In this video Carrie Nath, director of education for the Kentucky Arts Council, explains the purpose and structure of the Maltese Bransle, a country dance that was popular in the courts of England and France during the Renaissance.
In the expanding world of the Renaissance, the church became less powerful, and social and artistic dance grew in importance. Members of the monarchy underscored their power through lavish social events that included dancing. The Renaissance court dance was an important time to see and be seen, an opportunity to learn the news of the day, and, to make important social connections.
Guests at a Renaissance court dance wore elaborately patterned brocades and velvets. Dancers performed between each course of the dinner, and themes linked menus, costumes, and dances.
The Bransle or Branle is an old French country dance that became popular in the royal courts of France and England during the Renaissance. Frequently, the Court would travel to the country to learn the dances of the peasants. These dances were considered more fun than the more formal dances such as the Pavane because the country dances were not subject to the same strict rules that applied to proper court dances. The Bransle is a very social dance that reflects the strong sense of community that existed in the country.
There are many variations of the Bransle found throughout the world. The Maltese Bransle performed in the video segment shows influence of Middle Eastern belly dancing. Originally, a large chain of dancers stepping side to side performed the dance with large sideways steps to the left followed by an equal number of smaller steps to the right. The steps are very simple, with participants forming a circle stepping side to side and stepping forward to the center and back again to reestablish the large circle. The steps are repeated over and over as the music gets faster and faster. It became the goal of the dancers to be the last one standing as the music progressively grew faster. The festive nature of the dance penetrated social barriers and brought people together, thus its popularity has survived throughout history.
Use this dance in connection with a history unit on the Renaissance.
Have students research the social structure of the Renaissance period. Compare the lives of the nobility and the peasants. How are these differences exemplified in the dances popular with each group?
Have students research different variations of the Bransle and perform them. Write an essay or prepare a PowerPoint presentation detailing the history of the dance and the origins of the steps and movements in the dance.
Use a map to trace the origins of the Bransle, and illustrate how the dance spread across both land and sea. Research and describe the eastern influence found in variations of the Bransle.