Date: Fourteenth century (could have existed in thirteenth century but no evidence of it in music)
Where was it from?: Germany
Also known as: Trotto (Germany), Saltarello Todesco (Italy, meaning German Saltarello), Allemande (general name adopted by many countries, meaning German dance)
Where was it performed and who performed it?: Although it was shared between the courts of Europe, it has often been thought of as a peasant dance due the lack of grace in the raising of the leg for the hops in the dance.
The name almain suggests the dance was of a German origin, however this term has also been used by different types of music and dance in different periods. It must be remembered that, even though there was a shared noble style in European courts, there were local differences that could cause changes in dance styles and structures.
The Election of the German king, by Heidelberger Sachsenspiegel (around 1300)
So what made this a German dance? It is believed that when Beatrix of Burgundy went to Germany in 1156 to marry the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, she took with her the Trouvère, Guiot de Provins. Having spent his youth in Provence, it is thought that he had become familiar with the art of the troubadours, becoming a trouvère, their northern French counterpart, later in life. When the party arrived in Germany, this could have brought the introduction of both a Burgundian and a Provençal influence to German dancing.
The Marriage of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Beatrice of Burgundy by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1751)
It is widely believed that Guiot founded the Minnesinger tradition, the German version of the Troubadours. It seems likely that if Guiot was responsible for introducing Provençal music into Germany, that he also introduced their dances as well. It has even been suggested he may have molded an estampie from a Burgundian version of the branle in hopes to have pleased his patroness. These dances could have been developed and changed by native German influence over a period of time. By that point, the dance would have come to have been accepted as a German dance.
Minnesingers by Heinrich von Meißen in the Codex Manesse
Although this is just a guess for what could have happened, we know a dance spread like wildfire from Germany to the rest of Europe in the fourteenth century and that this dance had similar characteristics to the estampie and Burgundian branle. The chronicler Froissart describes how, in 1338, King Edward III of England met with the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV at Coblenz as part of a political maneuver. There he was greeted with grandeur, and may have possibly been introduced to the German dance. Furthermore, years later, in 1350, Froissart mentions that whilst Edward III was at sea intercepting Spanish traders he “told his minstrels to strike up a dance tune which Sir John Chandos who was there beside him had recently brought back from Germany”. It is believed that this dance was the almain.
Sir John Chandos from the Bruges Garter Book, c. 1430-40
Although we know when this dance arrived in England, we do not know for certain how it was performed in the medieval period. Our information on how to perform these dances come from sixteenth and seventeenth-century manuscripts, with the oldest record being from just after 1563 and the most recent from 1672. By the sixteenth century, the almain had become a formal court dance, which we know was even performed in the English Inns of Court. At this point, there existed both an ‘Old Almain’ and a ‘New Almain’. We presume that this ‘old’ version originated from an earlier medieval version, perhaps with a few changes.
The ould Almaine, a sixteenth century English measure, performed by members of The Historical Dance Society
The almain was a processional couple dance, with two distinct sections: a section dancing around a partner and the procession itself. It had a simple universal step, showing elements from a Burgudian version of the branle and the estampie. The use of the double step is characteristic of the almain, and so the dance could perhaps be called the ‘Almain Double’.
According to sixteenth-century sources, the ‘Old Almain’ was danced as follows…
Part One (takes sixteen counts in duple time)
Partners should face each other and take both hands.
From here, they change positions by making two simple steps and a double step, starting with the left foot and moving to the left. These all involve bringing the other foot to the one which last stepped to close at the end of each individual step.
They then repeat these two simple steps and a double, starting with the right foot and moving round to the right to come back to their original places.
As they perform the last double step, the gentleman should let go of his partner’s right hand and open out to finish so that the couple are standing side by side, with the connected hands raised to shoulder level.
Part Two (takes sixteen counts in duple time)
The couple then dance four double steps forward with a hop at the end of each double, starting the first step with the left foot.
Partners should face each other again and take both hands to start part one again.
LEARN THE ALMAIN
The following version of this almain is based on the ‘Old Almain’ written in sixteenth century manuscripts, though the steps have been reordered and the style has been removed of some of the refinements of the early modern version.
If you have difficulty performing these steps, please see the alternative steps page for further guidance.
This almain follows the simple sequence ddddssdssd.
1. Four double steps (dddd) - Take three steps forward starting on the left foot, with a hop. Take three steps forward starting on the right foot, with a hop. Repeat on both sides again.
2. Two single steps (ss) - Take a step to the left with the left foot, bringing feet to close. Repeat starting on the right foot.
3. One double step (d) - Take three steps turning to the right starting on the left foot, bringing feet to close.
4. Repeat steps two and three on the other side...
Two single steps (ss) - Take a step to the right with the right foot, bringing feet to close. Repeat starting on the left foot.
One double step (d) - Take three steps turning to the left starting on the right foot, bringing feet to close.
This video shows the dance as if you are dancing on your own. If you are, you may choose to copy the arms shown or make up your own. Just be sure to retain your dignity at all costs! Absolutely no wild gestures should be made and arms should not be raised above the shoulders. Perhaps keep your arms loose by your sides so that they gently move as you dance.
If you are dancing with a partner...
On step one, the man should offer his right arm to his lady, as he stands on her left. This should be slightly raised sideways and forwards, so that his palm and wrist are facing the floor. The lady, on his right, should place her hand on top of his downturned hand, making a similar shape with her arm.
On steps two and three, the partners should take both hands and face each other. The simple and double steps they then make should circle each other, with the first set going clockwise, and the second set moving anticlockwise to return them to their original place.
Both partners follow the same steps on the same feet.
Why not try it with the music below? This version is long enough to perform the routine five times through.
If you need a further reminder on what the dance steps are, feel free to check out the Dance Steps page.
What to do and not to do when dancing the Almain
Remember to start with your left foot first!
If you are dancing with a partner, remember that the man usually stands to the left of his lady.
Keep your foot flat as you hop! This may seem a little strange today, as we are often told to point our toes when we dance, but the medieval illustrations of this dance show that the foot is kept flat. (You can always resort to pointing your toes if you really want to…)
Be sure to have fun hopping! This dance has a celebratory nature and you can really show it off by proudly hopping high!
The music for the almain is in duple time, which means that there are two beats per bar of music. The later version noted above could be danced to any folk song with two lengths of sixteen bars.
There are six manuscripts of the Inns of Court, written between 1563 and 1672, which detail how to dance the ‘Old Almain’. We presume these to detail a dance that had existed in the medieval period, that had perhaps changed and developed over time. Below are the manuscript names and their description of the dance...
1. BRITISH MUSEUM HARLEY 367
The ould Allman
“Tacke both handes & goe to singles & a double to your wright hand round in your places & as much to the left then 4 double forward then all over againe & soe end”
2. BODLEIAN LIBRARY, RAWL. POET. 108
The old Allmayne
“2 singles a Duble round bothe ways//a Duble forward hoppe 4 tymes”
3. BODLEIAN LIBRARY, DOUCE 280
The ould Almaine
“Honour. Take bothe handes. 2 singles & a double round both waies. 4 doubles forward. take both handes. 2 singles & a double round both waies soe end.”
4. BODLEIAN LIBRARY, RAWL. D. 864
The ould almane beginning at the second strayne
“Take by both the handes & turne two singles & a duble round both the wayes leade /4/ dubles forward take by both the handes & turne two singles & a duble round both the wayes & soe end”
5. INNER TEMPLE MISCELLANEA, VOL. XXVII
5th Measure The old Almayne a Round Measure
“Take both hans and slyde a single and a double round in Armes both wayes. Then slyde 4 doubles round about the Hall and close, the last double face to face then hold both Hands and slyde 2 singles and a double round in armes both Wayes and soe end”
6. ROYAL COLLEGE OF MUSIC MS 1119
5th The Old Almayne
“Take both hands and slide two singles and a double round in armes both ways then slide four Doubles round about the House and close last Double face to face, then hold both hands and slide two singles and a Double round in armes both ways and so end.”