Medieval Dance Style

Dance has been a part of the human culture since the beginning of time.  It has always served several different purposes such as the celebration of special events, fitness, military training, worship, entertainment and religious symbolism, especially in Christianity. Dance was considered an adjunct to praising and a way of showing respect.  There are several dances relative to these traditions that capture the essence of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries.  These have originated from many countries around the world and were a part of everyday life.

Overview of World Dance


Before the times of Christ, the Chinese made a distinction between military and civilian dance which shows that dance had a purpose of training the body for everything it could experience, as mentioned by Plato.  Now, Chinese Confucianism and Buddhism incorporate dance as part of religious practices (Medieval Dance: China, 2002).


Sculptures of Krishna, one of the physical forms of Vishnu, often show him with a flute posing in dance positions.  Shiva was classed as a lord of yoga, and now dance is considered to be part of yoga and closely associated with the act of creation, re-birth.  Hindu temples housed the dancers and musicians that were considered to be servants of the Gods.  The hand and arm motions of the dancing were joined with leg gestures for acting out the great stories of Hindu culture and a similar type of dancing eventually became part of Buddhist tradition (Medieval Dance: India, 2002).


The dance traditions from both China and India influenced Japan greatly as early as the Third Century B.C.  Bugaku, a ceremonial music of ancient Japan whose development began around 700 C.E, is associated with dance, as are celebrations in Shinto and Japanese Buddhist traditions.  These celebrate festivals in honour of Buddha’s life, enlightenment and death for example (Medieval Dance: Japan, 2002). This was the beginning of traditional Medieval and Renaissance dance around the world.

Types of Dance

The Branle

The Branle is originally a French Renaissance dance, well documented in the 1400’s, and was very common in the Kingdoms.  This dance is a very simple one found in Orchesography, though there are several different variations found in the choreography of various places around the world.  Firstly, the Branle was generally danced outdoors, making it a very happy and fast dance.  It was mostly danced in the shape of a circle with partners either standing side by side or facing each other.  There are several different variations of the Branle, the first one being the Simple Branle.  This dance involves very simple steps with partners standing side-by-side, and in a circular motion, they take two steps to the left and then one step back to the right whilst grasping hands.  This step is repeated over and over with the music slowly increasing in speed.  The next version is the Branle Double.  This dance begins by partners grasping hands standing next to each other, and again moving in a circular motion.  Firstly, there is a double step to the left, followed by two slight jumps and kicking of the feet, then a double step back to the right again.  This step is repeated twice.  The next time there is again a double step to the left and two slight jumps and kicking of the feet, with only a single step back to the right, followed by three slight jumps and kicking of the feet, then a single step repeating this to the left and a double step to the right to end.  These are only a sample of the many variations of the Branle that exist around the world.

The Pavan

The Pavan is generally described as a slow, processional dance.  This dance originated in Italy, and the name comes from the word “Padoanna” which is an ancient dance of
Padua.  Pavans are generally danced in double time and tend to have a few basic steps that are always used. After the Pavan is danced, it is traditionally followed by the Galliard.  This dance is normally performed to the same music which the Pavan was danced to, but in triple time (Society For Creative Anachronism Australia: The Canary, n.d) The basic three steps of a simple Pavan are as follows:  single step on left foot, single step on right foot, then a double step on left foot (these steps are usually performed moving either forwards or backwards). After the first three steps are performed, the dancers then take a step forward with the left foot, then join feet together by moving the right foot forward. The previous step is repeated, this time taking the right foot forward first. Walking forwards, the dancer then takes the left foot forward, followed by the right, then the left and then step forwards again on the right, this time joining the feet together. The previous step is then repeated, this time taking the right foot forward first. Then the dancer repeats the single and double steps from the beginning, this time moving backwards. This dance is always performed by repeating the steps over and over to fit with the song played.

The Canary

The Canary, or Il Canario was an extremely popular dance style thought to have originated in Spain.  It was based on a dance performed by the people of the Canary Islands.  It received its name from its similarity to that of a Canary hopping on its perch  as well as the name of the island it came from.  Much like that of the Galliard, this dance was performed most likely improvised, with the dancers either choreographing their own routines or performing as an impromptu (making the movements up as they go).  The steps for the Canary can be generally more difficult than some of the others.

Medieval Dance: Conclusion

Dance was a popular form of entertainment during the early Medieval/ Renaissance period.  It was used in several different cultures for different purposes, like worship, praise, special occasions like weddings and also as a fitness opportunity.  This type of dance is still used, adapted and admired all around the world today.

Reference List:


Hay, D (1996), “Europe in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (2nd Ed)”, Longman Group UK LTD

Previte-Orton, G.W (1952), “The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History 2”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Internet Sources

Boronow S, (1998), Renaissance Dance: Types of Dance in the Renaissance, Viewed 6 May 2006,

Free flow Dance Company (2004), “Free Flow Dance Theatre Company: Medieval Dance”, viewed: 2 May 2006,

Kendall Y, (2002), The ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies: Medieval Dance, viewed: 23 April 2006,

No author, (2005), “An American Ballroom Companion: Renaissance Dance”, Library of Congress, viewed: 3 May 2006,

No author, n.d, “SCA Australia: The Canary and the Pavan”, viewed 6 May 2006,

United Square Dancers of America, April 24 2005, “USDA”, viewed 6 May 2006,

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