Dancing in the Empire

After learning a bit of Scottish country dancing this summer, doing that ((http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtgfBa639D0)) and trying a bit of English country dancing at a local event called Dancing in the Streets a few weeks ago, and then several hours of contra dancing this weekend, I think it’s time to turn our attention to how these or other kinds of dancing fit in the world of the Shine Cycle.

The first settlers in the lands that became the Shine and Wild Empire came stumbling through portals between worlds, mostly from various times in our world’s history and, as it happened, largely from “the Western world.” Because of the variety of cultures thrown (occasionally) together in an initially largely-empty land, traditions of things like music and dancing tended to get handed down in simplified or altered form, but with lots of little differences from community to community—then, with the rest of the culture, began to unify again as communications eased.

In most of the Empire, “couple dancing” is far less popular or known than it is here. Waltzes, schottisches, hambos, and the like are not unknown—the musical tradition is strong—but communities where most people know how to and like to dance them (except for waltzes, which are fairly widespread and popular) are for the most part few and far between.

What’s more common is some form of “set dancing,” usually resembling either Scottish or English country dancing, American contra dancing, or some fusion thereof, often significantly influenced by other forms of dancing from entirely unrelated cultures with which they had been thrown together. But the nearly-invariable element (other than participating in various “figures”) in most common forms of dancing everywhere are sets (rarely circular, usually “long-ways,” either of a fixed or indefinite number of couples, but occasionally square) up and down which couples “progress” as the dance repeats.

Some Imperial traditions of set dancing include “footwork,” “steps” using which the dances are danced, while many abandoned those parts early in the “folk process.” These steps are often similar or identical to those found in one of Earth’s folk dancing traditions or another, but the names are only sometimes the same. One particularly confusing example: Two groups of settlers mostly of Scottish origin, thousands of miles apart, both named the rivers along which they settled the “Strath,” after the river in Scotland, and then called their favorite traditional musical and dance forms “strathspey”—with one resembling the Scottish musical form and country dance style fairly closely, and the other hardly at all.

Nowadays dances tend to be quite simple in the rural areas and more complicated in urban areas—because “advanced” dancers can get together more easily there. And some of the more complicated figures and steps that were lost early in the folk process were revived in the area around the Imperial capital and other important regional cities in the aftermath of the arrival of the Chosen.

In many rural areas, there is a tradition that gentlemen ask ladies to dance (another near-universal feature is to call everyone a “gentleman” or “lady” within the context of a dance), though a few areas have the opposite tradition. If a group is of sufficient size for a large number of couples, it’s a sign of particular regard for an eligible young man to ask a lady to dance more than twice. In urban areas etiquette is more fluid—either may ask the other, a lady may “dance the gentleman’s part” (and, in a very few areas, a gentleman may even dance a lady’s part) if partners are lacking or to fill out a set, and dancing frequently with the same partner is not necessarily a sign of anything in particular.

As I noted in the earlier post about music, recorded music is quite rare, but most people have and are at least minimally proficient on some instrument. Because of this, it’s far easier to have a dance with live music than it is nowadays in our world (and, as you might expect, this is one way that professional musicians make their living), though the music is not necessarily of any particular level of quality.

Any questions or comments?


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