Gamemasters, have you ever wanted to say something more than "Roll Finesse plus Dancing" when your players are at a ball? Players, have you ever wondered what the devil you're doing well and how you fail (apart from the infamous "misstep")? If so, read on for a brief description of some late Renaissance and early Baroque courtly dances.
Note: If not stated, the dances are for couples and have a single pattern of steps that are repeated. All couples dance independently of all other couples. An example would be the waltz.
Social dances are different. The dance is choreographed for sets of couples dancing together, and there may be choreographed partner changes or other interactions. Any one family of social dances (bransles, gavottes, Avalonian Country Dance) contains a number (even hundreds!) of individual dances with varying choreographies, so a dancer must roll Dancing + Wits to see if she knows the particular dance being played. An example would be square dancing.
The dance of the Montaigne court are fashionable all over Theah. Any courtier worth his gilded shoes has at least a passing acquaintance with most of these.
The minuet is a slow and graceful dance for couples. It is not a very difficult dance in its steps, so expert dancers show off by the amount of grace, poise and control they exhibit as they drift elegantly through the ballroom.
Base TN: 15
Raises: Successful Raises should be described in terms of beautiful precision and effortless, perfect style.
Failure: The dancer looks sloppy, wobbles, or has unnecessary, distracting movements of the arms or legs.
The sarabande is a dance in triple time with Castillian origins. Banned by the Inquisition as obscene, it quickly became a favorite in Montaigne. It has a distinctive short-long, short-long pattern, with a stylized dragging step taking place on the long notes.
Base TN: 15
Raises: Successful Raises add heat to this potentially passionate dance, as the dancer creates an illusion that he is being dragged by amorous forces beyond control towards his partner.
Failure: The dancer either literally starts dragging his feet or manages to appear creepy rather than seductive.
The gavotte is a family of social dances and takes many forms, from sedate to sprightly. Like the bransles (see below), it originated as a folk dance, but its steps are more ornate. The feet cross each other and hops follow each step. Long gavottes may leave the dancers out of breath!
Base TN: 15 if dancer knows the particular dance (roll Wits + Dancing, TN 15), 20 otherwise
Raises: The dancer's footwork is exceptionally nimble, with the crossovers and hops being executed in perfect style.
Failure: The dancer's feet get a bit tangled up; she hops on the wrong foot, stumbles on a crossover, or otherwise bobbles.
Several of Avalon's most popular court dances are older, less-fashionable Montaigne court dances - as any Montaigne will be ever-so-quick to point out.
The bransles are older Montaigne social dances, simpler and not as stylish as the gavotte. The footwork is mostly simple sideways steps in a circle or line. However, they frequently feature partner-swapping, which makes them popular for flirting. For example, in the Pease Bransle, the man hops close to his partner. Alarmed, she hops away, crossing in front of the man to her left and becoming his partner for the next repetition of the dance.
Basic TN: 15 if known, 20 otherwise
Raises: The dancer demonstrates amusing pantomime of the dance's theme (peas on a skillet, stomping horses, and praying Crescents all form the basis of bransles) or skillful flirting with new partners.
Failure: The dancer zigs when he should have zagged (moves left when the line is moving right, or visa versa) or suffers an unfortunate hand placement during one of the swapping maneuvers.
The galliard is also an older Montaigne dance. Its leaping steps require good physical condition to execute; Queen Elaine is said to perform several galliards in the morning as her exercise. There exist some variant steps that add ankle turns, kicks, or other flourishes to the basic steps. One such variant is La Volta, in which the woman is lifted by her partner and the pair turn 3/4 of the way around. The close contact needed for this maneuver has led to its being called indecent.
Basic TN: 20
Raises: One Raise is needed for most of the variant steps; the dancer jumps higher, kicks higher, or employs tassles or bells to some theatrical effect. La Volta requires two Raises.
Failure: Failure during a galliard likely means an awkward landing or unseemly gasping for breath. Failure during an attempt at La Volta is likely to mean catastrophic collapse of both dancers, or at least the woman being dropped.
Avalonian Country Dance, despite its name, arose as a dance among the gentry in their country houses, not among the country folk themselves. It has a verse-refrain structure. Nearly all Avalonian Country Dances have three verses: doubles (four steps up and four steps back, or else in and out or left and right), siding (approach your partner's left shoulder and retreat; repeat on the right), and arming (join left arms and dance a circle; repeat on the right). There may or may not be single pirouettes in between the left and right side repeats. The dances all differ in their choruses. These frequently feature sets of couples, so that dancers will dance a figure with their partners, then repeat it with their contrary (the opposite-sex dancer in the set who is not their partner). In some dances, after one repetiton of the music, one couple of the set moves to the next set, so that all dance with new contraries for the next repetition.
Basic TN: 15 if the particular dance is known, 20 otherwise.
Raises: These dances resemble clockwork when everyone meshes perfectly, with dancers moving smoothly between their partners and their contraries and back again.
Failure: On the other hand, one failure can throw sand in the gears, causing the entire set to stumble and possibly destroying the entire dance floor if the failure was bad enough.
Most nations have imported Montaigne dance. (In truth, so has Avalon - they're just a generation behind the times.) The Vodacce usually dance them faster. In Castille, these are the danza, the formal noble dances. The peasant-inspired baile (covered in the Castille sourcebook) are another thing entirely.