Monday, September 24, 2007


As a dance, the galliard is improvised, with dancers combining together patterns of steps which occupy one or more measures of music. In one measure, a galliard typically has 5 steps; in French such a basic step is called a cinq pas and in Italy, "cinque passi". This is sometimes written in English sources as sinkapace. These steps are: right, left, right, left, cadence.

The galliard is an athletic dance, characterized by leaps, jumps, hops, and other similar figures. The main feature that defines a galliard step is that the last two beats consist of a large jump, landing with one leg ahead of the other. This jump is called a cadence, and the final landing is called the posture. The sources generally describe doing any pattern first starting on the left foot, and then repeating it starting on the right foot. A galliard pattern may also last twice as long, or more, which would involve 11 steps, or 17 steps, and so forth.

The galliard was a favorite dance of Queen Elizabeth I of England, and although it is quite a vigorous dance, in 1589 when the Queen was in her mid fifties, John Stanhope of the Privy Chamber reported, "the Queen is so well as I assure you, six or seven galliards in a morning, besides music and singing, is her ordinary exercise" (Alan Brissenden, Shakespeare and the Dance, pp 4-5).

In addition to being an entire dance, galliard steps are used within many other forms of dance. For example, 16th century Italian dances in Fabritio Caroso's and Negri's dance manuals often have a galliard section.

One special step used during a galliard is lavolta, a step which involves an intimate, close hold between a couple, with the woman being lifted into the air and the couple turning about 270 degrees, within one 6 beat measure. La Volta was considered quite a scandalous dance and some dancing masters questioned whether it ought to be danced at all.

Another special step used during a galliard is the tassle kick (Salti del Fiocco). These steps are found in Cesare Negri's manual, and involve a galliard step ending with a 180 degree or 360 degree spin, during which the dancer kicks out to kick a tassle suspended between knee and waist height.
Musical compositions in the galliard form appear to have been written and performed long after the dance fell out of popular use. In musical compositions, the galliard often filled the role of an after dance written in 6, which followed and mimicked another piece (sometimes a pavane) written in 4. The distinctive 6 beats to the phrase can still be heard today in songs such as "God Save the Queen".

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