A couple of weeks ago, I took a Baroque master class at Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, New York. Baroque Dance is a centuries-old form of social and theatrical dancing. It was practiced primarily by the European upper classes in the royal courts—most famously the court of King Louis the XIV—in the Baroque era (roughly 1650-1760). I took the class because I had seen Baroque dance performed in movies and incorporated into company works, and I was curious to know more about it. The class was led by Catherine Turocy, the artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company and an expert in the reconstruction of historical dances.
Although Baroque is an almost-extinct form that is largely undiscovered by today’s young dancers, I was the only first-timer in a full room. Some of the dancers in class were members of the New York Baroque Dance Company, while others had simply taken Baroque classes in the past. Being immersed in a group of experienced Baroque students and professionals helped me to absorb a lot in the span of a two hour class. Here are three fun things I learned:
- According to Turocy, dancers did not warm up before dancing during the Baroque period. Instead, performers practiced a dance simply by dancing it.
- Baroque dance still exists in the basic movements we perform today. In fact, many classical ballet steps are survivors of the Baroque style. The names are the same, but the way we execute them has changed—ballet requires a high relevé, whereas Baroque dancing is more grounded with the heel just slightly raised from the floor.
- Baroque dancers frequently used masks while they performed in order to obscure their own identities, allowing the audience to focus exclusively on the characters in the story. Because the dancers were unable to use their faces to express emotion, it forced them to exaggerate their movements. The dancers also tended to use common movements to express certain emotions. For example, when a masked performer dragged two fingers down their mask's cheeks, the audience would realize that the character was crying.
Want to learn more? Visit MMDC’s website for details about upcoming Baroque classes.