[SCA-Dance] 1651 dance language

Garden, John (DPS) John.Garden at aph.gov.au
Thu May 22 21:19:22 EDT 2008

Dear friends, 

A comment a week ago that it seems natural to promenade cw around a
dance space as the men tend to make the longer strides, the sharing of a
video clip showing such a cw progression and recent comments on siding,
have prompted me to write to suggest dance leaders might do well to
consider how dance figures evolved and the underlining language of the

It has always surprised me that so many SCA dance leaders, who are
otherwise striving hard to be historically authentic, have couples
promenade cw (as opposed to anti-cw) around the room. For me, the reason
couples in late Renaissance western Europe will always circle left (cw)
before they circle right, will always line up with the man to the left
as you approach the top of the hall, and will always promenade acw (not
cw) around a room - is one and the same - they all arise from a dance
language that involved the man wanting to have the woman on his right
(non sword) side and - most importantly - wanting to have the sense of
leading her. Indeed, this need for the man to have the sense of leading
his partner (only possible if the woman is on the longer outside track
of a promenade) is a driving force in the evolution of many figures and
hand/arm holds over hundreds of years - and the acw promenade is not
only the one indicated in most later contexts (e.g. 18th century couples
casting and in 19th century quadrilles and polonaises), but it is also
the direction which seem to be indicated in such c.1600 paintings as
Martin Pepyn's The Ball and Abraham Schelhas' Augsburger

Similarly, understanding that there is an underlining dance language
derived from social imnperatives can also help quickly settle in favour
of the 'Pat Shaw' 'gentle' siding which has dancers draw right shoulder
level, retire, (sometimes after set and turn) draw left shoulder level
and retire. Not only is there later diagrammatic depictions of such
siding (e.g. in Raoul Auger Feuillet's Recueil de Contredanse, 1706) and
not only does it work very well with the same pair of doubles used in
the other 'introductory' figures of up&back and arming, and not only
might it be analagous with some late Ren. Italian dance actions, it
works well as a 'midway' figure in the etiquette of a period
introduction falling in a dance pattern between the coming together
represented by the up&back (or in&back) and the physical contact
represented by the arming. To put it another way, you can see the first
chorus as a statement of community, the second a flirting feign with
partner in the direction of arming but without the consummation of the
arming that is to come as the third chorus. Its like the men going half
way around the women and back in Goddesses before they go all the way
around- it helps build-up a story-line and is part of the aesthetic of
period dance composition. Its like in the Parson's Farwell that's been
discussed, each sex doing a weaving crossing without partners in the
second part of the dance, then doing a weaving crossing in the form of a
full hey with partners in the third part. 

So in deciding which direction you promenade around a room and which
form of siding you do, I strongly recommend you consider dance as an
extension of etiquette, and consider the social imperatives (translating
as physical and aesthetic ones) in its evolution. 

John Gardiner-Garden.

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