6 Types of Dances That Were Popular in Renaissance France

Mar 12, 2019 | blog, Le Jardin, Renaissance | 0 comments

Our April program Le Jardin de Mélodies highlights the music enjoyed by French monarchs through the second half of the 16th-century. These royals had a special penchant for a wide range of dance music.

Often, this music was played as members of the royal court watched trained dancers perform intricate dance choreographies. Other times, the royals took part in the dancing themselves, (many of them were highly skilled dancers!), often performing more refined versions of dances that had originated in the countryside.

And other times, the royals simply listened to music that was written for these types of dances, without dancing at all!

But what were these dances like? Read on to learn how to distinguish six forms of dance music you’ll hear at Jardin de Mélodies! And don’t forget to reserve your tickets today!

  1. Branle
    The simplest of the dances was the branle, which originated as a circle or line dance of kicking or gliding steps common at weddings and popular festivities. Even when the branle came to court, it retained its raucous, celebratory roots. Branles were set to lively music that was usually written in duple meter and often performed by violins, although sometimes other instruments were featured, depending on the circumstances.The dances themselves were performed by a chain of dancers all holding hands taking several large steps to the left and the same number of smaller steps to the right, so that the entire line kept moving towards the left. However, Melinda Sullivan, a professor at Boston University who teaches dance for singers, says while simple branles have the same types of steps from left to right, more complex branles can have different steps and rhythms to each side. Often, branles are also often interspersed with some hops or pantomime motions.

    In our April concert, you’ll hear two branles: “Branles de Champaigne” (by Adrien LeRoy) and the “Branles d’Escosse” (by Pierre Attaingnant), which were Scottish branles that were introduced into France by Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) after her marriage to François II in 1559.

    Watch a video of a branle

    Listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform the “Branle d’Escosse.”

  2. Pavane
    The pavane was a stately, majestic dance for couples that was used for solemn processions, such as the entrance of the king or queen. It was often the first dance that was performed at a ball. In this slow, dignified dance, couples held hands and formed the shape of a wheel. They stepped forward and backward, rising up onto the balls of their feet at the end of each movement. The pavane was often paired with the quicker galliard, another couple dance that might often be quite intricate and energetic.In our April concert, we’ll be performing two pavanes: “Pavanne & Galliard De La Guerre” (by Claude Gervaise), and “Pavanne Passemaize & Galliard” (by Attaingnant).

    Click to listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform the “Pavane & Galliard de la Bataille.” With its elaborate drum roll intro, can’t you picture an elaborately-dressed couple processing through a crowd? Try it out for yourself — the duple rhythm in a stately tempo makes the perfect accompaniment to a procession through your own kitchen.

    Watch a video of a pavane

    Listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform the “Pavane & Galliard De La Bataille.”

  3. Galliard
    Galliards are lively dances that usually came right after the slow, stately pavanes. In a galliard, both the man and the woman performed four little kicks, followed by one bigger hop. The couples would dance the length of the entire ballroom during a galliard.Galliards often finished off dance suites and were used as occasions to exchange kisses, favors, or flowers. Thoinot Arbeau, who published the first treatise on French dance in 1588, tells us that dancing was essential in a well-ordered society because it reveals whether lovers are in good health. And about kissing he says that after dancing, lovers “are permitted to kiss their mistresses in order that they may touch and savor one another, thus to ascertain if they are shapely or emit an unpleasant odor as of bad meat.” Thus, couple dances like the galliard and pavane helped display polished social skills—not to mention good hygiene—and served as a marker of courteous behavior.

    Unlike the stately pavane that typically preceded it, the galliard was typically in triple time, usually taking its meter as an adaptation of the 2/4 time of the pavane (so that a half-measure of the pavane is equal to one whole measure of the galliard.) It’s an exciting transition that you can hear for yourself in the “Pavane & Galliard de la Bataille” (linked above) at the 2:40 mark.

    Watch a video of a galliard

  4. Saltarello
    The saltarello, or “little hop,” was an Italian dance similar to the galliard. It became popular in France due to its rapid pace and flashy footwork. Like the galliard, the saltarello was often the second in a pair of dances, where it varied the tune of the first by changing the meter to a swift triple or compound meter. In our April concert, we’ll be performing a saltarello by Pierre Phalese, which is a variation on a duple-meter allemande, which precedes it.Watch a video of a saltarello

    Listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform “Alamande Saltarelo.”

  5. Dances for Buffoons (or actors)
    Although many dances were performed by the nobles themselves, some were also performed by actors. In Arbeau’s treatise he explains how to do a dance of flashy choreographed swordplay by four men dressed as soldiers that was set to a tune that we’ll be performing in our April concert called “Les Bouffons” (by Phalese). 

    Watch a video of the Les Bouffons dance 

    Listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform “Les Bouffons.”

  6. Chanson à danser
    Chanson a danser were songs that were either danced and sung together or songs that were set to popular dance tunes. In our April concert, we’ll be performing “Ton amour ma maistresse,” “Laissez la verde couleur,” and “O combien est heureuse,” which are all songs whose text was written to fit to a popular dance tune. They circulated orally and come down to us in the cheapest and most ephemeral printed forms: broadsheets and tiny pamphlet-like poetry collections (approximately 3 inches by 4 inches and 32 to 64 folios long) where no musical notation accompanies the text, only the instructions to “sing this new song to the tune of…” 

    Listen to David Douglass and Ellen Hargis perform “Ton Amour Ma Maistresse.”

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