Baroque dancing is an unusual past-time, but it has connections to all sorts of disciplines - and has much to offer, whether you're looking to engage body, mind or spirit!
The minuet was an important aspect of the 18th century, and it's fascinating to see the original dance instructions and appreciate at first hand how the clothes affect the movements. Not to mention the privileged access to wonderful old buildings...
Spatial awareness and a knack for patterns are key to this style of dance and certainly keep the little grey cells ticking over - the continually shifting shapes can seem like a cross between a human kaleidoscope and a game of chess!
It's difficult not to feel uplifted by baroque melodies, and our steps add another layer which can echo the rhythms of the music or form syncopations with it. And as much as we love Handel, we like the more obscure composers too.
Although baroque dance evolved into ballet, a lot of the techniques are pretty unique, so there's plenty to learn even if you're familiar with other styles; some dances require balance and control, others need lots of energy.
Why we love it
We asked a random selection of members why they've enjoyed being part of the company, here's what they said:
"One of the original ads made me want to try this style of dancing ('step back in time and learn the mysteries of the minuet'). It just sounded so different - only in London can you minuet one night and lindyhop the next - and it's been a life-long laugh!"
"Fantastic people, fantastic places, the experience has been second to none."
"Initially I wasn't sure about wearing 18th century costume at performances, but at my first event one of the musicians in the orchestra told me it looked terrific and I've not been shy about it since. A few years later a lady in the audience was taken enough by me in costume that we're married now!"
"Being a member of the company has opened up a whole new world of Baroque dance for me. I have well and truly fallen in love with it and plan to learn more about this amazing dance style for years to come."
Being a member
We rehearse on Wednesday evenings in a lovely wooden-floored hall in central London. Most of us wear jazz shoes, but anything with a slight heel will do. After warming-up the lower legs, and a practice of some of the trickier steps or sequences, the main part of the session is spent learning new dances and polishing the more familiar ones.
We roughly follow school terms, with short gaps at Christmas and Easter, and a longer break over the summer. Members pay a subsidised subscription of about £100 per term.
When an event is first suggested, we'll ask members to indicate if they're able to attend. One of the dancers volunteers to be 'producer', the main point of contact before and during the event. He or she liaises with the organiser to understand their requirements and make arrangements, and with our Dancing Mistress to select the dances.
On the day, we'll arrive at the venue a few hours before the performance for a run-through of the program in situ, and then it takes about an hour to get into costume (at least for the ladies).
Quite often we're not just performing dances, we're also teaching them to the audience. One person will call out instructions, and the rest of us will help make sure everyone's following them!
For events we wear recreations of 1760s-1770s ballroom outfits:
- Ladies wear a silk dress over a chemise and stays (corset), along with an extra hoop-like structure around the hips to puff the skirt out at the sides. It takes a little getting used to but it's much more flattering than modern fashions!
- Gentlemen have it easy with a military or silk/velvet suit comprising breeches, chemise, cravat, waistcoat and coat. A tricorn hat and a flash pair of buckles complete the ensemble.
Some costumes can be borrowed from the company, although many members find they prefer to have their own made.
The process for joining
If you'd like to dance with us we ask that you apply to become a member. As a performing company we need to ensure everyone knows the repertoire and dances to a decent standard, so it involves a little more commitment than other drop-in classes.
It's great fun learning and performing alongside a consistent group of people over a period of time - and results in a rich source of accumulated wisdom and anecdotes for the company!
We try to maintain a balance of genders within the company, and have recently had some ladies join, so are particularly pleased to hear from any gentlemen at the moment.
Our Secretary will get in touch to invite you to a free taster class, to give you the opportunity to try us out, and so we can meet you too.
About once a term we'll hold a special class for potential members, but if the next one isn't for a while, we'll ask you to come along to one of our normal classes.
If you like what you see and we feel you'd do well, we'll invite you to join for a term as a probationary member.
You won't be able to take part in events or vote on company matters, but we'll start teaching you the dances in class each week, for a reduced fee of £40.
After a term of baroque dancing we hope you'll have fallen in love with it, and that you're feeling more comfortable with the steps and technique. The Dancing Mistress and company together decide whether to invite you to join as a full member.
Then we can give you access to all our resources and help you sort out a costume so you can take part in your first performance as soon as possible!