’s Ease to different music, the musicians could play the music for Heart’s Ease and the dancers would do whatever dance fit. Or the music and steps could be mixed up. The musicians could choose three different pieces of music (one for each verse) for dancers doing Heart’s Ease. Improvisation for dance music was common in period (although not quite done like that). Another option is to give the dancers a steady beat but no melody line, and see if they can do the correct steps with no musical cues.

Abreau describes a progression of dances at formal occasions that would start with the sedate double branle and move on to more energetic ones (p. 129). Many of these branles have the same repeat pattern of music, and the dancers do a branle double left and right, except with different ornamentation. Arbeau mentions on p.132 that young men “of exceptional agility make divisions at their pleasure,” and gives an example of an ornamented version of the Branle Double. From all of this, one can derive many different variations of the same figure.

Beats:

Branle Double

Branle Double (ornamented)

Branle Burgundian

Branle Haut Barrios

1

Step Left

Step Left

Step Left

Step Left and hop

2

Approach with Right

Approach with Right

Approach with Right

Approach and hop

3

Step Left

Step Left

Step Left

Step Left and hop

4

Join right foot to left

Join right foot to left

Kick with Right

Join and hop

5

Step Right

Step Right

Step Right

Step Right and hop

6

Approach with Left

Approach with Left

Approach with Left

Approach and hop

7

Step Right

Step Right

Step Right

Step Right and hop

8

Join left foot to right

Kick L,R,L

Kick with Left

Join and hop

Repeat

Repeat the dance

Repeat the dance

Repeat the dance

Repeat the dance

 

Branles are done in a long line lengthwise or a closed circle of dancers (Arbeau/Sutton, p.131). If one dancer decides to do a different branle from the others in the line, it could crash the dance if say they decide to do a double right when the people next to them are doing doubles left. However, if a dancer travels the same direction and distance that the other dancers are, then it doesn’t matter what footwork they use to get there. Depending on how energetic or stately they are feeling, they can ornament and divide at their pleasure. For example, the Scottish Branles are rather unremarkable choreographies of singles and doubles (Arbeau/Sutton, p.149), but are distinguished by replacing the join step at the end of a single or double with a “croise”. That is, the dancer would cross one foot in front of the other shin (Arbeau/Sutton, p.84). This croise does not appear in anything other than Scottish Branles or some galliard sequences (Arbeau/Sutton, p.101). Thus a dancer could mine the Scottish style by doing any branle, but using croise steps instead of the join steps.

Yet another fun thing is to pick non-dance music. Although I don’t advocate out of period music being done at events (that’s what a post-rev is for), some 20th century folk dance tunes like Korobushka and Scotland the Brave are also “Heart’s Ease-compatible”. It’s hilarious to see at a post-rev a whole room full of people doing the “My country ‘tis of thee” galliard and the Pink Floyd Pavan (thanks Alina of Foxwoods for the suggestion!).

 

 

Bibliography

* Orchesography by Thoinot Arbeau (1596, France), trans Mary Stewart Evans, notes by Julia Sutton, Dover 1967 ISBN#0-486-21745-0

* De Practica Seu Arte Tripudii – On the Practice or Art of Dancing, by Guglielmo Ebreo of Pesaro, (15th c. Italy) ed and trans Barbara Sparti, Clarendon Press 1993 ISBN#0-19-816574-9

* The Library of Congress has scans of many vintage dance manuals including Arbeau and Caroso at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dihtml/dihome.html

* Le Gratie d’Amore by Cesare Negri (1602, Italy). This was reprinted essentially unchanged as Nuove Inventioni di Balli in 1604. The earlier version is available as translation and transcription by Yvonne Kendall (Ph.D. dissertation, 1986), the later version as a facsimile with notes by Greg Lindahl (Master Gregory Blount) available at http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/negri/  A discussion of differences between the two editions by Susan de Guardiola and Greg Lindahl is available at http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/negri/differences.html

* Il Ballarino by Fabrito Caroso (1581, Italy). Available as a transcription by Greg Lindahl at http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/caroso/

* The Old Measures (reconstructions and music for 16-17th c. English dances at the Inns of Court) by Peter and Janelle Durham (Master Trahaearn pa Ieuan and Mistress Jane Lynn of Fenmere), privately published 2001.

* Joy and Jealousy (reconstructions and music for 15th c. Italian dances) by Vivian Stephens and Monica Cellio (Mistress Rosina del Bosco Chiaro and Mistress She’era bat Schlomo), Real Soon Now Press 1997

* The English Country Dancing Master by John Playford (1651 and later editions, England) available online either by Robert Keller http://www.izaak.unh.edu/nhltmd/indexes/dancingmaster/ or Flip Lewis (THL Filip of the Marche) http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~flip/contrib/dance/playford.html

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Copyright © 2005 by L.J. Sparvero, this document is freely copyable for not-for-profit educational organizations as long as it is copied intact and the only prices charged are to cover copying expenses.