Dance club channels Elizabethan era
When Linda Macdonald was an undergraduate more than 40 years ago, she became enamored with Scottish dancing. Fast-forward to 1980: Macdonald had moved to Scotland, married a Scotsman, returned to Virginia and had a child. Hoping to dance again but looking for a less vigorous form, she joined the Colonial Dance Club of Richmond.
The club, dedicated to the preservation and promotion of English Country Dancing, was first established in 1977 and is still sponsored by the Henrico County Division of Recreation and Parks. Macdonald, whose husband also participates in the Colonial Dance Club, became a dance instructor in 1989.
One day in 2003, while searching for costumes for the Colonial Dance Club, Macdonald stumbled upon a beautiful Elizabethan gown — and a new passion. The gown Macdonald found online that day wasn’t her size, so she asked a seamstress to create one. Unfortunately, though, the completed gown wasn’t quite right for the balls held by the Colonial Dance Club.
“It looked quite regal,” Macdonald said, but “people kept stepping on it.”
Determined to find the right place to wear the Elizabethan gown, Macdonald established the Richmond Renaissance Dancers, an offshoot of the Colonial Dance Club that shares the same executive board.
Small group, intricate steps
While the Colonial Dance Club has a following of 35 to 40 people, the Richmond Renaissance Dancers is comprised of only a dozen dancers, whose ages range from late 20s to early 70s.
And although the Colonial is ideal for beginning dancers, the Renaissance dance group is suited for those who want to learn more complicated dances that would have been performed by the Court of Elizabeth I.
Mark Crean and his wife, Marianne, joined the group about 10 years ago after having danced for over a decade with the Colonial Dance Club.
“Linda was so enthusiastic and passionate about Richmond Renaissance Dancers,” Crean said, “[that] we wanted to participate.”
A history buff, Crean appreciates that he gets to learn more about a part of history he wouldn’t otherwise know while spending time with Marianne and challenging his brain to remember the dance steps.
“Learning something that takes effort and learning it well enough to stage a performance is rewarding,” Crean said.
Crean also appreciates that Macdonald creates authentic historical dances. “We are very concerned about accuracy,” said Macdonald, who spends much of her time conducting research.
She pores through historic dance manuals from the era of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603, reviewing not only manuals from England, but also from France, Italy and Spain because the dances from those countries would have traveled to the English court.
“Elizabeth I had an Italian dance master,” Macdonald said. “She was even nicknamed Florentine because she loved Italian dancing.”
The renaissance group meets twice a month throughout the year, adding extra practices when preparing for a performance.
They face challenging choreography. “Some of the dances have lots and lots of steps,” Macdonald said, “and take a lot of practice to learn.”
Although the rehearsals can be difficult, the group enjoys the camaraderie and fellowship of working together — and of the wine and cheese social after some practices.
Something a bit different
In the spring of 2018, the Richmond Renaissance Dancers added a new performance to their repertoire. In A Royal Brew-haha, the Queen and members of her court arrive at “Richmond Palace” (Agecroft Hall) in Richmond-Upon-Thames during the Queen’s Royal Progress of 1602. At the performance last May, dancers portrayed historical figures and cracked jokes.
“Courtiers, including Lord Robert Dudley, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Mary Queen of Scots and many Ladies-in-Waiting, interact with the Queen for a wry twist on world events,” according to the group’s website.
Currently, the dancers are preparing for their 10th annual performance ofThe Dancing Queen: Court Dance in the Age of Elizabeth at Agecroft Hall. The performance will include dancing interspersed with Macdonald’s narration and a slideshow about the Elizabethan era. The group will perform dances from France, Italy and, for the first time this year, Spain.
Wearing the royal gown that led to the creation of the Richmond Renaissance Dancers, Macdonald will portray Elizabeth, the iconic dancing queen.
The Dancing Queen: Court Dance in the Age of Elizabeth will take place on Friday, November 15, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Agecroft Hall and Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Rd., Richmond. Tickets may be purchased for $10 at agecrofthall.org/events/the-dancing-queen-court-dance-in-the-age-of-elizabeth. For more information, call (804) 353-4241.