Dancing was an important pastime during the medieval period. Not only did it provide merriment and diversion for people of all classes, but it also gave women a chance to socialize with men who were neither husband nor relative as well as giving men a chance to "scope out" potential female partners and ensure they had pleasing figures (dem birthing hips doe) and "didn't smell of rotten meat."
But one thing that was true of all such dances (save for one which will be covered later) is the fact that: THERE WAS LIMITED PHYSICAL CONTACT BETWEEN THE DANCERS and most dances (but not all) were group dances as opposed to a thing for couples. By limited physical contact, I mean - at most - you'd have some hand holding if there was any contact at all. And absolutely NO waist grabbing.
THE WALTZ WOULD HAVE BEEN A GREAT NO-NO.
I enjoy dance RP. I do a lot of it. And I've seen the waltz brought up a lot by many, many people. But the thing we should keep in mind is that, even though to our modern eyes, the waltz is the very picture of courtly conduct and is a very reserved and stately sort of dance, to the medieval eye, it would have been VERY scandalous. Not only would you be standing in VERY close quarters with a member of the opposite sex, but the woman would have a hold of his shoulder while the man would (gasp) be grabbing her waist (the scandal) while the two whirled about.
In addition, it wasn't invented until the 18th century.
The closest thing to the waltz we're going to see in this general time period is LA VOLTA (explained below) which was highly condemned by religious persons and was seen as the most scandalous sort of dance for its time. But let's get to the other more acceptable dances first before we take that Volta train.
THE CIRCLE DANCE:
This is exactly what it sounds like and you've probably seen it in a lot of movies and shows. People stand in a circle, hold hands, and move from side-to-side. Easy, right? There were a few variations, of course. Like...
- THE OFFICIAL BRANSLE (a.k.a. "Toss the Duchess") wherein couples stand in a large circle, all holding hands (genders alternated as in man-woman-man, etc.)
and proceed to take two steps to the left, two steps to the right, on and on until finally six steps are taken to the left and then the ladies turn to the gentlemen on their left, break from the circle, move in front of them, and then make a jump to the left. The men will take their hand and guide them about as they jump. The ladies then rejoin the line and continue on as before, with a new partner now on their left.
There are a lot more circle dances, but as I was typing them out, I realized they were a bit hard to explain. You can probably just make some up. Like going in a circle, stop, step forward thrice, clap thrice, step back into place, continue. Most wouldn't involve leaping about and kicking or jumping (see THE GALLIARDS for some of that!), but rather they would consist mostly of just walking in a circle back and forth, turning in place, etc.
THE LINE DANCE:
You've also probably seen a lot of these sorts of dances in movies and shows also. People stand in lines, facing each other - usually the women all on one side and the men on the other. With these sorts of dances, there would probably be no contact or the occasional hand holding. Some examples:
- THE PRINCE has a slightly different name IRL that wouldn't translate in-game, but it consisted of couples facing each other and dancing about, making figure eight patterns but not touching.
- LA SPAGNA would have a different name IC that I can't think of right now. Low on caffeine! The men and women face each other, take right hands, turn about, move away, drop hands, face each other, repeat. Exciting.
- THE MAYPOLE DANCE is something I wish I had thought of for this year's Spring Awakening. Next year! We all know what a maypole is, right? Giant pole, ribbons all around. Men and women have a ribbon and dance about the pole, weaving their ribbons. It's a dance mainly for young, unmarried people. Why this is considered a line dance, I will never know.
- THE JIG would be a very lively dance with lots of skipping, kicking, and leaping.
In this sense, probably performed in a line with opposite sex members facing each other and showing off or what-have-you.
A highly popular dance, this would probably be the go-to at court events and hoity-toity affairs. It is a processional sort of dance and would be stupidly easily for even the most inept. The man is on the left, the woman on the right. The man has his right hand held out a bit above his hips (or in line with his hips; around in there), the woman has her left hand resting atop his. And they walk. That is it.
It's a processional sort of dance in which couples, standing in a line facing each other's backs with plenty of space in between the couple before them and behind, move in a slow circle about the room. It's a time to see and be seen, perfect for showing off a new outfit (or your partner?) while engaging in quiet conversation. The steps would be slow. You would probably pause from time-to-time to take one step out and then one step back in and continue on.
As galliard dances were invented in Italy and France, I've been playing as though these are the standard dances of Vavard. They are rather athletic sorts of things with plenty of jumps and leaps and kicks. Scandalous! The most scandalous of the galliards would be LA VOLTA (see below). I have a document detailing the various steps for galliards... that is in Italian. To spare you all the pain, just know that they involve a lot of leaping, kicking, and bouncing about. It was a time for men to show off how studly and athletic they were, after all.
They were also highly choreographed group affairs and not something to be improvised. I've danced a lot of galliards IRL (like a historical NERD), but I can't find my dance manual with all of them in it and I'm having a hard time thinking up the names of them (as they were in French) for Googling purposes. I'll update this if I can find them so we can get something more specific up here to get those RP ideas flowing.
“A new galliard, the volta [is] a foreign dance in which they seize each other in lewd places and which was brought to France by conjurors from Italy… [It is] a whirling dance full of scandalous, beastly gestures and immodest movements… [The volta] is also responsible for the misfortune that innumerable murders and miscarriages are brought about by it." -Johannes Praetorius, condemning the la volta in his book on the practices of witchcraft
This is the closest we're going to get to a "waltz" for the period and it was greatly frowned upon by good, churchly people during the time for obvious reasons (as you will soon see. I have a video example!)
La volta was danced in highly close quarters and involved the man "placing the right hand on the damsel's back and the left below her bust and by pushing her with his right thigh beneath her buttocks, turn her."
Those damn Italians and their sexy dance ideas. I have referenced the volta a few times IC, treating it as a highly scandalous thing much beloved in Vavard, but probably not something to be danced in polite Lithmorran society. See LA VOLTA in action here.
"Ballet originated in the Renaissance court as an outgrowth of court pageantry in Italy, where aristocratic weddings were lavish celebrations. Court musicians and dancers collaborated to provide elaborate entertainment for them. A ballet of the Renaissance was a far cry from the form of theatrical entertainment known to audiences today. Tutus, ballet slippers and pointe work were not yet used. The choreography was adapted from court dance steps. Performers dressed in fashions of the times. For women that meant formal gowns that covered their legs to the ankle. Early ballet was participatory, with the audience joining the dance towards the end. -History of Ballet
Ballet was becoming popular in the late 1400s, though it was mostly seen in the courts as a form of entertainment in the form of full-length shows with at least five acts. But just as belly dancing, in period, wouldn't have involved skimpy ass costumes (it was called BELLY DANCING because it was obvious to the men watching that the women weren't wearing corsets beneath their clothes, so they could see their bellies moving; random, fun fact), ballet, for the period, wouldn't have involved skimpy ass costumes.
It originated in Italian courts, so would probably also be a Vavardi thing (at least originally) IC. It would have been a choreographed event, taught to the courtiers of the royal courts by dancing masters, involving costumes and a story. Rather akin to the masques (plays involving dancing and music, singing and acting, within an elaborate stage design in a royal court) which became popular in the 16th century.
EDIT: Edited to note that ballet is mentioned in-game in the helpfile HELP VANDAGAN EDUCATION: "Vandagan arts find a base in mathematics and discipline over sheer expression, and as the winters are long and dull, talented entertainers who can provide chamber music, dance ballet, or put on a pantomime are venerated in Vandagan society."
Though it does not say it was developed in Vandago, it is the only helpfile mention of "ballet."
PLEASE NOTE: There are a hell of a lot more period dances. I didn't include a lot of the more folk-y/country ones here for the sake of length. For further digging, feel free to peruse this rather extensive database!
Also, please note that I'm not calling anyone in particular out with my notes on the waltz not being themely. I've seen a LOT of people waltzing IC and treating it as though it's a very tame sort of dance (because, to us, it is!), so I thought it was just something I should mention. Of course! It is entirely possible that waltzing has developed in Lithmore and is seen as a tame dance. But given the fact that Lithmorrans like wearing gloves so that they don't show too much skin and it's generally frowned upon for members of the opposite sex to stand too close to each other, I have trouble wrapping my head around them being alright with a close quarter dance which involves waist grabbing and spinning.