Article By Joanna of the Beechwoods and Brian le faucheeur.
Sheet Music, available for free use within the Society for Creative Anacronism, is available as a PDF file, an NWC file or a Midi file.
When we found that we were both writing articles on this dance*1 we also found we were in agreement about some things. One is that people being taught it for the first time are often confused by the sequence of steps. The other is that different people find themselves best able to remember it in different ways.
We also agree that whenever large numbers of dancers gather, we forget it in different ways, too. :)
Why get it right? Jacques Moderne said "It is very useful and profitable for one to know the manner of dancing well, with all the honour which falls to one"*2; Joanna says it is an elegant dance with a slow pace that lends itself to social interaction (and one of this year's Bal d'Argent competition dances); Brian says it is often danced - either as one of the "Known World Four" or alone - and it is a basse dance, one of which you need to know to join the Dance Guild of the Silver Rondel.*3
Finally, we found that attention to detail showed that some of the steps are more interesting than you may think.
First, it will be easier if you know the Abbreviations:
Rv R Reverence
SL s Single Left
SR s Single Right
DL d Double Left
DR d Double Right
Rp r Reprise
Br b Branle
Congé c congé
Then he lists the Retour in the same form: b d r b ss ddd r d r b c
He says this is to be learnt by rote, and
while this is certainly doable, there are easier ways.
The Repeated Sequence
2 Singles (SL, SR)
1 or 3 Doubles
(First Time through DL, Second Time DL,DR,DL, Third Time DL, Fourth Time DL,DR,DL,)
[Third time through, Insert Bit Here]
1 Double Left
The Bit You Insert
On the Third time through, ONLY, insert this bit:
Section A = SL, SR,
Section B = DL Rp,
Section C = DL Rp Br
Section D = DL, DR
Everything in the dance lines is actually a variation on ABC & D and it is just necessary to learn what they stand for along with the sequence of the following variations.
1) Rv/Congé Line - Rv, Br
2) Dance Line - Main: A B C
3) Dance Line - Variation 1: A D B C
[After that, each Dance Line variation gets shorter until only C is left]
4) Dance Line - Variation 2: A C
[You can use AC as a mnemonic -"Alternating Congé"- as the Conge mentioned in 5) actually takes place in the last bar of the Branle of the C in 4)]
5) Rv/Congé Line - Congé,
[The Rv/Congé Line also gets shorter as the Congé is a 1 beat Rv]
Technically the retour begins with the Br, but it is easier to ignore this for the purpose of teaching the dance.
6) Dance Line - Variation 3: C
[The dance line now as short as it gets]
7) Dance Line - Variation 1 A D B C
[Back to the maximum length]
8) Rv/Congé Line - Congé
[Short as it gets - Congé only, within previous Branle’s last bar]
If you continue to have difficulty, showing
them a different way of remembering the sequence, as shown earlier in this
article and in Del's Dance Book*5, may help.
Trying several different approaches concurrently may also work.
After some discussion we arrived at interpretations of the steps we can agree on. For our reasoning, and some other variations, see the promised long article when we write it*1
Joanna will NOT be asking Bal d'Argent
judges to penalise you if you do another version of a step. The title is
Secretary, not Dictator, and they would not listen to me anyway.
First Bar - Pause
Second Bar - Move one foot back while turning toward your partner and glancing at them.
Third & Fourth Bars - Move the foot forward again while turning to the front once more.
Arbeau, who is addressing an imaginary
male student, says to move the Reverence right foot, so as to be able to
turn toward the lady and throw her a courteous glance. This would imply
that the lady uses the left foot, turning toward the gentleman, unless
he is to glance courteously at the back of her head.
However Arbeau also uses this illustration:
Here the lady appears to stand still and
receive the Reverence rather than performing one. We doubt that this will
be accepted by many SCA ladies however, so we commend the left foot version
Note also that the gentleman shows only a slight inclination of his body, not a large bow.
Arbeau says to keep your feet*6 together and gently turn your body first to the left, then the right, left, right. He also says to glance modestly at the spectators, at least during the second turn, and aim a discreetly tender sidelong glance at the lady during the last turn. We suggest the lady turns in the reverse direction i.e. Right, Left, Right, Left, unless she wishes to avoid the gentleman's glance.
Arbeau does not mention hand gestures at
all, but some movement of the hands and arms is natural when turning the
body and they can be a graceful complement to the glances.
As with all travelling steps, gentlemen
should remember that steps should not be too long, for the sake
of the lady.
Note on Singles and Doubles:
In most dances where singles and doubles follow one another, they alternate right or left. This is the natural way to do it as you do not transfer your weight onto the foot that is brought up to meet the other foot at the end of the step. This makes it the easy foot to move next.
The movements for the Gentleman are as follows:
First Bar - Shift your weight mostly onto the left foot and rotate the toe of the right foot outwards (no more than a few inches so as not to tread on the lady or her hems).
Second Bar - Rotate the right toe back to starting position.
Third Bar - Shift your weight mostly onto the right foot and rotate the left toe outwards (no more than a few inches so as not to end in an awkward stance)
Fourth Bar- Shift your weight mostly onto the left foot and rotate the right toe outwards again, then centre your weight.
Ladies should reverse right and left, so that:
First Bar - Partners inside feet move closer but their bodies move apart.
Second Bar - Inside feet withdraw from partner's. ("Footsies" indeed ?)
Third Bar - Bodies move closer together.
Fourth Bar - Inside feet move closer while bodies move apart and prepare to move forward, or branle.
This makes for four minor but graceful
and/or flirting shifts in stance which also cause the partners to turn
a little toward each other in the first and fourth bars.*7
In full, it is a quick Reverence, turning a little towards your partner, with the Gentleman removing his hat. As time is so short and Arbeau does not say when to put the hat back on, perhaps it could be re-assumed at the end of the following Branle or Rv (see below).
Arbeau also mentions a normal Reverence that takes place after the final Congé of this basse dance and before the Tordion – the dance that normally follows. The musicians may or may not allow you time to do this
*1 A much longer version of this article, full of links, French quotes and discussion, will eventually be available at our web sites – Joanna's (here) or Brian's http://www.pinch.net.au/scadance/dancearticles.html
*2 "From the translation of "S'ensuyvent
Plusieurs Basses Dances
Tant Communes Que Incommunes" by Jacques Moderne" 1532-3 in The Letter of Dance, volume 2, by Geoffrey Mathias
*3 Dance Guild of the Silver Rondels. http://www.sca.org.au/rondel/
*4 A point at which a phrase, or melody, comes to rest.
*5 See the Bibliography
*6 The illustration shows the heels together, as do all the illustrations in Orchesography that show feet together.
Arbeau says to move the big toe as if the feet "fremioient". Some possible
meanings of this are to tremble, shiver, shake or quake.
Possibly as in shake the feet/big toe out, and we have this being done gracefully, and not shaking while moving. This could also be
done in a very small step of less than six inches, but then the heels wouldn't be together at the end of the reprise.
Arbeau, Thoinot. Orchesographie - Facsimile edition available online from the United States of America Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/cgi- bin/query/r? ammem/musdibib:@field(NUMBER+@band(musdi+219)) and on the CD version of Dels dance disk
Arbeau, Thoinot (aka Jehan Tabourot). Orchesography - translated by Mary Stewart Evans, Dover Publications, Inc, 1967 ISBN 0-486-21745-0
Bradley, Henry. Stratmann's Middle-English dictionary, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-863106-5
The Collins Robert French
Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers, 1990
ISBN 0 00 433451-5
Cotgrave, Randle. A
Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues
Del's Dance Book, 6th Edition,
2003 (CD version). Online edition at
Feuillet, Raoul-Auger. Orchesography,
or the Art of Dancing, 1706. An English translation by John Weaver of the
original French text of
Recüil de contredances 2nd edition. Facsimile copy is available on the CD version of Dels dance disk
Florio, John. Queen Anna's New World of Words, or Dictionarie of the Italian and English Tongues,1611. / A facsimile also available on the CD version of Del's dance disk
Graner, Nicolas. Orchesographie transcription of Original http://graner.net/nicolas/arbeau/
Lindahl, G. Images from Arbeau
Mayhew A. L., Skeat, Walter
W., A Concise Dictionary of Middle English From A.D. 1150 To 1580, Project
Gutenberg EBook #10625
SCA Publication (various
authors), The Letter of Dance, volume 2, First published 1991.