Dancing was a popular form of entertainment during the Baroque Era, and musicians were often employed to perform dance music. The tradition of Baroque dance solidified under King Louis XIV of France, who was an avid dancer and encouraged the development of social and theatrical dance in his court. The theatrical dance that King Louis XIV encouraged eventually grew to become what we know as ballet.
We know a lot about the steps and choreography that was used for Baroque dance due to the existing dance notation. Dance notation, such as Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, indicates the steps that are used and the movement of the dancer across the floor. The notation is often a thing of beauty itself, but was designed to accurately record dance steps.
Some common Baroque dance types are listed below. As you watch the videos and listen to the music in them, think about the tempo and character of the music, as well as the nature of the dancing. Do the dancers do a lot of energetic leaps, or is it more elegant and gliding? How would you change the way that you play each dance to reflect what the dancers are doing (separated notes, connected notes, how loud or quiet)?
- Allemande – duple meter, moderate tempo, 2 or 3 pick-up notes. Video: This video shows dancers performing the allemande with the dance notation.
- Bouree – duple meter, tempo faster than a Gavotte (presto), quarter note pick up notes. Video: This link starts Handel’s Water Music at the Bouree.
- Courante/Corrente – Bach uses these words to distinguish between the French and Italian versions of this dance, respectively. This dance is normally in some form of 3 meter (3/4, 3/2, 6/4 etc). The French version was a slow dance, the Italian version was faster tempo. Video: This video is an excerpt of the male part of a French Courante – the dancer is wearing soft shoes, so you can see him go on his toes. A good overview of Courante vs Corrente can be found on the Musica Universalis website.
- Gavotte – duple meter, tempo allegro moderato, half measure pick up notes. Video: This video feature a Gavotte.
- Gigue – usually 3/8, but sometimes 6/8, 9/8 or 12/8, fast and lively tempo, with pick up notes. Video: This video features a Gigue.
- Minuet – 3/4 meter, moderately fast tempo, no pick up note. Video: This link starts Handel’s Water Music at the Menuet.
- Passepied – 3/8 meter, quick tempo, with a pick up note. Video: This video features a Passpied.
- Sarabande – triple meter, slow tempo, no pick up note. This dance often emphasizes beat two in the measure. Video: This video is a Sarabande.