Freelance writer – creative – media-maker
Every Wednesday, at around seven in the evening, I arrive at the church hall where class is held, put on my ballet flats, and begin to warm up. I say hello to my friends and approach the centre of the room along with the others, ready to receive instructions and notices from our teacher.
What I do after that will only be familiar to the rather small number of ladies (and one gentleman)in the room. Together, we are the Rippon Lea Renaissance Dancers, a group that rehearses and performs dances from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in full-fledged costume, to music performed on period instruments.
It is always amusing to observe the reactions of my non-renaissance dance friends when they ask me what dance styles I have done over the years. Over the years I have done ballet, jazz, contemporary, and for one term as a child, even did ‘Riverdance’ back when it was the coolest thing a kid could do. But Renaissance dance is the one that most consistently draws expressions of bewilderment from the uninitiated.
Well, at least that or expressions of complete disinterest.
The obvious question people ask is ‘What the hell is that?’ Basically, we learn courtly dances from around the tenth to sixteenth centuries, which are mostly quite civilised, graceful and often flirtatious. Back then, this was how potential couples got to know each other and (oh the scandal!) touch each other, before deciding to tie the knot. If you are a classical or early music buffs, you’ll be familiar with the names of these dances, most often simply played as musical pieces – the slow and stately pavan and the sprightly galliard are among the most common of our dances.
And of course, then there are the dresses. Always big, bright and heavy. Sometimes, I admit, it’s hard to believe that people actually danced in these fabric mountains regularly. But it is interesting to note that big hips were apparently in vogue back then, because part of the reason my costume is so heavy is that it requires me to actually add padding to my hip area with a piece of cushion called a bum roll, in order to look more attractive to men. Go figure.
Intrigued? The Rippon Lea Renaissance Dancers perform regularly throughout the year, so if you are keen to try something different, you are now officially invited to come and watch us! And, if you are brave enough, especially if you happen to be male, you are welcome to join us too. I’ll keep you updated.