Reasons to be Bored by Early Dance. I: The Music

If the music isn’t stiff and dull, it’s twee. Nowadays, dancing happens to modern popular music. Old dancing is to old music and some of it happens to be classical music – that’s the problem, or is it?

There are several distinct periods of early dance, dictated by the surviving sources (if you want to be serious about it).

  • 15th-century (early Renaissance) dancing generally has tuneless and rhythmically incomprehensible music;
  • 16th-century (late Renaissance) dancing is to music that veers between raucous and swooningly dull. Either you are a lawyer enjoying a knees-up or an aristocrat with clothes too heavy to allow you to do anything other than walk very slowly;
  • Early 18th-century (baroque) dancing is a bit of an exception, because some of the music is fantastic (I love a great chaconne or passacaille). It has energy and emotion – except when it is played too slow or on a scratchy fiddle by a folkie trying to be an early music virtuoso;
  • 17th– 19th century (country) dancing could have very tuneful lively music were it not bedevilled by its ‘folk’ roots which makes it either glacially slow or eternally twee.

Actually, I think that (15th-century apart) the problem isn’t the music it’s the musicians (and perhaps some of the dancers, who think they are musicians as well).

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