Lessons From a Move

Bjálfi Thórdharson

[ This article appeared in volume 1 of the Letter of Dance. ]

Unto all Terpsichorean friends, good greetings!

Recently, I moved away from my original Barony; even more recently, I attended my first "real" out-of-Barony dance practice. By "real", I mean 1) it was not a pick-up dance at an event, 2) the people were genuinely interested in learning to dance, and 3) I was not the only one around to teach. I learned a few valuable lessons, both about dances I'd never done, and about sensible behaviour for dancers on foreign turf. I would like to take this opportunity to share the latter with you.

"Your" way is not necessarily "the" way. We started the lessons with a pavane that I had danced almost since day one of my involvement in the SCA. I thought I knew the thing backwards and forwards (literally) -- but it turns out that in this Barony pavane steps are done slightly differently, and an additional move is added to one of the figures. When these novelties were first described to me, I thought that they sounded odd, not to say flat-out inappropriate. But after running through the dance a couple times, I started to see how they lent the dance a certain flavor and grace -- not the kind of grace I was used to thinking of in association with that particular dance, but an equally acceptable kind.

A corollary of this guideline is that you should never refuse to participate in a dance on the grounds that "we don't do that one at home". If you're not willing to learn while you're travelling, then why bother travelling at all? If you don't know the dance, say so -- like as not, someone will teach it to you. Also, keep in mind that "that's not a period dance" is not always an acceptable (or ever a courteous) excuse for sitting one out. If you really don't want to dance, say you'd like to rest and watch this one.

Don't be afraid to show what you know. At the end of the aforementioned pavane, the recorded music shifted immediately to a tourdion. Since galliards and tourdions were taught in my old Barony (and among my favorite dances), I started kicking away -- then looked around and noticed I was the only one doing it. It soon came out that people would have liked to learn galliards, but the dancemasters who did know them had decided not to teach them. Immediately, the room became an impromptu galliard workshop, as I started to work through the basic cinq-pas with a bunch of gratifyingly interested learners.

Remember, you're not at home. This is a very, very important rule; it's also just plain good horse sense. You may be an institution in your home Barony, but you're not in your home Barony. Not all dancemasters are alike; be courteous to your host Barony's dancemasters. If your home dancemaster puts up with a lot of razzing, don't assume your hosts will too. Don't blame them for not teaching a certain dance and especially not for teaching it "wrong". Don't appoint yourself dancemaster for dances the others may not know -- just remark that you "happen to know that one" and let them come to you. If they're interested, they will.

You're there to have fun. This is even more important than the last rule, of course. If you're a hard-core dancer, or if you get around a bit, you may find that you and the hosts have mutual friends. If not, well, you just have to get out there and make more friends is all. Why not start now? Schmooze, dance, have fun. Then you'll have mutual friends to talk about when you get back home or visit yet another Barony.

I think that with these guidelines in mind, any dancer can visit a "foreign" dance practice and have more fun, and learn more as well, than he or she might at home. Good luck to all, and may your shoes never chafe.

Bj-lfi Th-rdharson

College of Saint Katherine

III September AS XXV