Report: Limited Repertoire at Pennsic

[ This article appeared in volume 3 of the Letter of Dance. ]

by Dani of the Seven Wells

We tried something different this year [1995 -ed], and it mostly worked: A limited dance repertoire was selected, and most of the evening dances were drawn from that repertoire. There were 44 dances in all - 11 from Arbeau, 13 from first-edition Playford, 3 Inns-of-Court dances, 5 Italian dances, and 11 post-1651 dances.

Dancers could request dances that weren't on the list, and musicians would do what they could to oblige. The catch was that these were the 44 dances (each evening's dancemasters had copies of the list) for which the musicians were guaranteed to have the music. (Tibicen, who was coordinating music, made up forty copies of the music, choosing or writing arrangements which were likely to be playable by a pickup band and danceable by the dancers. An emphasis was also placed on using arrangements which were freely copyable within the SCA, and this was about 75% successful. There were about a dozen dances for which we could only get one-time permission, and hopefully those will be replaced in the future.) In practice, about 90% of the dancing during War Week was drawn from the limited repertoire.

The motivation for the limited repertoire was three-fold. It meant that the musicians had a small enough set of music that they could actually master it over the course of the week. It meant that Tibicen had to find a small enough set of arrangements that she could pay attention and make sure they were usable ones. And it served to channel the dancing -- encouraging dancers to try a broader range of dances than they'd normally have done, while still giving a wide enough selection that they didn't feel constrained.

I'd rate the experiment a partial success. The dancers had fun, which is the first criterion by which such a thing is judged. The mechanism raised the proportion and variety of in-period dance without being obnoxious about it. (I thought that was important. There was also one evening designated as an in-period theme night, which went moderately well. I'd be interested in seeing a pre-Playford theme night tried, but that would take considerable planning and coordination.) The limited repertoire did not encourage dancers to learn new dances. In particular, dances that most dancemasters found unfamiliar didn't get done. (I think this might have been overcome with better coordination: If the dancemasters running each evening's dance had been pointed at the other dancemasters on the floor, and encouraged more strongly to call upon them for help with less-familiar dances, they might well have done so.)

My recommendation would be to use the limited-repertoire approach again - forty to fifty dances seems to be a good size for such a repertoire - with some modifications: Attempt better coordination between the evening dancing and the daytime classes. Encourage those running the evening dancing to get others to teach or call dances with which they are not familiar enough. Continue to upgrade the music, replacing arrangements that didn't work out well for one reason or another.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (