Catching up on some old email -
Back on 8/30 lady_alanna5718 wrote:
> Hi I'm Stephanie I'm in the Nahrun shire and I am interested in Irish
> and English Medieval dance ^-^
Lady Barbara\\\\\\ Jayne Barber gave you some contact information a while ago,
but I thought I'd add a bit about English/Irish dance history. As L. ... Jayne
said, we have no information about how the Irish may have danced - only
speculation. The earliest known dance choreographies date from 1445, so
medieval dances are unknown to us (there was plenty of dancing, we just don't
know what or how they danced).
The oldest known text describing English dance dates to about 1500. It was
first cataloged only 20 years ago and wasn't studied until about 10 years ago.
It is commonly called the Gresley ms. (because it comes from the Gresley
collection), but is sometimes called the Derbyshire manuscript (because that's
where it lives) or John Banys' Notebook - it is a notebook that was apparently
owned by a John Banis (or Banys) sometime between ~ 1480 and ~ 1520. This
unique source is ripe for study, but frustrating because it is personal notes,
not a teaching treatise. He used non-standard notation is is often ambiguous or
incomplete. Some of the dances seem to be related to Italian dances of the era,
but they are clearly different. There are eight dances with matching
choreography and music (plus others that do not seem to be missing music or
steps). These seem to be relatively simple dances, and I have seen some
reconstructions. Unfortunately, there are no commercial recordings of the
music, so I don't get to practice on my own. One of these days, I'll have sheet
music for our musicians ....
Another old source is the Copeland ms. This is a translation of a French book
of bassa dances, and also dates from around 1500. This doesn't include any
native English dances, but it does show that continental dances were also done
in England. Bassa dances, in fact, seem to have been popular all across Europe
in the 15th century (for more than 100 years, in fact, but sources for specific
dates/places are spotty). Bassa music is not hard to find, and I have choreo-
graphies for close to 300 bassa dances. They are elegant, stately dances.
Later on, we have the Old Measures, so called because we have multiple sets of
student notes spanning the years 1570 to 1670 that all describe the the same
set of eight dances, calling them "the old measures." Dancing these seems to
have been a requirement for lawyers and students at the Inns of Court, as fines
for missing the dance are recorded. The Old Measures, plus additional dances
in one or another manuscript, can also be called the Inns of Court dances,
since they were performed there, and all but one of the mss. belonged to law
students at the Inns of Court (where all London barristers are required to keep
offices). Some of the misc. dances found among the mss. are clearly
continental, such as the "sink-a-pace" (cinq-pas, or galliard).
Recent scholarship has found relationships between some of the English Country
dances and old Italian court dances. As L. Jayne has already addressed
Playford, I'll leave it here.
Which leads to another group of dances that may be appropriate for Renaissance
English (and by conjecture, Irish) dance recreation: European dances from
other sources. Arbeau (1589 France) is plagiarized in a 1620's manual
dedicated to the Duke of Buckingham. Italian dances are referenced and
sometimes described across Europe, so these can work, too.
So while we don't know details about "Irish and English Medieval dance," we do
at least have resources for the end of the medieval period in England and for
If you have any questions, I'm always glad to share what I've learned.
I hope this helps.
Keith / Guillaume S:}>
Caerthen master of dance