2022 “Country Dance” as Reification of the Pastoral Idyll

we are Frolyke heare in cowrte: much dauncing of contrey dawnces before the QM [Queen Elizabeth] Whoe is exceedingly pleased therwith. Thus said the Earl of Worcester to Sir Robert Sidney 1602.

This would seem to run counter to the views of many that the country dances were done by country folk, and in particular the rural labouring classes, presumably on their local village green on days of celebration, or Holy-Days.

But why would dances associated with the rustic peasantry be merrily danced at a court that was as class conscious as that of Queen Elizabeth? Was it the strong influence of the pastoral aesthetic in Tudor England that encouraged the upper classes to indulge in supposedly rustic behaviour? Remember that in France in the mid-16th century, Catherine de Médicis built a dairy, La Vacherie, where courtiers played at being shepherds and shepherdesses, while in the late 17th century in England, Queen Mary had a dairy built at Hampton Court, of course equipped with the finest Delft milking pans.

My paper questions the belief that these dances originated on the village green, or that they were in any way associated with the rural labouring classes. It will explore the role of the country dance as it emerged in parallel with the ‘pastoral aesthetic’ within the courts of Europe – and England in particular — during the Early Modern period.


Barbara Segal is a performer, teacher and historian of dance from the 15th-19th century. She is director of Chalemie, a group specialising in early dance and music theatre. She has performed and taught throughout Europe, the Baltic States, Russia, the USA and Australia. She has toured for the Early Music Network and the British Council, and she has taught historical dance at the Royal Academy of Dance for their BA (Hons) degree in Ballet Education. She organises and teaches at the Chalemie Summer School each year, and she taught and performed for fourteen years at the Cracovia Court Dance Festival in Poland. Currently she is organiser of the Early Dance Circle Biennial Conferences and has edited the Proceedings for the past twelve years. Barbara gives lectures on early dance and allied topics for both academic institutions and other interested groups, and she has trained singers in baroque gesture. In 2018 the Early Dance Circle presented Barbara with the Peggy Dixon Award for Outstanding Services to Early Dance. She holds a PhD from London University.