2014, Seventeenth Century Dance Spaces: the infrastructure

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A man and a woman take to the floor to dance their galliard. For a while they are the centre of attention, and indeed they are at the forefront of our imaginations in the twenty-first century. Yet their dance was as much the result of an extensive infrastructure as of the excellent skills and prior instruction of the performers. This paper will explore the network of systems that operated on dance spaces and raise questions concerning the impact on the dance itself.

Drawing on evidence principally from Whitehall Palace, but also the Inns of Court, Denmark House, Merchant Taylor’s Hall, Holyrood, the Louvre, Fontainebleau and The Hague, the adaptation of general-purpose halls and the development of dedicated ballrooms and dance theatres will be discussed as part of common European practice. The physical layout involving the labour of carpenters, mat-layers and wire-drawers is a primary topic. Arrangements for access, seating, refreshment and sanitation follow from this.

The management of the participants involved the issue of invitations, seating arrangements, order of dancing and choice of dances. At a royal court, or when royalty was present in a great house, important issues of diplomacy became contingent. For England, the records of the Master of Ceremonies provide insights into the delicate negotiations and diplomatic ruses that forestalled serious incidents. Hospitality for a dance or masque performance extended to the supper before and the banquet after, when once again careful management was in play.

Then there is the music. Where were the musicians placed in the space? What instruments were used? How did they communicate with the dancers? What were their pay and conditions?

By bringing together scattered sources from financial records, court documents and newsletters, I hope to establish a picture of the administration of dancing while bringing an important aspect of the seventeenth century to life.

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Anne Daye