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How Did Medieval People Dance?

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Does anyone here know how to do the Carole? wink1.gif This article isn't on ballet history per se, but as it's European dance history, it's pertinent to the subject: How did medieval people dance?

Historians have known that medieval people enjoyed dancing, but they did not know exactly how they danced.

In his book, The Carole: A Study of a Medieval Dance, Mullally pieces together a wide variety of literary sources that mention the Carole, one of the main dances of Western Europe in the 12th and 14th centuries. He reveals that it was a relatively simple dance done by men and women together: to do the carole, a group of people, usually an even number of both men and women, would form a circle, sometimes around an object like a tree. They would each hold hands (sometimes they would hold each other by their fingers) in this circle and move to the left (in a clockwise direction). By moving sideways to the left, the dancers would start their step with their left foot, and then join the right foot to the left. The sources often describe it as the right foot striking against the other. It was considered an elegant and graceful manoeuvre.

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Strangest thing, but for some reason your link takes me to our home page(?)

Interesting topic. I do remember reading that people used to dance in circles around fires (or churches), which the Wikipedia entry (here) also mentions.

Circle or line dances also existed in other parts of Europe outside of England, France and Italy where the term carol was best known. These dances were of the same type with dancers hand-in-hand and a leader who sang the ballad.[16]

There were also link dances - one thinks immediately of the Dance of Death.

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I've danced something that was identified as a Carole (which did follow those directions) in dance history classes, and have in turn taught some of them to my students. Two other dances from the same era are L'Escargot (dancers holding hands in one line, leader spirals into center of circle and then reverses it out again, rest of line following along) and Thread the Needle (basic "under the bridge" pattern for line of couples) As I understand it, most dances of this period were performed outdoors, often on broken ground, so that the patterns had to be able to accommodate the environment. Once people started dancing indoors (those who could afford a building large enough for that kind of event) the dances could become more about bigger, kaleidoscope-like patterns and more complex footwork.

Or, to paraphrase the joke about someone walking across a sheepfold:

How did Medieval people dance? Very carefully.

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Re the dances of death, there were several round dances -- such as Ring Around the Rosy, where they all fell down "dead" at the end (and some, it is written, were actually dead) and Pied Piper type dances, as mentioned above, but the Dance of Death, I've always read and been taught, is what you see at the end of Bergman's film "The Seventh Seal": death leading the doomed away, often up a hill (as in the film) with their black cloaks flying. It was an image, but not an actual dance.

And then there was the dansomanie, which now many think was caused by vilagers eating rotten grain, where whole towns of people danced themselves to death, literally.

But on the ordinary Saturday night, there were round dances that went on continiually -- no beginning/middle/end; you just entered and left as it pleased you. The Maypole Dance is an example of this dance (the form was called the carole; that's the major one; I'm sure there were others). And later there was the estampe, the first dance that had watchers as well as dancers; also, it had a beginning/middle/end.

The steps, I do not know. But there are several groups who do, and have reconstructed them. A friend of mine taught my class at a local university a few of these and they were very like games, very simple steps, and play-like hand gestures (couples wagging their fingers at each other as if to say, "Oh! You've been naughty."

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The dance of death certainly wasn't any kind of social or formalized dance and sorry if I seemed to suggest that in my post. The connection between the actual link dances that people did and the dance of death imagery seems pretty clear, I think.

Death dances around in the procession, calling people to the dance, but most of the dancers-to-be try to decline.
All over Europe one could see the long chain dances with Death dancing away with citizens from all walks of society.

From the movie. ("They dance away in a solemn dance, away to the dark country.") The dancers certainly aren't eager to get into the act, but as noted above they're not eager participants....

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