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What Is Baroque Dance?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated May 23, 2024
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Baroque dance is dance of the baroque era. Traditionally, it is associated with nobility. Remnants of this period of dancing remain in modern dance. Baroque dance refers most broadly to any dance done during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Specifically, it refers to dances of this period from Europe. More precisely, baroque dance was dance done in the baroque era in France under the reign of King Louis XIV.

King Louis XIV was a great admirer of the arts. As such, he encouraged the development of both dance and music. The innovations in dance that arose in his court proved so fundamental that modern classical ballet still retains many of the steps and concepts. The fact that these changes were encouraged by Louis XIV and the French nobility is why baroque dance sometimes is called "belle danse," which translates to "beautiful dance" in French, or the French noble style.

Social dance is the first of two primary categories of baroque dance. People performed these dances at balls and similar amusement events. Social baroque dance had precise steps, but these steps were simple enough that the majority of people could take part. Much of what exists in terms of written choreography represents these social dances, particularly those from England.

The second major category of baroque dance is theatrical dance. These dances were performed at court and in ballets and operas, often by more serious or advanced dancers. They typically were more complicated than social dances, but the same basic dance principles were used.

This type of dance can also be classed according to the number of dancers who took part. Many baroque dances were for just one or two dancers. As these dancers performed, guests and dancers who were waiting to take their turn would stand around the sides of the room. The dancers would use all of the space available, directing their dance toward any nobility present. Other baroque dances were group dances, which typically means that everyone danced in sets or lines.

Baroque dance is linked closely to baroque music, which accompanied the dances. Among prominent baroque composers whose music was used for dancing included J.S. Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Jean-Baptiste Lully. These composers understood the steps associated with each dance and were able to compose music that paired naturally with the physical movements the dancers had to do.

Just like modern dancers, baroque dancers needed variety in their dances to accommodate different music, numbers of dancers, the dancers' skill and the overall mood the dancer or dancers wanted to convey. Subsequently, many different types of baroque dances exist, each with their own steps and emphases. Some of the most popular included the courante, sarabande, allemande and gigue, although the bourrée, passacaglia, hornpipe, gavotte and chaconne also were common.

Masters of baroque dance eventually wrote down the steps for both social and theatrical dances, and it is from these writings that scholars base reconstructions of baroque dances. Perhaps the most influential of these masters was Raoul-Auger Feuillet, who created the first major dance notation under King Louis XIV. Other prominent choreographers included Guillaume-Louis Pecour, Pierre Rameau, Mister Isaac, Edmund Pemberton and Kellom Tomlinson.

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