Of Heaven and Earth: Strike Up the Band

Antonio Balestra, Justice and Peace Embracing, ca. 1700. Bequeathed by Archibald McLellan, 1856 (266). © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

Adapted from Joynear Duncan, education student at Alverno College and Museum summer 2014 Intern.

The main forms of entertainment during the Renaissance, when the paintings at the beginning of the Of Heaven and Earth exhibition were made, were music and dance. There were two main types of dances: court dances and country dances. Court dances were formal dances performed by trained dancers. Country dances were dances that anyone could participate in. Each dance had specific steps and movements.

Here are a few examples of Renaissance dance steps:

  • Reverence: This is a “greeting” step. The dancers, facing each other, slide their left foot back and bend both knees to bow to the other dancer.
  • Saltarello: This is a lively dance step. Dancers take three steps forward and then hop.
  • Pavane: Usually the first dance of the evening, this is a slow “walking” dance that gives the dancers a chance to show off their fancy clothes and gowns.
    talian Double or Doppio: For this step, dancers take two elegant steps forward and then rise up on their toes.
  • View examples of these steps and dances on YouTube, such as How to Dance Through Time: The Majesty of Renaissance Dance. See, also, how-tos on the Reverence and the Pavane steps.

Extend the lesson by encouraging students to practice these traditional steps. In addition, ask students how dancing has changed. Be bold and have them share their best dance moves and the names of the moves.

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