Essay on Renaissance and Baroque Dance

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The Renaissance

The Renaissance period has the opposite relationship between music and dance than the Medieval period did. In this period, the music became more revolutionary, thus making it more important than the dancing that was being performed with it. The new style of polyphony was introduced making the music more complex. Polyphony is when different voices have different rhythms and tunes but are all performed at the same time. Below is an example of polyphony within a bassoon quartet, something that would be played during the Medieval period.

Looking at this music score horizontally the music is not complicated but altogether it sounds complex. This means that the dancing was not going to be as complicated for there to be a balance between the two. Dance was done in a “quasi-professional manner”, moving mostly forwards and backward while avoiding leaps and jumps, making it similar to dances performed during the Medieval times. This being said, the dancers had to be educated on how to complete the full routine but they did not need to be professionals on the action. This is another example of how the greater accomplishment going from the Medieval time to the Renaissance was music, not dance. Figure 3 shows this.

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It can be seen in this painting that the dancers all have fancier items of clothing, making it easy to reinforce the idea that there were no leaps and jumps involved. This though was only one type of traditional dance, very formal and not chaotic, showing the similarity to the Medieval dances. There are different types of dances though and for each dance, there is a different rhythm. For example, one half-note beat in a duple meter equals one dotted half-beat in a triple for the standard dance style. The complexity of this rhythm was left up to the musicians, meaning that not just anyone could play for a formal dance.

As the notation of music gained accuracy, musicians were able to start writing down rhythms that had not yet been scored. An example of this is a hemiola. The “hemiola style” was first used for African drumming circles but since music notation had not come into play, there was no name for it. During the Renaissance, musicians defined this specific rhythm describing it as three groups of two beats rather than two groups of three beats, or 3:2. This gives the feel that there is a change between the duple and triple meter throughout a piece.

As seen here, this particular hemiola is in a 6/8 time signature with a mix of one beat of three and one beat of two. This shows that one could hear and perceive this rhythm as being in either a duple or triple meter. Having this be as complex as it is, provides another example of how the rhythm was the alpha in the relationship with the dance performed with it.


The relationship between dance and rhythm stays relatively the same until the end of the French Revolution. Ballet is developed throughout the Renaissance but becomes more and more complex during the Baroque period. According to the company Early Dance Circle, two different distinct styles of ballet are formed: the French and the Italian. The French continued the classical ballet style which we see today in a traditional ballet class. The vocabulary used is French. The exception is the use of the word ‘ballerina’. Today the words ballerina and ballerino are used instead of the French words danseuse (female) and danseur (male). Since these were the only Italian words used, it was made clear that the French style became more popular than the Italian style. The Italians took the late Renaissance ballet style and added an Italian flare to it. This consists of being more elastic and expressive with any given movement. This is different from how the French approached this dance style. The Metropolitan Museum of Art released an article on this difference. It was stated that since the French wanted ballet to be more classical rather than changing with the modern times, they kept the formal look. Females wore tight clothing around the chest like a corset from the late Renaissance which restricted their movement on the stage. This meant the male dancer was in charge and had more freedom to do large jumps and tricks. Since the French continued with this style, there is a specific dance name for it. La Belle Danse was danced at opera ballets and court entertainments. This was the first true sign of trained dancers at an academy which was something that was not seen during the Renaissance. Since these dancers were performing at operas, this meant the musicians were also trained professionals. Analyzing the music that these professionals played more closely, it is noticed that there are more complicated rhythms than the music in earlier periods. For duple meter there’s bourée, gavotte, and rigaudon. For triple meter, there’s chaconne, courante, minuet, and sarabande. For compound duple meter there are canaries, for Lana, and gigue. Each of these complex meters reflects the dance during this time.


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