This past weekend I presented at WSECS, which ended up being an absolutely lovely conference (I’m already trying to come up with an abstract for next year!). The reception on Friday included a demo/lesson in English country dance, which was great fun and sparked plenty of conversation about eighteenth century social structures. Dr. Tomko, who had arranged the program and patiently instructed a large group of novices, afterwards commented on the differences between studying modern dance, where there are often films, and historical dance.
“What happens when we have to reconstitute the dance in order to study it?”
I feel this is pertinent to any number of historical inquiries, but most especially kinetic “objects” like dance…and of course, riding. Simple things like why riders remained perpendicular to their horse in levade (which today seems an odd and dangerous habit), become clear when you sit in their high-pommeled saddles (no one wants to be punched in the gut by their saddle). The more complex the movement, the more likely we are to miss something examining it purely in the theoretical. Ideas of “personal space” and social connections become concrete experiences in reconstituting dance. The difficulty, of course, is being precise as to what, from whom and when, is being reconstituted.
We could all learn a little from dance historians.