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Towards Professionalism in Historic Dance
Contributed by Chris Rogers of The Quadrille Club and past Chairman of the Early Dance Circle
Reprinted from 'The Early Dance Circular' by courtesy of the editor and the author
In 1987 I wrote an article for the Early Dance Circular in which I asked people to become involved in early dance and its future. This time I am urging – well, professionalism, I suppose.
If you go along to dance courses, revels, balls, summer schools and leave it at that – fine, great. You are the paying customers we all need. You are the ones we are doing it all for. You are important. But if you do more than that, ask yourself – am I giving the paying customers an honest return for their money? Perhaps I should explain what I mean by this.
Are you teaching early dance?If so, have you put in the background work to ensure you know what you are doing? Have you had instruction on how to teach dance without risking physical damage to your students? Are you insured against injury to students? Have you researched the dances, the steps, the music and the social background to the dances you are teaching? Can you answer questions accurately and honestly? Or are you content to simply teach your students how to wander through a series of patterns? And even then, do you teach the dance patterns with historical accuracy or do you make alterations – and if so, do you tell your students what alterations you are making, and why, and do you offer them the opportunity of trying the dance in the correct manner?
Do you demonstrate early dance?If so, have you put in sufficient practise? Have you looked at your demonstrations with a critical eye? Is your demo likely to enthuse the audience or would it be more likely to put them off early dance for life? (I’ve seen some of those and I’m sure you have, too.) Is the quality of your dancing good enough and are you (I should whisper this) young and slim enough to present an attractive picture to your audience? (I except knowledgeable audiences such as those at the EDF, who are interested in the dances rather than the pretty picture.) Are your costumes reasonably accurate? I don’t ask that they be hand-made or even entirely made of the correct fabrics – horsehair is hard to come by nowadays – but putting in bust-darts, for example, is really not acceptable and neither is nylon. Boned undergarments or bodices are a ‘must’ for many periods. And what about cosmetics? Forget white lead but perhaps you should also forget bright red lipstick and heavy eye make-up unless you are performing at a distance from the audience and under strong lighting.
Do you MC revels, balls or similar events?If so, do you know the dances well enough to ‘call’ them without reference to hand-held notes? And can you call them accurately whilst noting a problem with a group in the far corner? Can you spot what is going wrong in that corner and do you know how to remedy it? Can you cope with problems without getting cross? Do you know enough about the music to be able to help and instruct your musicians? Have you chosen dances with varied shapes and rhythms? Have you set the level of difficulty to suit the occasion and the dancers? Have you restricted numbers so that everyone has room to dance? Are you sure you can be heard by everyone present? Have you sought informed opinion on your microphone technique and how to improve it? Does your microphone have tone control and do you know how to use it?
Do you organise events?This is a real kettle of fish involving knowledge of your market, legal obligations, health and safety, WEEKS of seeking an attractive venue with a floor that will not cripple your dancers, ability to find the correct teachers or MC, ability to explain exactly what you want to everyone concerned. I could write pages about this but my short advice is – THINK about it, ASK people who have done it successfully and INVOLVE others.
AcknowledgeFor all of the above, if you rely on someone else’s knowledge and research, do you acknowledge it?
This has all turned out to be not so much an explanation of what I mean, as promised in paragraph two, but more a series of questions. A test, if you like. And now be honest - how many questions can you answer with Yes!? And one final question – if you can’t answer Yes, what are you going to do about it?
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