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Henry VIII

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Henry VIII


Information: A production.

Act 1, scene 4, Shakespeare's Henry VIII: dances for the banquet scene in which Henry VIII and other masquers enter and dance with the ladies present before going off to further festivities. Henry meets and falls in love with Anne, his next queen, here. Stage directions indicate shepherd costumes for the masquers who claim to be foreigners, perhaps French.

After the dance, Henry says that it would be rude not to kiss Anne, having just danced with her.

Cecilia Almaine – The choreography mentions two moments when the dancers "embrace". I turn the final move into a cross over and turn to the left - thus each dancer meets the next lady/gentleman - handy if you want Henry to meet Anne "accidentally", as it were. Peggy Dixon of Nonsuch composed a very jolly little tune to her (shortened) version of the dance that fits beautifully.

– Diana Cruickshank

Rules of Dancing. Antonius Arena. France, 1531 Translated by John Guthrie and Marino Zorzi for Dance Reasearch 4:2 (Autumn 1986), pp.3-53

Arena states:

53: "Whoever engages ladies and pretty girls in dancing will find sweet reward in the basse dance. I have had occasion to dance in many lands and dancing gave me much joy, since in my time, I have in mannerly fashion kissed many charming ladies and a thousand girls."

115: "When you are leading two young maidens to dance ..... Making your humble reverance in a refined and urbaine manner, kiss them, I implore you while looking at the ground. After, as you are rising, cast your gaze easily at both of them. Thus the girls will remain friends ..."

349: Further more I exhort you all to learn the dances in which you may bestow prolonged kisses. Learn the iannola, the Branles, the delightful hays, and all the kissing dances. Whoever dances these may call himself happy since he quaffs the beautifull lips of the damsels. What better for a young man than to kiss beauties? There is no employment more delightful for you nor for me.

A Canary, while appropriate to Shakespeare's time, postdates Henry VIII.

For Henry's time (this scene would be set in the mid-1520s), I would recommend Gelosia. It's a bit complicated, but not too much so, and the partner-swapping would foreshadow subsequent events in the play. It also has excellent opportunities for flirting (and a bit of spurning too), while the saltarelli and pive should be sufficient to get the dancers "heated." This dance was getting kind of old in the 1520s, but it seems to have been one of the more popular and durable dances in the Italian Renaissance repertoire.

Recent studies indicate that early Tudor England was likely (at least) to have been well acquainted with Italian dances. For Shakespeare's time (I think this one was about 1610 or so?), I would suggest Sellengers Round, to the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book tune. Sellengers Round is a simple dance, and can be done either placidly or vigorously according to the pace of the music and whims of the dancers. It is very much oriented towards one's partner (at least in my reconstruction), and is hardly worth doing if one is not going to flirt with one's partner.

There are several versions of Sellengers Round. The earliest instructions suggest doing it in a line of three couples, with the following figures:

Lead up and back twice, chorus, sides twice, chorus, arms twice, chorus, with the "chorus" (as I am calling it) being two singles apparently forwards and a double backwards, and then set and turn twice. I assume that since the opening figures went up and back the two singles and double that come next would more likely have been done facing one's partner. There are other reconstructions of this dance, but I think that this is the most likely one.

There is some question whether Sellengers Round is contemporary with Shakespeare. Although it was omitted from the first two editions of Playford, that does not mean that it was a new dance in Playford's time. It is not unusual for new collections of just about any kind to have a few glaring omissions from the first one or two editions. And Sellengers Round is one of the few country dances for which we have, from within a few years of the Shakespeare play, both written music and references to a dance by that name. We don't know that it was done the same way in Shakespeare's time as when the instructions were written, but the same objection could be raised against all but a few English dances.

A few other Playford dances, while less likely to be period even for Shakespeare, might be suitable. For shepherds, you could consider Shepherds Holiday or else New Boe Peep. The latter is easier to teach and better for flirting, but being named as a "new" dance could hardly have been period.

For masquers, there's Gray's Inn Mask, in which the dancers do honor to their partners and then embrace. And for a Shakespeare connection, there's Kemps Jegg, in which the flirting builds up to kissing in the last figure of the dance – though unless you abridge it this one would probably be too long to be useful. By the way, if the attribution to Kemp is valid then this dance would predate Shakespeare's Henry VIII, because Will Kemp apparently died in 1603.

I would not recommend the Galliard or Canary for dancers who lack training in Renaissance dance, especially if you can't find an expert to teach them. Both dances are too easily done badly and too rarely done well. A Coranto might be more practical.

Some of the Italian dances from Shakespeare's time (from Caroso and Negri) might be suitable, but most would be rather difficult for newcomers to Renaissance dancing.


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