[SCA-Dance] My Beginner's Class from KWDS VIII
david.a.learmonth at gmail.com
Thu Jul 28 06:27:59 EDT 2011
Hi! At KWDS this year I ran a class called the Beginner's Ball, which had
the goal of trying to take a potential group of absolute beginners (though
we had quite a few ringers at KWDS) through as many dances as feasible in an
hour timeslot, going through varying styles, and giving them the basic
tools to be able to have some fun on the dance floor, while keeping it light
At the time though, I unfortunately did not have a notes handout. So
hopefully this email will give the info people are looking for, and for
those interested in running a similar class. (I had one wonderful comment
that the class had a good flow / progression to the dances, which is
something I've always tried to focus on when teaching to beginners). So
here are some notes, and the list of dances I covered, plus a few others I
had in mind but didn't get to.
Introduction to Steps Required (for the first 5 minutes or so): - Sorry
for the long winded discussion here, I just figured I'd be thorough, for
those who are interested. Though I certainly wouldn't worry about trying to
memorize what I am saying here, just do what works for you.
- and if you want, you may want to skip down to the dances below.
(assuming this all fits in 1 email on this list)
Starting in a circle, I introduced the basic concepts of taking a Single
Left and Single Right, followed by a Double Left and Double Right. You can
briefly introduce the idea / word "close" in using these steps. This also
gives a chance to introduce the idea that we are often walking to basic
counts of the beat. (2 beats for a Single, 4 beats for a Double).
Once we had that, we could then do a Single forward and back, and then a
Double forward and back. (I like this method, so that people have the idea
of how many steps are in a double forward)
One other note here is that sometimes you'll do multiple Doubles forward in
a row. In this case, you'll put some sort of pause on the 4th beat. This
could be a small kick, or hop, or raise of foot, or small close. This tends
to vary from dance to dance, and depending on how the music strikes you.
Set and Turn is then a good step to introduce. I like to count it out as I
go, so that they can see the 8 beats.
I also like to let them know to turn whichever way is most comfortable,
though I tend to find that walking forward over my Left shoulder tends to
feel most natural to me, based on which foot is free.
Oh, and sometimes people will alternate their Set and Turn directions, if
they have to do 2 of them in a dance (i.e. the second one starting to the
>From here, there are only a few other steps I introduce at this point.
Salterelli (or Salterello singular), is a natural extension of the walking
doubles from earlier. (or maybe I would do these at the same time). I would
aim to have everyone walk around the circle doing these, so they can get the
idea / get practice, and I can look to see that it is working out. Counting
out beats is a good idea, and stating the Feet I think helps too, to
reinforce the idea of the pause, and the changing of feet. (i.e. Left,
Right, Left, Hop; Right, Left, Right, Hop)
Though again, I do like to mention that many dances don't matter too
critically which foot you start on, as long as you don't "draw blood" from
your partners / neighbours. :)
Final step I like to introduce is a Piva. I do find that this can be
difficult for new people, so I say that it can take some practice, and not
to worry about getting it perfect, but that your feet will learn the steps
in time. For those who are trying to figure it out as you go around the
circle with them, I'll offer a few versions. When first showing it, I do a
slowed down Step, Cut, Step, and then followed by another one starting
with the opposite foot. But I explain it can sometimes be harder to do
slow, than quicker, where it is almost like skipping. (or like a cha-cha
step, or a fencer shuffle)
Ok, now onto the dances:
The first 3 dances, from the Old Measures / Inns of Court:
Quadran Pavanne, Old Alman, Queen's Alman
- Starting with these dances, my goal is to show people how easy some of the
dances can be, and get them comfortable with moving, and feeling like
they've achieved something.
- Also, these dances each build on each other in their basic complexity.
(just make sure you've practiced yourself to the music, so that you can be
a strong lead. Quadran can actually be slightly difficult, just because it
- I like to introduce a brief bit of history here as well, so that people
can feel they are doing something real from the period. i.e. that the Inns
of Court these were the legal buildings, and that these first few
dances were expected to be danced by everyone, even the old lawyers, but
that they were simple enough for everyone to join in. And they were simple
enough that this would give you time to be social with the people you were
dancing with, while showing off your fine garb. And that in particular,
this was an excellent way to find a potential mate, as it may have been one
of the few times you could be close to a mate, without a chaperone right
over your shoulder. (I encourage people to discuss Dowries and such, as
that tends to make people laugh a bit and loosen them up)
- Like I say, these dances introduce the concepts of Singles and Doubles
both sideways and forwards / backwards, as well as Set and Turns (even
alternating directions), and circling one's partner. Also, dances with A
and B parts to them.
- if people inevitably Set and Turn where they are mirroring their partner,
instead of stepping opposite, I let them know that opposite is the goal, but
that the same direction is fine, as they could be doing it as a flourish
(such as to flirt with their partner!)
- Also, an excellent time to briefly mention that Improvisation was quite
Period. And that if one doesn't know a dance, that they could always get up
and dance with someone, just making it up as they go, just using pieces of
other dances they've learned that day. Pavannes in particular were often
The next 2 dances, a couple of Mimed Bransles:
Washerwoman's Bransle, Hermit's Bransle
- a good chance to introduce a new style, with again basic steps, but in
this case these are cute dances with a bit of a story.
- Washerwoman's bransle tends to break down really nicely into 3 parts:
- all good bransles start with Double to the Left (a good lesson to learn
for most of them)
- I then teach the singles left and right, and then I get into explaining
the hand motions and the "story"
- note: I don't always worry about having the singles facing one's
partner. it is often easier to do just facing into the circle. but I
mention my preference to scold towards my partner. (some people scold
towards the group, which is fine too)
- and then of course the third part of clapping one's hands with the
doubles to the left, as beating the laundry on the rocks in the river Seine.
- and although it is not listed as part of the dance, on the double
back to the Right, I often have fun miming different things. Again, it is a
chance to be playful / improvise. (as long as they know that such moves
aren't in arbeau.) (the improv I'm mentioning is scrubbing the laundry, or
hanging it, etc)
- Hermit's is just a nice quick one to throw in, and not take much time on.
The one complication is that it can be difficult to show the toe tapping,
since the first part of it you are all facing away from each other. But you
can just show it yourself first.
The next 2 or 3 dances, I introduced some ECD:
Jenny Pluck Pears, Upon a Summer's Day, Black Nag
- good for teaching the basic ECDs (Doubles or circling, Siding, Arming)
- Jenny Pluck Pears you can easily do for whatever numbers you have, in case
you have extra couples. Just have people go at the same time.
- I've also done large single circles of Jenny Pluck Pears before,
numbering 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3... all the way around, which works well.
- Upon a Summer's Day is super easy, and also could be done with an extra
couple if needed.
- Black Nag I decided to throw in for KWDS. Mainly, it is a favourite dance
in the SCA, and not too dissimilar to other first edition dances.
- it is also an excellent chance to teach the concept of a Hey. Though
this can be tricky depending how many new people involved.
- at KWDS, we ended up having each set just teach themselves, since we
had enough ringers around.
The remaining dances, depending on time:
Petit Vriens, Salterello (La Regina or Salterello II)
- Petit Vriens is my favourite Intro to 15th C Italian dance, because it is
fun, follow the leader, and they only have to worry about 1 step (Piva).
- Salterello at this point, I do just as Improv, not worrying about taking
time with it, but just that people can dance freely around the floor, in
basic salterello doubles. (meanwhile, some people may choose to do La
Regina, if they know it, and I let the group know that they are doing a
specifically choreographed Salterello)
- but like I say, anything works, and I throw out recommendations, such as
circling your partner, chasing your partner, and just dancing around the
A few dances I did not get to, but really like to use, and why:
1. Gelosia - this is by far my favourite 2nd choice in 15th C Italian
dance. Building on Petit Vriens, it basically just introduces 1 more step
(the salterello, which in this case they've already done), and it also is
set up in almost an ECD like format. Mainly, it is just handy because it
goes 3 times through, and gives everyone a chance to dance with the others
in the set. And the figures are not complicated. And it can be a lot of
fun, and a dance that one can easily play up in the acting (jealousy,
flirting, being "hurt" when your partner looks at another)
2. Hit and Miss - I actually think that this dance is less confusing than
Rufty Tufty, while still being pretty. The other key advantage, is that it
introduces the concept of a basic 4 person Hey in a square.
- One note, I actually like doing this dance better to the music in
Playford (the original music), versus later on where everyone switched to
doing the dance to the music of Daphne. The only difference is that the
Hey at the end takes 16 beats in the original, versus 12 in Daphne. It is
fine either way, but 16 is nice and clean, in that it is obviously 1 double
3. Amoroso - another good 15th C Italian, because it only has a few parts
to basically figure out. (i.e. first part is just a progression, then there
is an A part chase, a B part chase, and then A to leave and B to return).
- also, unlike Rostiboli, it does not have tempo changes. Though the
timing of the reverance is a bit weird, but fortunately the timing there is
- this dance also is just very playful in chasing, and flirting with your
partner, and possibly others on the floor. :)
4. Bizzaria d'Amore - I haven't mentioned any 16th C Italian dances yet.
This is quite a managable one, but wouldn't have time really to teach in
this class. But yeah, if you dance it the way many do, with a lot of
symmetry in the motions, it is easier to remember. (even versus 4 and 5 are
basically repeats of 2 and 3)
5. Contrapasso en Due - 16th C Italian, and nice and easy. This is
actually one that I could use in this class, if people are doing well
enough. If you are super familiar, and can be a strong enough lead, this is
a reasonably easy dance to drag someone through. Though it could be tough
for a large group if they are all new.
- it is the sort of dance where I'd actually not teach it, if I were in a
rush. I would just teach the figure 8s part. The rest I would just try to
lead / call. (oh, and i'd show the Reverenza, continenza, continenza part).
6. New Boe Peep - if you are in a rush, this is actually a handy ECD for
being super easy, and cute, and for any number of couples.
A few other notes:
- it is always good to mention that these dances are the versions you are
most used to, and that if your students encounter different versions, that
they should be polite in asking about it, or to try to adapt to the local
version, because a lot of this is unknown, so alternate versions could be
different interpretations. And we know that there were variations in period
- one handy period fact is that some sources will actually have dance
instructors complaining that dancers should NOT do a dance a particular way,
which oc course means that some people out there were probably doing it that
Hope this helps!
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