That’s me, third from the left in the photo above. It was taken this past weekend at the Middle Temple, one of the famous Inns of Court in London, and where the first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I was working with an historic dance and drama company called Nonsuch to perform a Candelmas celebration.
We did a number of Tudor dances like the Pavanne and the Galliard. It was tremendous fun and well received by the audience.
The thing about these dances is that they are deceptively simple looking but actually really tricky to execute. There are a lot of patterns to remember and even though they are made up of a series of single and double steps, it’s harder than it looks. But that’s the point with any art form, right? The art of anything is making it look like it’s really easy.
Watching a ballet dancer it looks like a piece of cake to do what they do – until you try it yourself. Likewise making jewellery, or painting, or writing a novel. Anything that’s worth doing, when you get really good at it, looks easy to an untrained eye. Until you’ve walked a mile in the dance pumps, you have no idea how hard it is.
The Italians use the term sprezzatura which is defined as a ‘studied carelessness.’ It’s the way an Italian man just throws his cashmere jumper over his shoulders in a careless (yet practiced) way and it looks wonderfully casual and just perfect. It’s a few figs scattered on a plate and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It’s the turn of the head or wrist as you take a single step forward. It makes something pedestrian into something artful.
The other lesson for me from these dances is the value of teamwork. As I mentioned the dances are fiddly. And there are quite a few of them. We all have lapses of memory. But the great thing is that I have colleagues. As we are moving across the floor we make eye contact with each other… and we help each other out. It’s amazing how easily you can tell when someone doesn’t know what’s coming next. There is a glimpse of panic which crosses their eye. You can see it and you can smell it.
Since they’re my colleagues, as soon as I am aware of that, I give them a purposeful glance and go slightly early into the next move so they can follow me. If I can help them, I will.
Likewise when I feel that panic of not knowing what’s next, I know that i just need to open my eyes and look at my colleagues. I can read their faces and their bodies and know what comes next. A hand outstretched to me means I take it. A rise up suggests a change of direction. When I don’t know what to do, I simply have to breathe and look around me and the next step becomes apparent.
And that’s not just in historical dance. We spend so much time as creative people panicking because we don’t know what’s next. You don’t always have to know the next step. Breathe. Open you eyes and read the movements around you. It will become pretty clear pretty quick what your next move is.
If you trust that, you will soon be dancing in harmony again.