Letters on Italianophobia

[ These letters appeared in volume 2 of the Letter of Dance. ]

Letter: Italianophobia

from Guillaume di San Marino

Over the years, I have noticed persistent cases of Italianophobia amongst the dancers of my home region. Enthusiastic, relatively skilled dancers have no problem learning complex post-period dances such as Whirligig or Female Sailor. However, invite them to learn a simple Italian Renaissance dance, and they run in terror. All right, run with terror is a slight exaggeration. Most dancers will politely excuse themselves and wait for someone to offer to teach them something "easier". The following is the result of a series of snide comments and bizarre inspirations which occurred at a recent dance practice in the Canton of Eoforwic.

The "hard core" dancers of the region had been working on Caroso's Nobilta di Dame (translated by J. Sutton). We had also been using Master Robyyan Torr d'Elandris' reconstruction of the Spagnoletta Regolatta as an introduction to the genre of the period. In his reconstruction, Robyyan had simplified the dance enough that it was very easy to learn and do. From what I can see when comparing the reconstruction with the translation, all Robyyan did was simplify the steps a bit, and write them down in a way which is easier to learn and teach. The flair and feel of the Italian dance is still there.

With this new dance fresh in mind, we set out for the dance practice. After the obligatory "SCA repertoire dances", we offered to teach a new, very easy, Italian dance. The proposal was received with an enthusiastic chorus of "Let's do Hole in the Wall instead." Having been outvoted and dismissed out of hand by "The People", the hard core dancers quietly made, among themselves, the snide comments mentioned above. At the next dance practice, a different approach was taken. Since the dancers are not willing to even try a Renaissance dance, we decided to tell them the dance was post-1600. Since they are not willing to do a court dance, we told them it was for peasants. Since they are not interested in Italian dance, we told them it was English. We also translated all the steps to make them sound non-Italian.

Here then, with a multitude of apologies to Master Robyyan, and a heartfelt plea for forgiveness, is how we taught Caroso's Spagnoletta Regolatta from 1600. (Robyyan's reconstruction is not included here, as it is not mine to offer for publication.)

"Gentles, form into a line of couples for an English peasant dance from 1699, by Mrs. Carie. It is called the dance of the Orderly Spaniards." (We arranged them as per Robyyan's instructions for group set-up.)

"The dance begins with a peasant bow." (We taught them to do the Italian reverence as per the reconstruction.)

"The dance them continues with four singles." (We taught them to do the seguito spezzato, with the floor movements from the reconstruction.) "They are followed by a double to your partner." (The doppio.)

"The chorus goes like this: Sideways left twice." (The two continenze as per the reconstuction.) "Followed by two small hops." (The trebuchetti)...

When all was said and done, the dancers had learned the Spagnoletta with great ease. Most of them understood it the first time through, with little need for repetition of the instruction. We had followed Robyyan's reconstruction, doing all that he mentioned; we only changed the words. We then of course confessed what we had done to the dancers.

Here is a brief summary of the steps to this strange and unusual method:

The advantage to this dishonest method is that it makes it possible to teach some of the more interesting dances to most of the people. Those who stand to benefit most are of course the dancers who already enjoy the Renaissance dances. By showing the mid-17th-century dance enthusiasts how easy and how much fun Renaissance dances are, perhaps one day we will be able to go to an event and do mostly period dances, and not vice versa.

Letter: Italianophobia

[This is excerpted from a longer letter from Mistress Lizbeth Ravensholm -- Dani]

...Maybe it's old age creeping up or elitism again, or growing intolerance and perfectionism, but at this point I really don't care if people want to learn Italian dances or not. I've seen a few Italian dances becoming faddish when the louder or more charismatic dance masters taught them and to be honest, they look like s--- now that the populace has gotten a hold of them. (Not the fault of individual people, but that individuals have not been taught from the ground up (i.e. not the step-units and combinations, but the figures only)).

I think that people should be very careful what they are teaching, because they may not like the results. On the other hand, I don't think we need to make things needlessly complicated, either. But we can still use Italian names along with English glosses. I often use "step step cadenza" interchangeably with "passi passi cadenza" and "single single double" instead of "puntato puntato doppio" But fioretto is no worse than "flourish" and who's going to call a "trab(uchetto)" a "falling jump" or even "hop onto your foot"??

Letter: Italianophobia, revisited.

from Del von Strassburg (Aneala, Lochac, West)

Guilliaume di San Marino related experiences of introducing period Italian dances to his group in Eoforwic in issue 11. Being the local dance jock, and about to embark on a project of teaching some Italian dances to the group here, I read the letter with some interest.

Basically, English country dancing isn't too popular in Aneala. We're only just getting into some of the more complex stuff, while Gathering Peascods, Rufty Tufty, and one or two others are done commonly. Our dance repertoire consists mostly of bransles, pavanes, a basse dance or two, and the usual galliards and tourdions, as well as some local favourites (Queen's Allemande, Sans Serif, Karabouska).

Having had no trouble in teaching my group La Regina from LoD #7 (it is now one of our favourite dances, and I can't get away from dance practice without doing it at least twice), I decided to try La Nizzarda. Having scanned Dolmetsch's Dances of Spain and Italy (not having access to the originals, and I don't read Italian or Latin anyway), I picked it as one of the shorter and simpler dances, with an easily available piece of music to go with it (from the Broadside Band on Il Ballarino).

The dance took off quite well. While one or two people were confused about some of the steps, and our local mad Scotsman (Hi, Creag!) still does the underfoot steps as if he's trying to measure the length of the hall, the dance basically took off. I simplified the steps here and there, and took Guilliaume's step of translating the steps into English (well, this is a single followed by a couple of kicks). I have been encouraged by this enough to try Spagnoletto from the same source, and I will probably do the same.

In listing the steps to the dance in "Del's Dance Book" (which I use to record all of the dances and variations that I know), I have been using the original Italian names for the steps, as well as listing the closest bransle or country dance equivalent.

I suppose that I am lucky having a fairly young group without any prejudices towards or against dances of a particular type. People here are willing to learn just about any type of dance and treat it as "just another dance". Of course, if they get too complex, it just won't stick, we all have our limitations.

I think that I have found, however, that using terms like "Sotto Piede" and "Trebuchetti" does tend to throw a few people, and you are better off simplifying or translating the steps if you are teaching to a group not already familiar with Italian dance.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (lindahl@pbm.com)