[SCA-Dance] Greetings and question

Catherine Dean catherinedean at gmail.com
Fri Feb 8 10:47:51 EST 2008

>> Although I have been told that progressive dances like Hole in the Wall
>> Well Hall are not period but I was never told when they were, or why they
>> are taught and danced so vigorously within the SCA if they are taboo. Is
>> truly wrong to dance these dances? From the way some aficionados talk, it
>> the greatest travesty known to man to dance one of these.

This is, shall we say, a very touchy subject so I approach it with caution,
but you've asked a specific question so I thought I would try to give you an
answer, at least to your first question.

The short answer is that the dances you've specifically named post-date the
first edition of Playford, which many SCA dancers take as the only
acceptable edition of Playford to use in an SCA context.  Well Hall was
first published in 1679 (a favorite dance of mine, in a 17th-18th century
context), Hole in the Wall in 1698 and Female Sailor (actually originally in
the French Recueil de Contradances) in 1706.  (I'm away from my library and
googled these dates, but I think they're right--certainly all three dances
are post 1651 in their first published incarnation).

The longer answer is a bit more complicated, and involves an understanding
of the evolution of dance during the 15th-19th centuries.  The first edition
of Playford was published in 1651, as we all know, which is a date that
post-dates the end of the SCA period of interpretation.  However, we also
know from contemporary sources that English Country dances were being
performed in England prior to 1600, including some that are described by
name.  The question (not yet fully answered) is whether the dances that
Playford recorded in 1651 are the same dances that were being down in 1599.
It's not out of the question--we know that dance forms remained largely
intact with some minor evolution for 50-60 years, but it does seem most
likely that even if some of the dances reflect pre-1600 traditions, that not
necessarily all of them do.

The turn of the 17th century was a time of great transition in dance.  In
France the Baroque style (already being performed in the 1580s and 1590s)
was ascending.  This is the style that later evolved into Minuets and their
ilk and from there eventually into modern ballet.  In Italy, the older style
(familiar to us from the works of Caroso and Negri) which had dominated much
of Europe in the late 16th century, seems to have held sway until the 1630s
or later.  Most SCA dance folks of my acquaintance would argue that even
though Baroque dance was technically performed prior to 1600, it is not the
type of dance that we should be performing (except, perhaps, as an
interesting study exercise, or to give context to what we generally do)
because it clearly represents a style that was only barely performed before
1600 and which is highly characteristic of the Baroque period, rather than
the Renaissance.  Likewise, many of the "16th century" Italian sources that
we use, actually post-date 1600.  Negri's Gratie d'Amore (1602) for example,
and some of the newly discovered sources like Jacobilli.

The same argument can be used when examining country dance.  Playford's
first edition of the English Dancing Master contains a handfull of dances
for a set number (squares, rings, short longaways sets).  These bear a
striking resemblance to the format of many 16th century dances from the
Italian repertoire.  The rest of the book is dominated by longaways dances
for as many as will.  As the editions continued to be published, the number
of set dances declined (until there were none by about 1700) and the number
of longaways dances increased.  Clearly, in 1651, these set dances reflected
a tradition on the decline.  Is it a tradition left over from the 16th
century?  We can't really know for sure, but it's a reasonable argument to
make and one which many SCAdians accept (with or without grumbling).

Generally the rule of thumb *I* use (your mileage may vary) is that Playford
set dances (whether they be first edition or not, such as Black Nag, which
is from the 1670s) are generally Ok in an SCA setting.  I will dance and
teach them.  Longaways dances (from any edition) do not pass my "period
enough" test, and I will neither dance nor teach them.

I should add that there are valid arguments to be made that if we're going
to include 1651 set dances, we should allow the 1651 longaways dances as
well (there were, afterall, longaways for as many as will dances in the
Renaissance, look at Chirintana for example, going back to the 15th
century).  The progression is quite different from a classic 18th century
longaways dance, signaling that these too, perhaps, reflect an earlier
tradition.  Each person makes their own choices, and as long as those
choices are informed then they are fine with me.

I'm in no way surprised that longaways dances crept into the SCA repertoire
over the years.  It is a fun form (as evidenced by the fact that longaways
dances for as many as will dominated social dance in many regions for the
next TWO hundred years, and are still alive and well in the modern English
Country and Contra dance communities, not to mention regional "folk dances"
such as the Virginia Reel.

Katherine Mercer

Catherine E. Dean
Historically Inspired Designs
Handmade Jewelry and Accessories for History Lovers

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