[SCA-Dance] Theme and Variations

White,John john.white at drexel.edu
Thu Apr 6 12:52:41 EDT 2017

As some few of you may know, I have been for the longest time an absolutist - there is *one* way and
only one way to do any specific dance.  This has made it difficult for me to participate in dance
events as I cringe away from those versions of dances that do not match my reconstruction.

However, my research on the Charles Manuscript (which is also known as the Pattricke/Lovelace
Manuscript), two things have become clear.  First, that there is not one and only one way to do
any specific dance, and second, that the tug of war between absolutism and variation is also
very period.  My view of the chief difference between Charles and Playford is that the former
is a variationist, where the latter is an absolutist.  (The evidence of the same dance being recorded
differently in the two manuscripts/books is the source of this revelation, compounded by the
evidence of variations in the descriptions of the dances in Charles.  Yes, there are a few variations
in Playford's recorded dances, but they are few and far between, unlike Charles.)

This doesn't make things any easier, however.  Perhaps we have a unique perspective on the
issue, being modern folks who travel hundreds, maybe even thousands, of miles and dance with
people who have never seen our various versions of the dances.  In period, there were travelers,
and the later in period you went, the farther they might have roamed (for example, the German
manuscript of 15th century Italian dances).  But most folks probably didn't travel like that, and so
would mostly only know their local variations, or the versions their local dance master(s) have
taught them.  Thus, they didn't have to worry about knowing a dance from ball to ball, celebration
to party to event.

I've have no solution to the problem, which can be extreme (especially when you know for sure
that the version of the dance being done is not a "variation" but a "mistake" in either translation
or transmission).  I'd still like an absolute version, if only so I could go from one Kingdom to another
and continue to feel comfortable in what is usually a very comfortable place - the dance floor. 

We are too big to hope for an actual "common" version, and I would be loath to accept the Terp
book, as near-ubiquitous as it is, as a reliable source.  We should probably strive for something
that fits the actual source (and not, for example, the source as the redactor wishes it was, like
Bella Gioiosa), with discussions where necessary as to what decisions were made in redacting
that might result in different versions, alongside actual variations (presuming that a method of
determining how variations evolve were to be come up with, researched or not).  But then we
run into the whole fun vs authenticity debate - people tend not to want to change their favorite
dances, even when a more "pure" version is presented.  Not to mention being able to come to
an agreement about translations/redactions, and how dances should be varied.

      \\Dafydd C

From:  Tim McDaniel 

At times lately, I find myself torn two or three ways.

(1) The way a dance is commonly done in the SCA and/or is in the Terp

(2) The way that I think matches the source better.

(3) The way that the local dancers want to dance it.  N pive, but
they'd rather do N/2 doubles.  They think it feels better to turn left
rather than right.

And I wonder whether following 2 or 3 might mess people up when they
go to Gulf Wars or to Pennsic.  If they were expert dancers, I
wouldn't worry, but some are newer sorts.

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