Stepping on Our Toes

[ This article appeared in volume 4 of the Letter of Dance. ]

By Janelyn of Fenmere

"In dancing the Alman the young men sometimes steal the damsels from their partners and he who has been robbed seeks to obtain another damsel. But I do not hold with this behaviour because it may lead to quarrels and heart burning." - Thoinot Arbeau, Orchesography, 1589.

Sharking, or cutting into a dance from the outside -- thus displacing a dancer already in the set -- is a fairly common practice in the SCA. It can be done in almost any dance, but it's most commonly seen in Hole in the Wall. As is clear from the quote above, sharking was done in period, although we can not tell how common a practice it was, or if it was done in dances other than the Alman. Sharking (also known as kidnapping or stealing) can be a lot of fun -- it gives you the chance to dance (and flirt) with a number of people, challenges you to come up with new and innovative techniques of doing it, and makes a fun game.

The challenge of sharking is to avoid the 'quarrels and heart burning' that it can inspire if basic rules of polite sharking are not followed. One major reason that many of us are involved in the SCA is the part of "the Dream" that values honor, courtesy, and chivalry. Dance can be an expression of these ideals as much as honor on the field of battle, if we keep the Dream in mind even while playing this game.

First, whenever you are dancing with a new group, it is a good idea to ask the dance master or mistress whether sharking is an accepted practice in their area, and if they have any standard customs you should be aware of. Lions Gate, for example, usually operates on the theory that sharking is allowed only after the end of the second full repeat of the dance. That way people aren't cut out before they've barely begun the dance.

Before you shark, make sure you know the dance well, and that you know what position you are kidnapping into and what figure you will be doing next when you enter the dance.

Try your best not to screw up a set. Dance should be smooth, and the continuity is important -- try not to block that.

If your set gets messed up, it's often best to pause for a few minutes until you can figure out what's going on, and then continue from there.

Don't ever turn it into an adolescent obvnoxiousness by rejecting the less popular people in the set, or fighting to dance with the best-looking lord or lady in the room. One of the joys of the SCA is that we usually avoid these painful attitudes.

Sharking can be a great way to meet new people! Seek out someone you don't know well, sneak in, and introduce yourself.

If you know that someone has been trying all night to dance with a specific friend or love itnerest, don't spearate them.

Sharking is a fun, gracious game; it is not an obnoxious macho fight for position.

Be mellow - if someone does do something that offends you, don't make an issue out of it; bow out graciously, and move back into the dance when the time is appropriate.

It's OK to block a shark -- sneak back in, displacing the person who's trying to displace you -- but only if you can do it with style. Be aware if you miss your chance to block, and step out. If you are blocked, know when to give in.

If you're kidnapped out of a set, don't immediately try to force your way back into that set. You can always get back together with anyone even if you wait out for a bit.

Don't shark a brand new dancer, or confuse and distress someone who doesn't know what's happening. If someone seems confused, or confusable, try to make your intention to shark as clear as possible, and explain what has happened as you go along.

These are just a set of guidelines for ways to make sharking the fun game it should be, rather than something with the potential to offend. The most important thing to keep in mind is the attitude that many of us strive for in all aspects of the Society: that this is a gentle, courteous game. Be chivalrous and strive to make the Dream seem possible, and the Game more fun for all.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (