strathspey Archive: Relationship between French and Scottish Dancing

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Relationship between French and Scottish Dancing

Message 2569 · Rosemay Coupe · 7 Oct 1995 04:23:32 · Top

I can't offer any specific sources for Elizabeth Wright's research, but
only a few comments for general interest.

The French balletic elements in Highland dance technique may well have
their roots in the Auld Alliance. French courtly dances were fashionable
in most Western European courts from the 15th century on, but only in
Scotland does the polished technique seem to have filtered into national
dances like the traditional reels.

In relation to country dancing (introduced from England in the late 17th
century), the influence of the itinerant dancing masters was paramount.
The French terms we use in SCD date from the 18th century or later. They
reflect the prestige of France as a centre of polite civilization, and
the notion of the dance assembly as a microcosm of order and good manners.
(The influence did go both ways, of course, since English country dancing
was popular in France and evolved there into "contre" dancing which was
later reimported into the English-speaking world as contra dancing!)

Courtney's comments on the narrow, raked stage and on the association of
dancing with fencing are intriguing. Clothing and footwear are important
to consider too. One can't point one's toes in hard-soled shoes, so
dances that come directly from the Northern European countryside are less
likely to demand such refinements.

Fencing wasn't the only "manly art" associated with dancing in the
Renaissance period. Running, wrestling, riding, fencing and dancing were
all thought necessary not only for physical strength and poise, but also
for self-discipline and maturity (I suppose like the Eastern martial arts
now). Moliere's Dancing Master gives the most extreme statement of the
case: "Nothing is so necessary to men as dancing . . . All
human unhappiness, all the disasters of history, the blunders of
statesmen and the errors of generals--all have resulted from ignorance of
dancing." An obligatory dancing school for politicians, perhaps?

Rosemary Coupe

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