DANCE STEPS

Although they have changed over time and between regions, there are a few basic steps that appear frequently in the existing medieval dance instruction books. In these manuals, the steps would have been simply shown by symbols. These steps are worth learning, as they have also been used to reconstruct dances where there are no original instructions, like the estampie. Although there are some minor differences in how these are performed by different historic dance groups, the examples below follow the Nonsuch History and Dance Company style.

The Branle

The Branle

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BRANLE

Pronunciation: Brawl

Symbol: b

Occurs on counts 1, 2, 3, 4

Just to be confusing, this is also the name of a type of carole. The branle is a swaying step that prepares you for dancing. You don’t move from where you are standing, but rock from side to side. 

 

It can occur both at the start of and throughout the dance. In the medieval period, musicians would have taken their cue from those dancing, so this simple step set the pace of the music. When this step then occurred during the dance, it ensured that the dancers were performing at the same tempo.

 

To perform this step…

  1. Stand with your feet naturally apart.

  2. Raise slightly onto the balls of your feet.

  3. Lower your left heel, keeping your right raised.

  4. Lift your left heel, and lower your right heel.

  5. Lift your right heel, and lower your left heel.

  6. Lift both heels together.

  7. Lower both heels.

This video shows a single branle step, with two further close-up shots.

The Simple Step

The Simple Step

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SIMPLE STEP

Symbol: s

Occurs on counts 1, 2

The single step is one change of weight, or one step. This can be with or without the closing of the other foot to the one that has just stepped, but the Nonsuch dance-style recommends to close the foot in. The foot that is brought in is not stood upon but merely rests by the side of the other foot, so it can then be used to take the next step. The usual combination in a dance sequence is two singles together, stepping first on the left foot and then the right. This balances out shifts in body weight. 

 

The French word ‘simple’ can be found in manuscripts of dances from the fifteenth-century Burgundian court. Named a ‘simple step’ as it is one of the most basic steps you can make, or called a ‘single step’, in English, to point out the number of steps made. 

This video shows four single steps.