Elizabethan dance varied according to the social class. The court dances enjoyed by royalty, nobility and the Upper classes were often imported from Italy, Spain or France. These dance forms varied considerably from the energetic Galliard to the refined and stately Pavane. The lower classes enjoyed the more traditional country dances such as the Jig, Morris Dancing or the Brand or the Brawle which were closely associated with the customs and festivals celebrated in Elizabethan England.
Elizabethan Dance - Dances of the Upper Class
Elizabethan dances differed between the Upper and Lower Classes. The Upper Classes enjoyed new types of music at court. They had a taste for new music and new dances. Many courtiers travelled abroad and returned to the Elizabethan court with dances from Italy, Spain and France. These foreign influences were found in the development of new Elizabethan court dances and music. These new dances had to be learnt and Dancing Masters were suitably employed. These Elizabethan dances were highly sophisticated and stately with intricate steps and nuances, although the old favorite English country dances were still popular. Many of the Court dances were performed as couples and the suggestive Elizabethan court dance called the Volt was the only dance which allowed the dancers to embrace closely. The form of entertainment called the Masque was popular with the Upper classes. Masques were accompanied with music and dance at the beginning and end of the performances and during the interludes. The dances which accompanied the masques had unusual names such as the 'Tinternell', 'Maske of Queens', 'The Earl of Essex's Measure', Lord Zouch's Maske and the 'Turkeylony' - many of these titles reflected the names of the patrons. The most important Elizabethan dances were the Pavan, Galliards and Almain.
Elizabethan Dance - Famous Elizabethan Dancing Masters
The dance requirements of the English Elizabethan court required the services of Dancing Masters. Many of the dances originated in Europe, notably in Italy, France and Spain. The most famous Dancing Masters were Thoinot Arbeau (1520 - 1595 - French), Fabritio Caroso (1536 - 1605 - Italian) and Cesare Negri (1535-1604 - Italian). These Elizabethan Dancing Masters each produced Dance Manuals which were printed and distributed. Various types of dance steps were included in these famous dance manuals including walking steps, cutting steps, sliding, stamping, leaping, jumping and hopping.
Elizabethan Dance - The influence of Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth encouraged music and dancing amongst all of her subjects. She was a patron of all the Arts and encouraged the work of Elizabethan composers and musicians. She had been taught to play musical instruments as part of her education and was a skilled musician of the lute and the virginal. Her education also included learning to dance. Queen Elizabeth and her court used dance as a means of daily exercise. In the morning she would perform as many as seven Galliards, one of the most demanding and energetic of all the Elizabethan dances. She continued this strenuous form of dancing until her late fifties. She expected all her courtiers to be proficient in dancing. The handsome Christopher Hatton was well known as one of the most accomplished dancers who the Queen admired. Her admiration of Christopher Hatton led to jealous fits from Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Dudley was also a fine dancer and a wealthy patron of many Elizabethan composers and musicians. The court composers often named their works in honour of their patrons and the “Leicester Dance” was named accordingly.
List and description of Elizabethan Dances of the Upper Class
Many simple country dances were performed by the Elizabethan nobility and these are detailed in the appropriate section below. It was impossible for many of these dances to be performed by the Lower Classes as many of the instruments used were large, such as the keyboard instruments or not suitable for outdoor use. The following list details and the dances specifically performed by the Elizabethan Upper Classes:
- The Pavane, Pavan - A stately court processional dance where Elizabethan couples paraded around the hall lightly touching fingers. Pavane means peacock and the name of the dance derives from the sight of the trains of the women's gowns trailing across the floor like a peacock's tail. It comprised of a pattern of five steps, hence its alternative name 'Cinque pas'
- The Cinque Pas meaning five steps, an alternative name for the Pavane
- The Galliard - A lively dance, originating from the fifteenth-century, which usually followed and complemented the Pavane
- Sinkapace - Another name for a Pavane
- The Almain - the Almain was one of the Elizabethan principal accompanied by keyboard instruments and lute music
- The Volt, Volte, Lavolta - Elizabethan court dance was the only dance which allowed the dancers to embrace closely. In this suggestive dance the women were lifted high in the air by their male partner
- The Gavotte - Described by the Dancing Master Arbeau in 1588 it became known as 'La Danse Classique'. Danced in couples in a circle to a medium tempo. Developed into Kissing dance which probably accounts for its popularity.
- The Courant or Courante - Sophisticated, slow-moving dance which originated in France
- The Saraband - Another sophisticated, slow-moving dance which originated in France
- The Tourdion - Similar to the Galliard but a little more sedate
- Ballet - A formal and courtly Italian dance form established at the French court in the sixteenth century, It was originally danced both by courtiers but now danced by professionals
- Saltarella, Saltarello, Salterello - a fast dance of Italian origin similar to the Galliard
- The Canary - a Spanish dance described as as 'gay but nevertheless strange and fantastic with a strong barbaric flavour'. Its popularity in France led to its importation into England
Elizabethan Dance - Dances for the Lower Class
The Elizabethan Lower Classes were not in the position to hear the new court music or learn the intricate steps of the Court dances. Their only contact with these innovations, and as with the latest fashions, would have been through the theatres. These English country dances were danced by couples in round, square, or rectangular sets in much simpler and repetitive forms and less intricate steps. The dances of the Elizabethan Lower Class would therefore be very different to those of the Elizabethan Upper Class. The dances would have been passed down through the generations and the different types of country dances were popular with everyone. The dances of the Lower Classes would have been performed at fairs and festivals, many of which were dictated by the changing seasons and the calendar of Church events. Many of the dances of the Elizabethan Lower classes were steeped in old customs and rituals, such as dancing around the Maypole. The Christmas festival included the carole which was the most popular dance-song which could be danced in a circle, or in a chain, or as a processional. Our modern Christmas Carols are derived from this practice.
List and description of Elizabethan Dances of the Lower Class
The following list details and the dances performed by the Elizabethan Lower Classes:
- Brand, Brawle, Branle - the first dance often performed during celebratory gatherings and was also immensely popular as a concluding dance for masque revels. This circle dance featured sideways steps
- The Jig or Gigge aka Port - the jig traditionally involved 'leaps'
- The Hornpipe - a lively dance resembling a jig which eventually became associated with sailors. Often accompanied by a pipe with a reed mouthpiece
- Roundel - Any dances which were performed in circle also called a ring-dance
- Dump, Dumpe or Dompe - Dance accompanied by the lute
- Buffoons - Comic characters who originally featured in ritual dancing such as Morris dances. The theme survived in the Buffoon country dance and also in court masques
- Maypole Dance - Dated back to the English pagan era where the maypole represented a symbol of fertility. Dancers dance in a circle each holding a coloured ribbon attached to a central pole
- Morris Dance - Often danced with handkerchiefs or sticks to embellish the hand movements
Elizabethan Country Dances
The names of different Elizabethan Country dances are both interesting and amusing. Their names reflect the types of dance and also common country activities. The following are a list of the names of different Elizabethan Country dances:
- Black Nag
- Gathering Peascods
- Bransle Hay
- Chirping of the Nightingale
- Cuckolds All In A Row
- The Fryar and the Nun
- Hyde Park
- Hole in the Wall
- Jack a Lent
- Jenny Pluck Pears
- The Mayd peept out at the window
- Merry Merry Milke Maids
- Petticoat Wag
- Punks Delight
- Picking Up Sticks
- The Bear Dance
- Rufty Tufty
- Saturday night and Sunday morn
- Strip the Willow
- Sellenger's Round
- Washerwomen's Bransle
- Trenchmore (The Hunting of the Fox)
Elizabethan Festivals when Dances were performed
The major events in the Elizabethan's lives, both the Upper and Classes, were dominated by Christian festivals. In the Dark Ages old pagan rituals were combined with the new Christian festivals in order to ensure their acceptance by the common people. The following list of Elizabethan festivals reflect some pagan rituals and beliefs, some of which, like the Maypole dance was Pagan in origin.
- January - Twelfth Night festival and feasts featuring Elizabethan dance
- February - St Valentine's Day the Elizabethan festival celebrating love with singing, dancing and pairing games
- April - All Fool's Day. The Jesters, or Lords of Misrule of the Elizabethan court took charge for the day and their activities included different forms of dancing and odd suggestions for couples
- May Day - The Elizabethan traditional festival where villagers danced around the maypole
- June - Midsummer Eve and the summer Solstice of June 23rd was celebrated with bonfires and dance
- July - Swithin's Day falls on 15th July
- August - Lammas Day was on August 2nd celebrating the first wheat harvest of the year. Candle lit processions, dance and apple-bobbing was featured.
- September - 29th September was when Michaelmas celebrations included dancing
- October - October 25th celebrating St Crispin's Day with Revels, dancing and bonfires
- November - The Day of the Dead, All Souls Day or All Hallow's Day ( Halloween ) was celebrated with revels, dance and bonfires
- December - The feasts and Christmas celebrations including Elizabethan dancing