[SCA-Dance] n couples in couple dances?

Keith McClune swashbuckler at caerthe.org
Thu Oct 11 15:07:15 EDT 2007

Hi there:

I'm at work, so I don't have all of my resources at hand, but ...

Marianne Perdomo Machin wrote:
> Is there evidence for or against bassedances (italian or otherwise) 
> being for any number of couples?

There are innumerable paintings that show a line of couples circling a room.
They are obviously dancing, but since most of us don't have access to Harry
Potter style paintings that move, we can't know for sure what they are dancing.
The ones I've seen are consistent with the almans, pavans, or bassa danses we
are used to.  (Other pictures look like they show branles - a line or circle
holding hands, while other pictures show peasants that are clearly *not* doing
any known court dance.)

Most instructions for bassedances are *very* terse:  Rb ssDDDDDrrrb...etc. -
with a tenor line of music, if you are lucky.  I do not recall that the general
instructions mention number of dancers.  They barely give any step descriptions
at all.  I think the Italian manuals note that some bassedances may be done by
three, but do not say whether anyone else would join behind them.  I have some
facsimiles with me, but no translations (nor Smith), so I can't do the look ups
that I'd like .  I'll try to get details later.

For the Allemande, Arbeau notes "Car ayant une damoiselle en main, plusieurs 
aultres se pourront planter derrier vous, chacun tenant la sienne, & dancerez 
tous ensemble," which basically says it is danced together with couples lined
up behind you.  I don't recall that any prior source gives any indication like
"as many as will" except to note dances in which the dancers take turns.

Circumstantial evidence, at least, suggests that these dances were done by a
line of couples.  The evidence against is mostly the absence of evidence
(we have so many questions that they don't seem to have bothered addressing,
probably because it was pretty obvious if you just looked at what everyone
else was doing).

> How about balli? Gresley dances?

Many of the balli are noted as for a specific number of dancers.  I don't
recall ever seeing a painting showing multiple sets of dancers doing the same
dance.  Other references, such as the Book of the Courtier, mention a single
couple or set dancing.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that these dances were for one couple or set
only.  Again, this is based on limited evidence, but what little there is
seems to be against lines or multiple sets.

Gresley is the toughest, since there is no known corroborating source to
provide extra clues or clarification.  It seems to indicate that its dances
were only done by men, although I've heard of no other evidence of segregated 
dancing in England in this era.  There is plenty of debate about how to
interpret the few notes we have.  I think the basis for the Gresley
reconstructions is sufficiently sketchy that whether couples dances in a line
is a much less significant question then how each dancer in one couple (or
trio) is oriented with respect to each other.  Knowing they danced in a line
would be a major clue, but I think it is one we don't have.

Keith / Guillaume
Denver / Caerthe

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