Dancing has always been a man’s way of expressing ecstasy and happiness. Dating back to the early parts of the Medieval era, Medieval dances were a joyous addition to life back then, with people from all walks of life embracing this art form with all heart. Broadly categorized into Court Dance and Country Dance, these two dances were the lifeline of social gatherings, festivals, village fairs, and holidays.
Medieval Dance History
Medieval dances can easily be traced back to the beginning of the medieval period. Like much of what the society did was dictated by the Church, even medieval dances were the Church’s prerogative, primarily reserved for some selected religious practices and events. The Church initially disapproved of public dancing, practised only by a handful of people and sections of society. Still, as civilization grew, things changed, and medieval dances became part of an ordinary man’s life and culture.
Practised across Europe in different types and forms, medieval dance forms like Carol, Basse Dance, Egg Dance, and the Scottish Dance became popular over time. These dances were often accompanied by different musical instruments like drums and the lutes and were performed on live singing performances.
Types of Medieval Dance
There were different kinds of Medieval dances. However, the most famous ones are as follows:
Circle Dance: Circle dancing is probably the oldest form of dance formation and is believed to have existed even before the medieval period. It was performed in a circle with different steps.
Court Dance: These were the more exuberant type of dances performed in a court. Dance steps like tiptoeing, jumping, and curtseys were an integral part of several dance forms like the Basse Dance, Black Alman, Black Nag, and Rufty Tufty.
Line Dance: Just like Circle Dances, Line Dances were performed in line with several rows and were properly choreographed. The most common kind of such dances included La Spagna, The Morris Dance, and The Jig.
Country Dance: These were primarily folk dances and combined circle and line dances involving a lot of spinning and clapping. Some popular dances were The Egg Dance, Quadrille, Pavan, Farandole, and Burgundian dance.
Most Popular Medieval Dance
Even though all dances were enjoyed and celebrated equally, some were more popular than others and widely practised. Dance like Carol Dance, Estampie, and Egg Dance became popular among the people during that period.
Carol Dance: Carol Dance was simply the most popular of them all. It was first reported in the 12th and 13th centuries and is believed to be performed on various occasions. It was a circle dance where the performers gathered in designated spots and moved to the music beats. This dance was well-orchestrated and rehearsed before being performed.
Estampie: The Estampie is a more evolved form of dancing than Carol dance as it involves a combination of line and circle dance. During the performance, the participants faced the audience giving it a more performing arts feel. Instead of singing, instruments were used to create music.
Egg Dance: Based on an Easter game, the dancers moved around eggs without damaging them. It was most commonly performed during festivals and large-scale celebrations.
Medieval Dance Music
Medieval dances, especially in the early medieval era were accompanied only by carol singers, who would also create music with their mouths. Later, as things evolved, these dances started having musical instruments like long and side drums, kettle drums, tabors, and tambourines. Sometimes, simple jingles and bells were used to accompany the dances.
Medieval Dance Costume
The costumes made an exciting part of the dances that varied according to the class. The dresses were more vivid, luxurious and dramatic when practised by the upper class. It included swanky silk gowns with strapless and long sleeves for a dramatic impact. The costumes were decorated with laces, sewn and entwined to make them look pretty and elegant. The women wore corsets and properly structured petticoats underneath the fancy outfits that gave the gowns a nicely-shaped rounded shape towards the bottom. Headdresses also played a vital part in making the dancers look vibrant.
Men, on the other hand, dressed in bold-coloured tunics embellished with emblems of their estates or legacy. Those of a certain stature would also carry swords fitted to the right on their belts. Leather boots and furry hats accompanied these to complete the look.
The dresses for peasants were rather plain and undecorated, signifying their economic condition. During the medieval era, the peasants usually only had one pair of dresses, which they wore during dance performances. They would adorn the fanciest of them if they had other pairs.
Dancing in the Medieval period was about celebrations, expression and festivities, just like today. The dances were just as vibrant and joyous as the society back then. They brought people together and added more happiness to their lives.