Try Early Dance Online!
By Gus Denhard
In the age of Covid-19 many of us struggle to stay active and engaged in positive, life-affirming activities. There is also a sense of inertia as we lead our lives from a seated position, nose to the computer. One local dance instructor is finding a creative way to address the challenges of quarantine by offering lessons in Renaissance and Baroque dance over Zoom.
Anna Mansbridge, the founder of Seattle Early Dance, and a longtime artistic collaborator with Early Music Seattle and other local early music organizations, was introduced to Baroque dance in 1987 by Philippa Waite during her dance studies in England. After earning a Master of Fine Arts at Mills College in California, she returned to England and worked with historical dance expert Mary Collin, with whom she studied Renaissance dance. Ms. Mansbridge, a former classical ballet and modern dance student, was drawn to early dance because it seemed to fit her temperament, physicality, and body type like a glove. She also loved the music!
The first comprehensive treatise “On the Art of Dancing and Choreography” was written by an anonymous scribe or student of Domenica da Piacenza, a well know Italian dancing master, and dates from around 1455. A little over one hundred years later two more Italian dancing masters, Fabritio Caroso and Cesare Negri, published treatises between 1581 and 1602, giving descriptions of the steps and the dances that were cultivated by the well-to-do. During the seventeenth century the focus of dancing moved to France, where the French Kings loved the ballet and exploited its potential for political propaganda, especially the Sun King Louis XIV. “La Belle Danse,” or as it is now more commonly called “Baroque Dance,” was practiced at all the great courts in Europe during the eighteenth century, the most popular dance being the Minuet.
Ms. Mansbridge settled in Seattle in 1998 and launched Seattle Early Dance in 2000, an organization devoted to teaching and performing historically informed Renaissance and Baroque dance. The company attracted a varied following of history buffs, musicians, and former ballet and modern dancers who committed themselves to weekly classes. These efforts paid off; developing over time to a fine semi-pro dance company that partnered with Early Music Seattle (then Early Music Guild) in three fully staged baroque operas between 2002 and 2011, as well as concert performances with Gallery Concerts, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and Baroque Northwest. For 20 years the company has hosted an annual Costume Ball/fundraiser that has built and maintained a strong participatory community following. And regular classes continued, until….
The social distancing requirements of quarantine put a stop to all dance activities, teaching, and most sadly, the shared sense of community and camaraderie that people with common interests seek. Ms. Mansbridge had moved her student dance classes at the Creative Dance Center online (she is the Artistic Director of Kaleidoscope Dance Company, CDC’s resident modern dance company for youth ages 7-17), but had not considered an online early dance program until approached by one of her longtime students. Last week she organized Renaissance and Baroque dance sessions for her Seattle following, and upon observing the success of these first classes, sent a notice to the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), an organization dedicated to advancing dance education centered in the arts.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. In a few days she had 28 new people enrolled in classes from across the USA, the UK, and even interest from Japan. The numbers continue to grow. What had been local is now international. With few early dance specialists of Ms. Mansbridge’s caliber and with many people searching for activities – especially physical – that they can do at home, the future is bright. “I have some university dance history professors who have taught the subject for years from a theoretical perspective but have never had the opportunity to experience the dance physically” says Mansbridge. Online classes also open the door to more diverse participation and offers a lower financial commitment to begin studies.
“Zoom does require some compromises in how we work,” says Mansbridge. “After an initial check-in conversation, I need to mute my students and essentially present to them, so they can hear the music and my voice without a lot of extraneous background noise. We use hand signals if they need to get my attention, and we always check in at the end with more reflection and conversation.” An advantage to the Zoom format is that the sessions can be recorded and played back later to allow the students to focus on details. And in a time when in-person dance instruction and live performances are not on the immediate horizon, the online lessons can maintain and even develop new appreciation for this ancient art form, setting the stage for the audiences of the future.
$50 for a five-lesson course in Renaissance or Baroque dance
For schedule and registration details, email Anna Mansbridge, firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Early Dance. Old World/New World. First Tuesday series presented by Early Music Seattle. Photo Credit Bronwen Houck: bronwenhouckphoto.com
Seattle Early Dance – Old World/New World. First Tuesdays Series, Early Music Seattle. March 4 2014.
Photo Credit Bronwen Houck: bronwenhouckphoto.com
Seattle Early Dance: Anna Mansbridge. Old World/New World. First Tuesday series presented by Early Music Seattle. Photo Credit Bronwen Houck: bronwenhouckphoto.com
Anna Mansbridge – Photo Credit: Bill Stickney