Development of Dance Through the
by Harold & Meredith Sears
Carole, the root dance from
which all court dances developed. It was a chain dance and perhaps
dates back to the Minoan civilization in Crete, c. 1400--1200 B.C.
There were two forms: linear and circular:
Farandole, a linear chain
dance characteristic of Mediterranean countries, which gave us figures
-- dancers joined hands and walked or skipped, tracing a pattern or
Branle, a circular or arc
chain dance characteristic of more northern countries, which gave us
rhythms and steps -- quicks and slows, jumps and hops, and the
eight-beat phrase: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.
Early Middle Ages---
Estampie, the first couple
dance, arising out of the idea of courtly love. One couple
broke from the chain and, still side-by-side, danced a few figures
while the rest of the group looked on. Too, where the Carole had no
focus, but milled amorphously, the Estampie had a front, a focus on the
head of the hall (king, lord, duke . . .). This development gave rise
to a dichotomy between folk dancing and court dancing.
- German Saltarello or Allemande, another partnered
Late Middle Ages France
French Basse Danse, a
processional dance, a number of couples, one behind the other,
progressing around the circumference of the hall, in 3/4 time, with
elaborate, rigidly stylized steps and arm and head movements.
Characterized by opposite footwork and actions for the woman.
Tordion, a jumping dance that
led to the Galliard
Italian Bassa Danza, a slow
and stately court dance. Here, we see the beginnings of rise and fall
(called Aiere) on marble floors, rather than flat walking out of doors
or on the rushes covering a castle floor. There was also the use of
contra-body position (called Maniera, ("mannerism") and épaulement in
Ballo, a dance consisting of
both slower rhythms and quicker, more peasant-like rhythms.
High Renaissance France &
Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare.
Pavane, a slow, simple,
controlled processional or couple dance.
Measures, a slow figure or
Galliard, an athletic dance
mainly for the man with the woman in relatively quiet admiration. It
was the first symmetrical dance -- it led with each foot equally. For
an example, listen to the 19th century aria 'La donna e mobile' from
Volta, an athletic couple
dance that involved regular lifts of the woman (scandalous -- one might
glimpse her knees or more -- but Queen Elizabeth enjoyed it).
Almain, meaning "German"
dance, a peasant-like processional dance featuring an escort hand hold
and consisting of three steps and a hop, repeated, and various simple
Coranto, a chain dance with
regular one-foot hops and two-feet jumps.
Louis XIV (1638--1715) France and
Slow Courante, derived from
the Coranto but a couple dance rather than chain, formal rather than
casual, slow and stately, smooth and composed, and "with great
negligence." From now on, court dances must never look as though we are
making an effort -- no jumps, no lifts. One or one-and-a-quarter inch
heels and an upper-class habit of walking with turned-out toes became
common. All this was a transition from an Italian Renaissance style to
the French Baroque.
Western Europe, French Court,
Revolution (1789--1799), Georgian England, 1714--1830, Henry Fielding
and Jane Austen.
Minuet, a rigid, stylized,
couple, processional, geometric pattern dance; the last dance in which
we use same footwork rather than opposite. The five classical foot
positions are formalized (first through fifth position). Where rise and
fall had involved "rise above normal and then sink to normal," in now
involved "sink below normal, rise above, and then return to normal."
The idea of not contra-body but contra-arm work became stylized. If the
left foot were forward, then the right arm would be raised or otherwise
Passepied, literally "pass the
feet," a fast minuet.
Gavotte, a medium to fast
ballet. At the end, the lead man would kiss his partner and then all
the women in the group, and the lead woman would so honor the men.
Bourree, an easy-going square
dance to 3/4 and 2/4 music.
Cotillon, a lively square
dance for four couples, one on each side of a square. In the nineteenth
century, it acquired game-like components (e.g., musical chairs) with
winners, losers, and prizes.
Gigue = Jig, a lively dance
for one, two, or more people featuring fast stamping footwork and a
Hornpipe, an energetic dance
that features stylized sailors' skills, such as climbing, rigging, and
Regency England, 1795--1837,
Revolution, Victorian Era, 1837--1901, Napoleonic Wars, 1803--1815.
Waltz, "the greatest change in
dance form and dancing manners that has happened in our history." The
first appearance of closed position in polite society -- not hand in
hand but arm around waist; not side by side but face to face; not
focused on the king, dance leader, or on fellow dancers but focused on
each other. The rapid rotation was dizzying, exhausting, and led to a
loss of control. Where earlier 3/4 music had a strong first and second
beat, waltz music had a strong 1-beat, a weak 2, and a medium 3. It was
hypnotic (think Strauss).
Boston, a slower version of
the waltz with feet parallel and heels touching the floor. (In 1924,
ISTD decreed that our feet should remain parallel -- no more "turnout."
A rule that had lasted over 300 years was "repealed.")
Galop, fast, lively, closed
position, a forerunner to the polka.
- Mazurka, Polish couple dance.
- Habanera, Cuban couple dance.
- Schottische, another couple dance.
Polka, a jolly couple dance to
4/4 music that incorporates a little jump.
Quadrille, a lively square
dance for four couples.
Lancers, a more stately square
dance for four couples, containing military bows and salutes and deep
Edwardian England, WWI,
WWII, 1939--1945, Queen Elizabeth II, 1952--present.
Two Step, grew out of the
nineteenth century galop and the polka, and at first was a vivacious
marching dance with interpolated skips. There is no rise and fall, as
One Step, smooth, steady,
walking rhythm in which the dancer walks on every other beat (a "slow"
count) or runs on every beat (a "quick" count). It evolved out of the
Tango, an earthy, erotic,
proud, and passionate dance with the look of a stylized duel, partners
stalking each other in a restless prowl, bodies pressed together,
intense eye contact, and legs thrusting in attack. Later, much of the
flirtation, temptation, and maybe passion were taken out.
"Animal" dances like the
Turkey Trot and Bunny Hug arose out of ragtime music. Vernon and Irene
Castle showed that one could dance beautifully to ragtime. The Castles'
presentations of the one step, two step, waltz, and tango were so
popular that Vernon has been called the "father of modern dancing."
- Charleston, three more ragtime dances from the '20s.
Slow Waltz, a slower form (~30
measures per minute) of the earlier Viennese Waltz (~60 m/m).
Slow Foxtrot, a
closed-position dance in 4/4 time, slow-quick-quick, with long gliding
steps and more gradual rise and fall than in waltz. An especially
striking feature of English Ballroom was the close contact at the hips
and lower torso, allowing the man and woman to dance as one body,
rather than two. Lead and follow became more precisely controlled. A
new technique, the woman's heel turn allowed an easier turn on a single
point. And these turns need not be punctuated as in waltz -- forward,
side, close -- with that closing step interrupting progress around the
hall. A foxtrot turn is just as big but more flowing -- forward, side,
back -- with the back step continuing the progress in an unbroken flow.
Quickstep, a fast foxtrot with
some ragtime charleston and the characteristic chasse. Mr. Alex Moore,
one of the foremost teachers of English ballroom dance, has referred to
the quickstep as, "a dance that can never grow stale, a dance that is
unquestionably the most attractive expression of rhythm the world has
Tango, a flat, walking dance
with characteristic right-shoulder lead and a closing step that is a
American: Rumba, Paso Doble, Bolero, Samba, Mambo, Cha Cha, Merengue,
Lindy, Jitterbug, Rock 'n' Roll, Jive, West Coast Swing, Hustle or
Nightclub or Slow Two Step, Watusi, Twist, Jerk, Swim, Monkey, Frug,
1920s---Henry Ford promotes square
round dancing in Detroit.
1930s & 40s---Lloyd Shaw
square and round dancing in Colorado Springs.
Instructions," later to become cue sheets. The first syllabus of standard round dance figures was printed.
1960s---Round dances are still
memorized but cueing was beginning to be used.
1970s--Cueing becomes popular.
based on May I Have the Pleasure? The Story
Popular Dancing, by Belinda Quirey, Dance
Books, Cecil Court, London, 1993 (orig., 1976). A brief version was
published in the Washington Area Square Dancers
Cooperative Association (WASCA) Calls 'n'
Cues, 9/2010. A longer version was published in the DRDC
If you would like to read other articles on dance
position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit
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