In a time long before all our modern forms of entertainment, dancing was hugely popular, and an important way for ordinary people as well as for nobles to have fun, socialise and celebrate special occasions.
The ability to dance well was a great asset at Court, as it was the main opportunity for gentlemen to make the acquaintance of ladies, and vice versa. Henry VIII was (in his younger days) reputed to be one of the best dancers in Europe. Both he and his daughter, Elizabeth, loved dancing. We are proud to include in our repertoire the dance which was said to be her favourite, La Volta, shown in the picture on the right. We were, however, forced to modify the way in which our gentlemen hoist our ladies aloft!
Dressed as Medieval or Tudor courtiers, or as yeomen and women of the late Middle Ages, A Companye of Strangers perform a variety of English, French and Italian dances, mainly bransles, pavanes and allemandes.
Many of our dances – for example, our version of La Volta – come from Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchesographie, first published in 1588.
Thoinot Arbeau was the (almost) anagrammatical pen name of a French cleric, Jehan Tabourot (1519 – 1595). His Orchesographie provides detailed instructions not only for the steps and the music, but also for the style and manners of dancing in general. There is little doubt that he published under a pseudonym because he clearly knew far more about dancing than a sixteenth century cleric should!
Over the years we have also gleaned other dances from the internet, and (with their permission!) from other groups who perform early dances.
Many of Arbeau’s dances are very simple, and are more enjoyable to dance than to watch. Companye are happy to teach some of these dances to the audience. The dances that we usually teach are the Horses’ Bransle, the Officials’ Bransle, and the Hermits’ Bransle.