Dance in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
Dancing in the middle ages was a very reserved practice as the church played an important role in the middle ages and did not approve of dancing. Eventually the church did approve and some dancing was implemented in some of the religious sermons.
Instruments used while dancing was mainly drums and background lute, accompanied by singing. Other instruments also included bells, jingles, long drums, nakers (or nakir: a small drum of Arabic origin), side drums, tabors, tambourines and timpani (also known as a kettle drum).
Medieval dances represent a rich culture from all over Europe and consist of many type and variations of dances. In this article we will explore the most common and popular forms of dances performed in the middle ages.
Many of our modern dances are derived from these types of middle age dances, with mostly each country adapting the dance to suite each owns culture and can be seen performed all over the world.
Unfortunately not many original documents remain on the procedures and steps of dances in the middle age time, and we can only assume how it was done according to the information which is available.
The main type of dance practiced was the chain dance. Various names existed for the chain dance, depending on country.
France named it “Carola”, or Carol. Northern France aptly named it “ronel” and in Germany it was known as “Reigen”.
The Carola consisted mainly of people forming a circle while holding hands and dancing to singing.
This dance is also a circle dance where couples form a circle with the women being on their partner’s right. Men and women alternate steps and turns. It is performed to variations of the tune “Sellingers round” by the medieval composer William Byrd.
The word branle is derived from the French word branler meaning to shake. It is a dance performed where couples in a circle move mainly from side to side or in a line and change partners at given times.
The Estampie replaced the Carola, or ring dancing by introducing line dancing where couples faced the public in lines and not dancing in a formed circle. Also more instruments were used, instead of singing.
The Saltarello name is derived from the Italian verb “saltare" and is a very lively and aerobic type of dance. It contains jump movements. originated in the 1400s in central Italy and is characterized by lively and leaping dance steps. Its name derives from the Italian verb "saltare," which means to jump, according to musician and author Lou Manzi in "Guitar Atlas Italy: Your Passport to a New World of Music."
This was the most popular court dance and was performed by two partners using slow and low movements, almost appearing to walk.
This is a passive dance. Movements are made in procession and mainly done in entrance to a court.
A lively dance performed by three couples using a verse and chorus style applied in country dances.
Two couples dance this dance. They make many turns and inter connect with other couples as the couples join the dance.
This style of dance is a country dance and involves making figure eight movements around bales of hay.
This line dance differs by starting using the right foot instead of the left. The ladies are always on the right side of their partner. Couples take each other’s right hand and then turn to each other. They move away from each other dropping their hands. They then move towards each other again, turn to face the line again and then join right hands again.
The Morris Dance
What is significant about this Morris Dance, is that it is the oldest dance which remains the same as it was since its introduction with King Edward the third. The Morris was danced in medieval times around a maypole with bells adorning their knees and carrying sticks representing swords. It is a very lively dance and tells the represents the story of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, little John and Tom the Piper. The dancers therefore dressed in character.
The Jig was also very much like the Black Alman with several kick, jumps and aerobic type movements.
This type of Medieval dances are like types of folk dances. It is identified by line dances or circular dances with couples facing each other or facing the public in lines. It consists of plenty clapping and spinning.
Scottish dances are usually very lively dances with plenty circular moves and gliding steps. National Scottish dances consisted of the reel, strathpeys (from the district of Strath Spay) and flings.
The Egg Dance
This dance was named after a popular middle ages Easter game and dancing of the egg dance meant that the dancers moved between the eggs and try to damage as little eggs as possible.
It was therefore performed during times of festivals and celebrations.
Ballet was became a popular dance in the late 1400’s. It was mostly used in European courts and was full length shows with 5 acts, several entrees and each entrees having a quadrille.
This dance is a quadrille with 5 or persons participating, or 4 or more couples.
The Pavan is also a slow processional dance, much the same as the Black Alman, but it is done in double time and has its origin in Italy.
The farandole dance is also a line dance, but is recognized by its snake like movements.
Burgundian dance is a dance from the late Middle Ages, usually played by a nobles. There were no floor patterns for the dance, but it was typically danced as a couple standing behind another. Again, the prominence of showing togetherness and a strong culture was portrayed in their dancing.