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Students learn French court culture, dance moves

​Caroline Copeland and Carlos Fittante of the New York Baroque Dance Company greet the class at UD.

Students, faculty and other members of the University of Delaware community took active part in a recent workshop on campus focused on the history of Baroque dance, learning such skills as dance steps and fencing salutes.

The workshop was led by Caroline Copeland and Carlos Fittante, members of the New York Baroque Dance Company.

Copeland began her lecture by asking the audience to, “Imagine a president, current or former, [who] one year after taking office declares to the citizens of the United States, ‘We need to improve dance in our country. … The dancing in our culture is really just not up to par. We need to improve as a culture in this area.’”

This was how Baroque dance was born during the reign of Louis XIV.

This emphasis that the French gave to their dancing allowed them to be one of the most important cultures of the day, said Deborah Steinberger, associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, who organized the event and who teaches about this period in her French Civilization class.

“Baroque dance is one of the jewels in the crown of le grand siècle, the Great Century, the age of Louis XIV, of which the French are still proud and which has become a major cultural reference point,” Steinberger said.

She said she wanted students to truly experience the Baroque period: “I really wanted them to get into the skin of somebody from that period who would have been at court.”

Giving students the opportunity to see Baroque dance up close helps them better understand the period, Steinberger said.

“You can talk or read all you want about how dance was important at court, but it’s another thing to adopt the postures and do the steps and see what was involved,” she added.

The students seemed hesitant at first to try the dance moves, but with coaching from Copeland and Fittante, they became more comfortable trying the traditional dance.

​Students, faculty and staff members learn dance steps of the Baroque period.

Junior Andrew Chapdelaine, a triple language major studying French as well as Italian and Russian, said he enjoyed the event much more than he had expected, as he and his fellow students learned a variety of dance moves and got to test their skills to the soundtrack of Baroque music.

“I loved the music,” Chapdelaine said. “I loved the elegance of everything. ... It was really enjoyable and really approachable at the same time.”

Copeland, who trained in Baroque, said that this type of dance was one of her favorites.

“[Baroque Dance] enlivens the senses in a way that doing contemporary dance and ballet doesn’t do,” she said, “because you are acting out a role in time to live music, and there's something very complete about the experience.”

What made the workshop experience even more complete were the costumes that Copeland and Fittante wore. Copeland had a professional costumer make her dress. She said that she picked out the fabric and provided the costumer with patterns that were from the Baroque period to ensure historical accuracy.

While Baroque dance is mostly a historical artifact and art, its popularity remains today.

“You’re partaking in something that really belongs in another century,” Steinberger said. “But it’s very big in France— Baroque dance, music and singing.”

Copeland emphasized that Baroque dance has influenced modern dance as well.

“Anybody who does line dancing, square dancing, those forms, they don’t do the steps [of Baroque dance] anymore,” she said. “But the idea of a line of women set against a line of men or country line dancing—those are all vestiges from the social dance from the 17th and 18th century.”

No matter the dance style, Copeland urged everyone, not just students, to participate in such activities, where people move in time together.

“It’s usually spirited and about brother- and sisterhood, and I think we could really use that right now,” she said. “So get out and dance with your fellow University of Delaware students.”

Article by Anne Grae Martin; photos by Evan Krape

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Members of the New York Baroque Dance Company visited campus to show students in a French Civilization class some of the culture of the 17th century French court.

​Students in a French Civilization class experienced some of the dance and culture of the 17th century French court.

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