Renaissance Historical Dance Society

 

 

Bringing history to life

 

By Louise Manico

The combination of the creativity and culture in Plymouth, along with its deep historical associations, makes this city the perfect location for a group like Renaissance Historical Dance Society (RHDS). Performing the dances of the Medieval, Elizabethan, Stuart and Regency periods in full historical costume, the group’s aim is to bring history to life, recreating the atmosphere of court and country gatherings through the ages – the activity which people from all ranks of society and all parts of the country would have taken part in. 

Of course, dance doesn’t exist in isolation and each period’s dances were affected by the events of the time. In Medieval times, courtly dances tended to be slower to give the upper classes the chance to show off their poise and their rich costumes. Elizabethan dance was more influenced by what was seen in the courts of friends and rivals across Europe. Dances had more intricate footwork and formed ever-changing patterns on the dance floor. In Stuart times the threat of a Civil War was ever present, and dance was a distraction from the turmoil on the horizon. The Regency period of Jane Austin’s time celebrated excess in all its forms while still conforming to strict social conventions. Dances involved more people and the less restrictive women’s clothing meant a greater freedom of movement, so dances became more lively.

The common thread through them all was a chance for people to interact in a way they wouldn’t be able to in any other circumstances. Reputations could be made or destroyed, relationships could blossom or wilt, all under the watchful eye of chaperones and social commentators. RHDS reflect these delicate relationships in the dances they perform and can often be seen at historical venues and events in the South West and further afield. Dance wasn’t the only form of entertainment and stories of good versus evil have been popular throughout the ages. To continue this story-telling tradition, RHDS also performs masked fairytales which are suitable for children but with a moral message that everyone can take away. As well as this, members of the group have skills in arts and crafts contemporary to each period, including lacemaking, musicianship, calligraphy and costume and make-up.

Regency dancing (credit: Alma Williams)

Medieval group (credit: RHDS)

Society Chair Wendy Collins said, “History is so important and many people don’t seem to take into account the impact it’s had on our lives today. That’s why it’s so important to keep that history and those traditions alive – so people understand how we all got to the point we’re at today.”

The group is always pleased to hear from people based in the Plymouth area with an interest in dance, music or traditional crafts who may like to be involved, or from event organisers who would like to discuss what RHDS can add to their occasion.

For more details, visit www.rhds.org.uk or call group secretary Louise on 07967 750302 or chair Wendy on 01208 269064.