How did people dance 800 years ago?

So you’ve traveled back in time to Medieval Europe. But as you’re checking out the nightlife, someone takes you by the hand and asks you to join in on the dancefloor. What’s an unschooled time traveler to do? Here’s a quick primer on your best 12th century dance move.

A book by historian Robert Mullally offers some hints. The dance of choice in Western Europe from the 12th to 14th centuries was called the Carole, and this is how it went (via Medievalists.net):

[Mullally] reveals that it was a relatively simple dance done by men and women together: to do the carole, a group of people, usually an even number of both men and women, would form a circle, sometimes around an object like a tree. They would each hold hands (sometimes they would hold each other by their fingers) in this circle and move to the left (in a clockwise direction). By moving sideways to the left, the dancers would start their step with their left foot, and then join the right foot to the left. The sources often describe it as the right foot striking against the other. It was considered an elegant and graceful manoeuvre. The various sources never mention any other kind of moves with the Carole. Mullally adds, “the very simplicity of the dance explains why no written choreography or dance manual was required.”

As for the music, it was sung by the dancers themselves. And according to some accounts, those dancing the carole would often go on for hours.

How did people dance 800 years ago?

Sounds pretty tame, I know. But a few religious types complained bitterly about it (of course, what else is new?), saying that the dance “is a circle whose centre is the Devil, and in it all turn to the left, because all are heading towards everlasting death. When foot is pressed to foot or the hand of the woman is touched by the hand of a man, there the fire of the Devil is kindled,” and “all those men and women who carole sin in every member of their bodies by turning elegantly and by moving and shaking their arms, by singing, and by speaking dishonourably.”

More on these Medieval dance moves at Medievalists.net including lyrics to the songs.

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Images via Medievalists.net.