Hi! I see we've got a few new subscribers with us, so I'm going to see if I
can get the ball rolling here with some discussion on ways to encourage a)
more dancing, and b) period dances, rather than "peri-oid" and folk dances.
As some of you know, the first dance practice of each month in Caerthe is
devoted to "discussion group" -- mostly because the only meeting room we
could get at the library on those days is a small room filled with a large
table. At our April discussion group, I brought up this topic, and here are
some of my resulting notes:
To encourage more dancing:
- Include dance in newcomers' events/classes: In Caerthe, we do
meetings for newcomers on an semi-regular basis. The idea was to include a
short dancing lesson (maybe a simple branle or country dance), along with a
brief sketch of dance etiquette. That lets new people know that there IS
dance in the SCA.
- Work with cooks and autocrats ahead of time to schedule time for
dancing, and be willing to be flexible, i.e., dance in the afternoon instead
of in the evening after feast. At larger events, we run into the problem of
long courts, feasts served at a leisurely pace (so that by the time the
feast is finished, it's time to clean up and go home), and schedules that
just don't allow time for dancing. Another of the trends we are noticing
here in Caerthe is that, because wet sites are becoming a thing of the past,
many events seem to be breaking up earlier and earlier so that people can go
to the post-revel and relax with a tankard of their favorite libation. It's
not uncommon for a smaller event to be cleaned up, over, and done with by
10:00 pm, even when we have the hall until midnight. That's two hours we
could have been dancing, folks!
To combat this, we're going to try to see if we can schedule time in the
afternoon for dancing at some events. This also helps with the problem of
people not wanting to dance when they have just stuffed themselves silly
with a wonderful feast.
- Be prepared for impromptu, "pick-up" dancing at all events (have the
boom box, *with batteries*, and the dance CD with us.)
- Publish a list of dances and practices in the area. That's one of
my goals with this list -- to let people know what other practices are going
on in their area.
These things will all encourage people to do more dancing. However,
I would also very much like to see more *period* dances being done. Guess
it's time for my standard "position paper" on the subject ...
<soapbox mode on>
I don't like seeing what are basically post-period and modern folk
dances being passed off at SCA events as "medieval" dance. I find it very
annoying that the majority of dances that are done at events date from
post-1700, rather than pre-1650. (I'm willing to stretch that "period" line
far enough to get even the third edition of Playford, so we can get Black
Nag, but that's still 1650's). I won't bore those of you who have already
heard it with my "Korobushka Lecture"; if you're curious, come find me at an
The arguments I hear for these dances being done is that "they're
fun and people like them." Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to people
having fun, or doing dances they like, but if that's the kind of dancing
they want to do, there are folk, square, and contra dance groups out there,
who are usually looking for enthusiastic new members.
I think the real reason these dances are done in the SCA is
two-fold: First, once upon a time, there were very few resources available
to dance teachers. There were only a couple of period sources that could be
found easily, and even when you could find written instructions, you usually
couldn't find the music anyway. So people taught what they could find. I
believe that that's how Hole In the Wall, which dates to the late 1690's,
came to be an SCA standard.
So now these are the dances people know, which is the second reason
people want to do them: they are comfortable with them. For a lot of
people, dancing is a risky activity -- there's the very real chance that
you'll go out there and mess up and look stupid in front of everybody.
Which is why, once people get to know a few dances well enough that they
won't look stupid doing them, those are the ones they consider "fun":
having defined their comfort zone, they are then reluctant to go outside it.
The problem is that many dance teachers feel obliged to continue
teaching those same post-period dances, and even introduce additional
similar ones, because that's what they and their students feel comfortable
That's how I see it, anyway, because the "that's all we can find"
argument just doesn't hold up anymore. Between resources available for free
via the internet and inter-library loan, more period music recorded on CD,
CD burners and inexpensive CD production (which allows groups like Loch
Salann to produce their own dance CD), SCA dance manuals that are sold
through local SCA merchants, new translations of period sources, and even
mundane and SCA dance instruction videos, there is no shortage of
instructions for period dance.
So what it all boils down to is that people in general, and dancers
and dance instructors in particular, tend to not want to go outside familiar
territory. Not too surprising, really -- it's just basic human nature.
<soapbox mode off>
Anyway, I guess my next question for the assembled group has to be:
How can we break down some of those barriers and *gently* urge people to
expand their comfort zone to include some documentably period dances?
Here are some of the thoughts we discussed:
- Hold a dance collegium, with a guest instructor from out-of-kingdom,
so that we can learn new dances and dances as they are done in other areas.
Hold the event in late January, when airfares are low, so that we can afford
to pay or help pay transportation expenses for the guest instructor.
Possible instructors: Baron Patri, Countess Mara, Master Giles, Mistress
Lizbeth. Don't have a feast; instead serve a cold sideboard of nibblies, so
that there will be more time for dancing, and so that dancers won't be too
full to dance. THL Tatiana suggested making this a regional event, as there
are interested dancers and teachers in the surrounding groups. I think this
sounds like an excellent idea.
- Don't include post-1650 dances in curriculum for practices or
- Form a performance dance troupe to demonstrate showpieces and more
difficult period dances. Let people see how much fun dance can be.
Just as a note, it *can* be done. With a very few exceptions, I have been
teaching exclusively pre-1660 dances at Caerthen practices for around two
years now. I know that Dragonsspine has been following a similar policy for
quite a while as well.
With those thoughts, I'm off to Known World Dance. Hopefully, I'll come
back with all kinds of new and wonderful dances and ideas to improve dancing
in the Outlands. I'm really looking forward to it!
p.s. Forgot to mention -- I just got my copy of Janelyn & Trahearn's Inns
of Court dance cd & instruction booklet. I'll work up a review of it to
post here soon -- meanwhile, does anyone else have a particularly good (or
bad, for that matter) dance manual or CD they would like to review here???