Mara's Teaching Notes for Galliards

[ This article appeared in volume 5 of the Letter of Dance. ]

Possible preliminaries to teaching galliards

Show 'Riverdance' at a video party. (Galliards are kinda like that stuff, you know, only easier.)

Teach bransle Poitou and bransle Gai. Poitou makes a nice Tangle, and one repeat of Gai is 4/5ths of a cinque-pas.

Find an occasion for the galliard to be done as an exhibition - perhaps by middlin'-experienced casual dancers rather than the best dancers available.

General remarks

I assume that you folks reading this know at least roughly what a galliard is, and that you have access to a copy of Arbeau's 'Orchesography'. Also that you have access to easy-to-dance-to galliard music. My current favorite recording is the "Galliard (L'ennuy)" by the Carolingian Jongleurs on the Tape of Dance volume 2.

I tend to use the terms 'cinque-pas', 'five-step', and 'basic galliard step' interchangeably, and they all mean the same thing.

Teaching the galliard is a small-scale version of leading an aerobics class - ideally the instructor must simultaneously demonstrate energetic movement, maintain the correct rhythm, shout cues in the correct rhythm, and watch the students to see who's getting it and who's having trouble.

This implies 2 things: 1) do not attempt to teach any galliard step you have to think about while executing, you must be able to do it automatically while your mind is otherwise occupied; 2) if your own aerobic conditioning is not that great (mine isn't!), you must pace your teaching carefully so you don't exhaust yourself half way through.

The teaching sequence described below has worked pretty well for me, but as of this writing (June-July 1998), it's been quite a while since I've tried teaching a group in which no one has ever seen a galliard before. The "anyone can do this" expectation, set up in people's minds by seeing "ordinary dancers" having fun with it, is a valuable teaching asset. The time-durations and repeat-counts mentioned below are calibrated for my environment, you may need to increase them if you're starting from scratch.

Lead-in to, and teaching of, the cinque-pas:

This section is a hypothetical transcript of me teaching the galliard, plus (commentary to another dance instructor, watching me do it).

(I always start my dance practices with a warmup. We don't do anything strenuous enough to need a warmup for physical reasons, but it provides a psychological separator between pre-dance-practice socializing and dance practice moving. It also gives me a chance to deliver a 10-second lecture on posture, get newcomers accustomed to moving to my cueing, and do a bit of unobtrusive drill on the building blocks for some kinds of movements.)

(In particular, one must jump a bit as part of the warmup.) Land on the balls of your feet please, and take up the shock in your knees as you land, we are not going for height, this is to warm up your feet and ankles and knees. Jump gently, the floor is hard. (Do this very briefly, maybe 10 seconds.)

Put one foot in front of the other, toes turned out a bit, knees bent just a little, weight evenly balanced between your feet. (Arbeau's 'posture' position, but there's no need to mention that just yet.) Now let's jump some more, switching your feet each time you land so the other foot ends up in front. (Another 10 seconds or so.)

Now we'll do scissor-kicks, nice and easy. (Do 8 to 12 scissor kicks, no attempt to keep everyone on the same foot or on the same beat.)

Do the 'switch' jumps again (4 to 6 times). (without stopping) Now back to scissor-kicks! (4 to 6 kicks) (without stopping) Now back to switch! (3 to 4 times) Scissor-kicks! (4 kicks or so) And Stop!

(Ask) Did everyone feel the weight shift, between the 2 kinds of jumps? Weight back on the supporting leg during the scissor kicks, and balanced between the feet during the switches?

(You've been watching everybody, right? And they're all doing the kicking, correctly? Lifted knee fairly straight, supporting knee bent a little, lifted foot in neutral position (no ballet-type point, no extreme flex), and while height is optional, the lifted foot does have to clear the floor. And everybody's landing the 'switches' on the balls of both feet, with both knees slightly bent?)

OK, now we're going to alternate, 4 scissor-kicks and 3 switches. (You do call cadence for this, but still no attempt to keep people on the same foot.) Kick, two, three, four, switch, switch, switch, kick, two, three, four, switch, switch, switch ...

(If this is warmups at practice, stop after a couple of repeats, and go on to the next exercise in the warmup. If this is the actual galliard-teaching, keep going until everyone can do it as you call cadence, or until you need to stop and catch your breath. I believe this is the crucial part of the teaching sequence - once people can do this exercise, which is still done to a steady beat, no one has mentioned galliard rhythm yet!, the rest is much easier.)

(The next item in the teaching sequence is to take the number of "switches" from 3 down to 1. You still call cadence with a steady beat:) kick, two, three, four, switch, kick, two, three, four, switch ....

So we've now actually got the basic galliard step, except that we have to change the rhythm a bit. Drag out the 4th kick, and sink a bit lower on the supporting leg as you do so, so you don't land in the 'switch' position until one beat later. Here we go: kick, two, three, fourrrrr, and switch, kick, two, three, fourrrrr, and switch, kick, two, three, fourrrrr, and switch, ... ONE two three FOURRRRR, and Switch; ONE two three FOURRRRR, and Switch; ONE two three FOURRRRR, and Six; ONE two three FOURRRRR, and Six; ...

(end of transcript)

People will vary tremendously as to how much practice they need to be able to do this, the cinque-pas, comfortably. Tell them that! The rhythm *is* weird until you get used to it, and some people lock onto it right away, others need to try it repeatedly over a few weeks to get it. Keep at it, eventually it will fall into place - and then you wonder why it ever gave you trouble. And the effort is worth it, galliards are a lot of fun to play with.

Weird though the rhythm is, there's one galliard that most people should be very familiar with, burned into the brain in childhood - the song known either as "My Country Tis of Thee", or "God Save the Queen". Once through the song will give you 7 measures of galliard rhythm. So if anyone needs music to sing in your head while practicing privately, use that (sung a little more briskly than normal).

While teaching, consider arranging people in a loose mob at one end of the room, with yourself in front - and then turn your back, so they can follow along behind you. The good part about this is that many people will find following behind you to be easier than doing the visual translation when you're facing them, either straight-on or obliquely. The disadvantages are that you can't watch them, and you have to project your voice more. Sometimes I do this and sometimes I don't.

Style issues:

The arms and upper body should stay fairly quiet, though not to the extreme one sees in Irish step-dancing. Remember that the clothes that go with this dance are Elizabethan-era: stiff doublets and bulky sleeves for everyone, corsets and hoops for ladies, dress swords and capes for gentlemen. Ladies might well have used their fingertips to stabilize their upper hoops, and the Italian sources give detailed instructions for how gentlemen use their hands and arms to control their swords and capes.

Teach the "bell step" variation as soon as some people seem to have gotten the hang of the cinque-pas. Some people find the bell step to be easier than the cinque-pas, so offering it as an alternative may help people get used to the rhythm. The "bell step", starting from a posture position with the left foot in front:

and repeat starting with a leap onto R.

- Countess Mara Kolarova, mka: Meredith Courtney,

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl)