Baroque Dance – A Brief Introduction

A dance notation published in 1704.

Baroque dance, a precursor of classical ballet, was established and developed in France at the court of Louis XIV (r. 1643–1715) during what we now call the Baroque period. At this time, French culture was highly influential in fashionable society and the new style of dancing was no exception. It was introduced to the English court by Charles II, and soon French dancing masters were employed at theatres and courts throughout Europe.

Dances such as the menuet, sarabande, bourée, gavotte, gigue, chaconne and the French courante all share roughly the same vocabulary of steps, adjusted to fit the duple, triple or compound-duple pulse of each dance type. The step vocabulary was used in both social (ballroom) and theatrical dance – in fact, courtiers danced alongside professionals in court entertainments. Today's ballet dancers will recognise many of the step names, however the style of executing the steps today is very different from that of the Baroque era, for example, in classical ballet the emphasis is up (high on the toes), while the Baroque style is more rooted to the ground (the heels just off the floor).

The establishment of the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661 furthered the codification of the French Baroque style, resulting in the publication in 1700 of a shorthand notation system known today as Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. This shorthand system tells you which steps to do, but not how to do them – treatises such as Pierre Rameau's Le Maître à danser (1725) and Kellom Tomlinson's The Art of Dancing (pub. 1735) describe steps and give general rules for the motions of the arms. These primary sources provide us with a good understanding of this dance style and form the basis of Consort's work.

More information to come…

If you would like to learn more then you are welcome to attend our regular classes in England and Wales. Classes can be attended on a drop-in basis, and most are open to all – from those who have never done any dancing before, to those who are skilled in a variety of dance forms.