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Encouraging Period Dance

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  • McClune, Sheila
    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
    Message 1 of 4 , May 19 1:02 PM
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      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
      event sometime.

      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
      with.

      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
      collegia

      - 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!

      Arwen

      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???

      A.
    • Eric
      This sounds like the theory I use for mundane dancing. I only dance at weddings, because my friends have probably seen me make a fool of myself before, and
      Message 2 of 4 , May 21 9:48 PM
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        This sounds like the theory I use for mundane dancing. I only dance at
        weddings, because my friends have probably seen me make a fool of myself
        before, and the people I don't know, I'll probably never see again.
        All of the ideas for encouraging more dancing sound good. I would suggest
        one more, and that is that some of the more experienced dancers ask relatively
        new or inexperienced dancers to dance. It is easy to get into the habit of
        dancing with certain people, especially spouses or signficant others. But if
        you dance with a less experienced person, and help them get through the dance,
        especially if you can try to make them look good in the process, it will
        encourage them to dance more.
        I think that the two biggest things are, making sure that there are
        opportunities to dance at events, and teaching period dances on a regular
        basis so that people know that they are fun.
        For those who don't get CA, the latest issue covers period dance. I haven't
        had a chance to read it yet, but I thought people would like to know.
        Eric Edmundsson
      • McClune, Sheila
        ... From: Eric All of the ideas for encouraging more dancing sound good. I would suggest one more, and that is that some of the more
        Message 3 of 4 , May 25 10:45 AM
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          -----Original Message-----
          From: Eric <esbarnes@...>

          All of the ideas for encouraging more dancing sound good. I would suggest
          one more, and that is that some of the more experienced dancers ask
          relatively
          new or inexperienced dancers to dance. It is easy to get into the habit of
          dancing with certain people, especially spouses or signficant others. But
          if
          you dance with a less experienced person, and help them get through the
          dance,
          especially if you can try to make them look good in the process, it will
          encourage them to dance more.
          <<<

          One of the things we do try to do is mix it up so that people get to dance
          with lots of different partners. Our unofficial "rule" is that you
          shouldn't dance with someone twice until you've danced with everyone else
          there. I think that dancing with different partners helps a lot, and we do
          try to balance experienced dancers with inexperienced ones between sets,
          too.

          >>>
          For those who don't get CA, the latest issue covers period dance. I haven't
          had a chance to read it yet, but I thought people would like to know.
          <<<

          I haven't had a chance to read this yet, either, since we just got it when
          we got home last night. But I got to meet the authors of this at Known
          World Dance, and they are cool folks. FYI, there is a CD of music to
          accompany the CA. I've ordered an advance copy, and I'll try to bring the
          info in tomorrow so I can tell other folks how to order it, too.

          And I'll be writing lots on KWD ... but not today, I'm busy catching up on
          three days' worth of work!

          Arwen
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        • JEANNE STAPLETON
          ... I also find that there s a proportional relationship between alcohol consumed and dancing at weddings. But the cool thing is that not only does your
          Message 4 of 4 , Jun 9, 1999
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            > This sounds like the theory I use for mundane dancing. I only dance at
            > weddings, because my friends have probably seen me make a fool of myself
            > before, and the people I don't know, I'll probably never see again.

            I also find that there's a proportional relationship between alcohol
            consumed and dancing at weddings.

            But the cool thing is that not only does your impression of your own
            ability grow rosier, quite often people who are stiff *do* get better
            at dancing because they relax; and your tolerance of others' weird moves
            increases.

            > All of the ideas for encouraging more dancing sound good. I would suggest
            > one more, and that is that some of the more experienced dancers ask relatively
            > new or inexperienced dancers to dance. It is easy to get into the habit of
            > dancing with certain people, especially spouses or signficant others. But if
            > you dance with a less experienced person, and help them get through the dance,
            > especially if you can try to make them look good in the process, it will
            > encourage them to dance more.

            I agree that it's important to dance with more people than just those you
            know, especially if you're part of a couple. An interesting "moral"
            judgment can intrude in that I find that sometimes very shy or very
            new couples not only don't want to dance with anyone else, but sometimes
            mistakenly judge others harshly. I find that a careful explanation can
            deal with the latter, and a good on-going example the former--"see,
            everyone really *does* dance with someone different every dance, but
            they save their favorite for their spouse..."

            It's a pity that modern society has gotten at once saturated with sex
            and at the same time judgmental of activities that formerly had no
            potential hidden meaning attached to them...

            > I think that the two biggest things are, making sure that there are
            > opportunities to dance at events, and teaching period dances on a regular
            > basis so that people know that they are fun.

            Precisely. And don't allow the dichotomy to continue to exist making
            "period" dances the opposite of "fun" dances.

            I don't like the fast, sloppy dances any more where people are just
            romping and not paying attention to their styling, artistry and manners.

            > For those who don't get CA, the latest issue covers period dance. I haven't
            > had a chance to read it yet, but I thought people would like to know.
            > Eric Edmundsson
            >
            It's really great and quite thorough.

            Berengaria
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