In Britain early dance has tended to keep itself to itself. There are some links with folk dancing, but relatively few with the wider dance world. Some forms of dancing have even occasionally been viewed with hostility. I have to admit that I’ve also been affected by these attitudes.
I’ve recently been working on baroque dance with dancers trained in different styles and it has been very rewarding. As a ballet and baroque dancer, who has spent many years focussing on just those two styles, I’ve also recently begun to branch out into other forms of dance. I really wish I’d done this much, much earlier!
I’ve wondered for quite a while how to attract ballet dancers into baroque dance. These two styles should be a marriage made in heaven, as baroque dance is really the earliest form of ballet and the foundation of its style and technique. It isn’t as easy as that of course, not least because the relationship between early and modern ballet is complex.
I recently did a short course in Spanish classical dance (escuela bolera). I’ve wanted to try this for a long time, and I was really glad I’d seized the opportunity. For the uninitiated (of whom I am one) it seems like a cross between ballet and flamenco. As a ballet dancer, I found I could cope reasonably well and I enjoyed the challenge of unfamiliar steps and arm movements. Escuela bolera has lots to offer baroque dance, for Spanish dance forms (including the playing of castanets) were very influential in France in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. As Spanish classical dance is also a historic style, some of the baroque steps would surely be of interest. I know that others have pursued this cross-over, but it has never filtered down widely into British early dance.
I’ve also been dipping my toes into modern ballroom and Latin American dance. I’m finding these dances very difficult, as both the partnering and the steps are miles outside my dance experience and hence my comfort zone. I can’t readily see a connection between these and 18th-century dances (though there must surely be one between them and the couple dances of the 18th and early 19th century). However, good ballroom and Latin dancers can surely bring a sense of performance as well as technical skill to earlier dance forms. They can also challenge our perceptions and understanding and so help with the process of change and development. How can we attract them into early dance?