Philippa Waite: An Introduction to Baroque Dance Rhythms Gavotte and Gigue
A SWEMF Zoom Workshop, held on 5th June 2021

Clare Griffel introduced Philippa, who said she was a dancer rather than a musician but that the two are intricately linked. She quoted from The Art of Dancing by Soame Jenyns (1729):

“The dance and music must so nicely meet
Each note must seem an eccho to your feet”

She said that when Dance came to be codified with the analysis of music in the 17th and 18th centuries, dances like the stately Gavotte and more lively Gigue were at the fore in France in the court of Louis XIV with the music of Lully.

Some steps common to various dances were demonstrated by Philippa to music by Bach. Then she encouraged participants to join in. Peering at a screen while trying to follow (eg) Bend-Place – Rise – Hop (maybe not in that order) proved a bit difficult. Many participants had wisely turned off their video.

Initial foot positions were similar to those in ballet and the notation of steps was amazing – wonderful complicated patterns which Philippa could read off, describe and execute – a whole new “language”. She also showed how the dance notations co-ordinated with musical scores. It was obvious that dances had to be taught and practised extensively and this was only available to the moneyed classes of the time. Courtiers would dance alongside professionals and the quality of dance was a status symbol, particularly for men. They could almost literally be laughed out of court if they did not perform well. Dancing masters were employed to teach the systematic choreography, playing a small violin, a pochette, at the same time as calling the steps. Accompanying musicians had to have a light touch, taking note of the pulse of the dance, rather than keeping to a metronomic beat.

Philippa repeatedly demonstrated all the steps to music, with encouragement to follow her. How much easier this would have been in reality! She does indeed conduct classes both virtually and in reality (www.baroquedance.com).

The session concluded with a short video of a Gigue, performed by a male dancer in appropriate 18th century costume.

Clare thanked Philippa for a most interesting and enlightening talk.

She also reminded us that there would be no SWEMF Zooming in July and August, but that the AGM would be held via Zoom on Saturday 4 September at 2.30pm.

– Althea Hamlyn

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