[SCA-Dance] Theme and Variations

Urraca Yriarte kwdsviii at gmail.com
Thu Apr 6 18:31:27 EDT 2017

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I agree completely. The evidence for dance variants in period exists, not
only in sources that describe variants (see "Rostiboli, Take Two" by
Barbara Sparti), but embedded in the complaints of absolutists like Caroso,
who spend a lot of ink complaining about all the "wrong" things other
people were doing, thus making it clear that his was not the only way to
dance something.

Another point to remember is that the choreographed balletti were only a
small part of what was danced. Most of a ball would have involved
improvisational dances, like galliards or corontos or earlier saltarelli or
pive. The whole of Renaissance performance culture emphasized improvisation
and variation within an esthetic whose rules were understood by well bred
people. Doing something exactly the same way every time would have been
counter to that esthetic. (Unfortunately, most of us moderns have not
internalized a period sense of gracefulness with which to improvise
appropriately.) Nevertheless, let "Diversi di cosi" be your motto.


On Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 2:32 PM, Justin du coeur <jducoeur at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 12:52 PM, White,John <john.white at drexel.edu> wrote:
> > 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.
> That's a valid approach, but by and large one that I disagree with, because
> I think it somewhat misrepresents the reality of how dance works in
> culture.
> I mean, sure -- if what you are working from is an author *prescribing* the
> correct way to do a dance that he has *written*, then that's totally
> appropriate: you have a truly authoritative prescription.  But as far as I
> can tell, that's a minority of our examples: more of them appear to be an
> author *describing* the way an existing dance happens to have been
> performed, right then at that specific time and place, and it's just a
> datapoint, not an absolute.  That makes it a good tentpole for our
> research, a solid foundation to build on, but viewing it as the *only* way
> this dance was actually performed in period is, IMO, probably just plain
> incorrect in most cases.
> Indeed, in some cases I'd be near-certain that the description we have is
> at best a minority view.  This is nicely exemplified by Chestnut.  I tend
> to teach it as-written, but Mara prefers to change the order of verses to
> the normal USA pattern, and I can't disagree with her logic: real people,
> doing this dance in a real setting, would likely have done it following the
> standard memes they are accustomed to.  (Indeed, I often suspect that
> Playford simply mis-transcribed it.)
> Another favorite example of dance variation is the relationship of
> Candlestick Bransle and Ballo del Fiore.  They are screamingly obviously
> the "same" dance, but viewed through so much folk-process evolution that
> they mutated into different species.  (I suspect both branching from the
> same original ur-folk-dance, but that's just a guess.)  I would bet good
> money that there were *many* intermediate stages of that evolution, as the
> dance wandered between France and Italy.
> And that matches everything I know about social dance: it evolves and
> changes more or less constantly, and fairly rapidly in the grand scheme of
> things.  Indeed, I find the Inns of Court dances fascinating precisely
> because they are the exception that proves the rule -- a repertoire that
> was astonishingly static for an astonishingly long time.  I don't think
> it's a coincidence that this happened within the specific context of law
> training, occurring in the same few buildings over a span of decades.
> None of which means that every possible variation is equally valid --
> figuring out what variations would be *likely* is a fairly subtle art, and
> a fairly subjective one.  But it's one of the more interesting areas of
> study, IMO, and the SCA -- with its informal "experimental archaeology"
> approach -- makes an interesting ground for examining it.  It's fascinating
> to observe the way we vary the dances in practice, compare that with what
> we know about period practices, and see what we can learn from it.  It
> often casts into sharp relief the way that our social setting doesn't match
> the period examples.
> So sure -- I don't have a problem with focusing on the dances precisely
> as-written: it's an easy and decently principled approach.  But as a
> representation of dance as it was actually done in period, I suspect it's
> misleading: it's a thought process that is distinctly modern, and I believe
> would have been considered downright weird in most of period.  We have a
> tendency to reify things to exactly one "correct" form, where the period
> reality was often that each of those things was actually a large family
> with many different exemplars.
> Mind, over in my other primary art, Games, this is *screamingly* clear --
> many of the games that we think of as a single game today, such as Chess or
> Backgammon or Cribbage, were actually families of games in period, with
> many documented variations.  During the birth of the modern era (and the
> rise of universal literacy), there was a profound movement towards unifying
> these families into single, consistent, universal forms -- but right up
> through the Renaissance, that's just not how folks *thought* about this
> stuff, far as I can tell...
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