Medieval Dancing

Medieval dances showcased a variety of rich cultures from different parts of Europe. There were several types of dances that were popularised during the medieval period such as Carol (circle dances), Basse Dance, The Egg Dance, and the Scottish Dance among many others. Instruments such as drums and lutes were also used while dancing and they were used as accompaniment to the songs sung during these performances. The dances were categorised into two primary sections, the first one was the court dance and the second the country dance.

The MCS is based around the date 1347. There are currently no written dance manuals from this time to explain exactly what dances were done in this period. What we know of dance in the Middle Ages is tantalisingly little. It comes mainly from rare illustrations in art and literature, and from music. Paintings show dancers moving in lines or circles. Poetry speaks of singing and dancing in the same breath. The first detailed descriptions of dancing only date from 1451 in Italy, which is after the start of the Renaissance in Western Europe.

There is evidence of early dancing masters – dance instructors – from the medieval period, but the first to write surviving choreography were in the renaissance of 15th century Italy, and the earliest of these was Domenico da Piacenza (c. 1390/1400–1476/7) in his dance manual of c. 1450, “De arte saltandi & choreas ducendi” (The art of dancing & choreography).

Therefore, in the Medieval Combat Society, we aim to give the public a more broad flavour of what “medieval” dances would have looked like, rather than what was strictly done in England in our period. We also do not follow the written sources like Arbeau or Playford exactly as written. Some of the dances we do have been adapted for our society to perform.