Date: Estimated to come from some time between the mid-twelfth century and fourteenth century
Where was it from?: Provence, France (?)
Where was it performed and who performed it?:
It seems to have been an outdoor dance (like the carole) but with the compact spacing associated with indoor dances. We know the Estampie was danced at least on some occasions and occasionally even at more stately affairs. Current study suggests the estampie was intended to be danced by one man and one woman as a couple with usually only one couple dancing at a time. But this dance could also be performed in larger groups of couples. The nature of this dance suggests it was likely to have been performed in front of an audience, in a social space where everyone present would have been aware of everyone else’s social rank. We could perhaps presume that dancing the estampie was a chance to show off.
So what was the estampie and what did ‘estampie’ mean? One early definition by Friedrich Christian Diez (in An Etymological Dictionary of the Romance Languages) believed it was a category of poetry intended to be sung with the viol as accompaniment. Other definitions have suggested that the French word estampie and the Provencal word estampida came from Latin stampare, referring to stamping feet to mark the beat, and others have pointed towards the old Provencal verb estampir meaning to ring or resound. However, these remain merely suggestions.
Possibly the oldest image of the viol as would have appeared in the medieval period, in St. Jerome's Commentaries on the Old Testament, c. 1120
We are unsure where the estampie originally came from, though many scholars have had a good guess. It is thought to have arisen in twelfth or thirteenth century Provence, which is often considered to have held one of the most cultured courts in Europe, especially following the emergence of the Troubadours in the centuries before. The Troubadours discussed matters of interest and exchanged songs and verses, though dances must have also been a part of their repertoire as most of their songs were written in dance rhythms. With the code of courtly love at its height, they were no longer satisfied with how impersonal caroles were, especially at a time where noble ladies held an elevated and revered position in society.
A troubadour and his lady from The Romance of Flamenca, a thirteenth century romance from Occitania
With their social system focussing on each man’s duty to one lady of his choice, a need for a new type of dance emerged: one where a gentleman could dance with one lady (or occasionally two if the situation arose) in front of the critical eyes of their peers. So came the emergence of the estampie.
With the Albigensian Crusade sweeping across Southern France in the early thirteenth century, Provençal society was practically wiped out. Troubadours sought refuge in other courts, where they were warmly welcomed on account of their songs and dances, and so the estampie travelled across Europe. Although England made no developments to this dance, it is thought that Italy, Sicily, Germany and France did.
The Provençal 'Court of Love' in a fourteenth-century manuscript
This was clearly a popular dance. Chronicler Jean Froissart details that on one occasion...
“As soon as [the minstrels] had stopped the estampies that they beat, those men and women who amused themselves dancing, without hesitation, began to take hands for carolling.”
Troubadours and minstrels in an anonymous fourteenth-century German manuscript
We are not entirely sure how the estampie was danced, as our only evidence for this style is music. However, Parisian music theorist Jean de Grocheo described the estampie as irregular and complicated, though perhaps more suitable for all ages than the energetic carol. However, this example follows Peggy Dixon’s and Nonsuch History and Dance Society’s interpretation. This involves:
Using basic footwork made up of only simple (s) and double (d) steps
Closing the feet at the end of each simple and double step
A variety of spatial floor patterns to reflect repeating patterns in the music
Holding hands comfortably and low
Simple heel-toe walking steps without turnout
LEARN THE ESTAMPIE
Although the following version of the estampie is an interpretation based off a similar Danse Royale sequence, the simple framework and style acts as a good foundation in spatial awareness, musicality and presentation for those wanting to try medieval dance.
If you have difficulty performing these steps, please see the alternative steps page for further guidance.
This estampie follows the simple sequence ddss.
Two double steps (dd) - Take three steps forward starting on the left foot, bringing feet to close. Repeat starting on the right foot.
Two single steps (ss) - Take a step to the left with the left foot, bringing feet to close. Repeat starting on the right foot.
This video shows the dance as if you are dancing on your own. If you are dancing with a partner, remember that the man usually stands to the left of his lady with their hands in a low hand-hold.
Why not try it with the music below? This version is long enough to perform the routine six times through.
If you need a further reminder of the dance steps, feel free to check out the Dance Steps page.
What to do and not to do when dancing the Estampie
Remember to start with your left foot first!
This dance was meant to glide along the floor, but its dynamics could change based on the music. Try gliding as if you were trying to impress your peers with your gracefulness.
Also, try taking your steps forwards and backwards as well as side to side.
If dancing with a partner, why not also try this sequence recommended by Peggy Dixon:
Presentation - With your first dance phrase parade your partner down the room as if to show them off to your audience.
Social Interaction - Then, with the next phrase, work out a pattern where you move around your partner.
Spacing - Finally on your third and last phrase, move all around the room and make the most of the space.
Be sure to meet back with your partner at the end of each little section. Both partners follow the same steps on the same feet.
Now, why not challenge yourself and have a go at learning the variation below?
La Quinte Estampie Real
A dance arrangement organised by Peggy Dixon based on the music from the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (f.fr.884)
Performed by members of Nonsuch History and Dance Company
It has been generally agreed by medieval sources that the estampie was danced to music played solely by instruments. This was suggested in the fourteenth century music treatise by Jean de Grocheo. Instrumental music had begun to gain recognition for not just being an accompaniment to voice, but being a source of music on its own. The musical form of the estampie was popular between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, with the earliest surviving example being the tune to the song, Kalenda maya. The words for this were written by the troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (1180-1207) and were set to the melody.
Whilst the earlier branle had a unit of music which equalled a unit of dance and could be repeated for as long as needed, the estampie had several music units arranged in a specific pattern with a set start and end. This gave the dance a short finite structure with ordered patterning.
Each estampie has (in this order)…
1. A punctum (musical phrase)
2. An apertum (open ending)
3. The same punctum again
4. A clausum (a closed ending)
5. A second different punctum
6. The original apertum
7. The second punctum
8. The original clausum
This would then repeat for between four to seven different puncta, all of which would have ranged in length. At every clausum the partners would have ended standing side by side, as this was the ‘proper’ thing to do.
Below: an extract from Kalenda Maya
The musical sources for the estampie come from two places:
1. A MANUSCRIPT IN THE BRITISH LIBRARY (HARLEY 978)
This contains three pieces of music without words that are presumed to be for dances.
It must have been written some time after 1226 as it includes the obituary of Abbot Simon of Reading who died in that year.
2. A MANUSCRIPT IN THE BIBLIOTHÈQUE NATIONALE (F.FR.844)
This is a collection of trouvère and troubadour songs with melodies and words.
Dance material is also included on several pages written in a later hand, with eight pieces numbered, named estampies ‘royals’ (with slight variations in spelling).
Based on spelling within the manuscript, it is believed to be from between 1250 to 1325 from the North Western Provinces of France.