Dancing As A Sub-Theme.

Dancing has, unintentionally, become a common theme reflected in various ways through my art and areas of research. For example, the crippled postures of bubonic plague victims; the dancing epidemic of 1518; the slaves ordered to 'dance' aboard slave ships to keep exercised and active so as to be healthy when sold; the debauched and merry characters at carnival; the ritualistic whipping ceremony of the medieval flagellants; and the 'Marshal's' dance of pirates, whose bodies, due to asphyxiation, would seem to dance after being hung at Execution Dock, on the River Thames. (Marshal refers to Marshalsea Prison where the accused were held prior to execution.)

Therefore, it'll be no surprise that the Danse Macabre is a main interest. With the Black Death pandemic turning society on its head, the Danse Macabre became, arguably, the first modern cultural genre, with Holbein's woodcuts one of the most well known depictions.

Historically, while elites perfected the elegant postures and graceful stepping, an expression of someone wise, prudent and measured and able to control emotions, bad dancing was associated with the 'shameless' jumping and less controlled movements of the uncivilized peasant classes. Morris dancers were hired at court to vigorously perform the pleasure of jumps that the stepping elites had to forego.

From the Danse Macabre book illustrated by Holbein prints:

'Dancing on earth rather than in heaven with angels always had negative connotations in this moralistic discourse the Church championed. It was condemned as a dubious practice of pagan origin which in all likelihood brought on evil and sin through overpowering the senses.'



Danse Macabre Origins In Scotland.

Although scraps of visual and written evidence exists, it has been suggested that Scotland can lay claim to the earliest incarnations of and references to, arguably the first modern cultural genre, the Danse Macabre allegory.

Out of the few visual depictions still in existence, in the UK, the earliest that can be dated are the stone carvings at Rosslyn Chapel from 1446, however, prior to the Black Death, a much earlier example of the Danse Macabre occurred in the form of a procession, according to chroniclers, at a feast in Jedburgh celebrating the marriage of Alexander III and Yolande in 1285.

During the feast, a Dance of Death re-enactment was staged with Death as the lead character to the astonishment of the wedding party, who found it difficult to decide whether Death was a man or an apparition, as it seemed to glide like a ghost. At the time it was considered a foretelling of death within the party; Alexander died 5 months later.

A 'Dance of Death' carving at Rosslyn Chapel. Characters from all walks of life are each accompanied by a skeleton, Death. The dance springs from the skeletons pushing and pulling the reluctant people off to meet their fate and symbolises death’s inevitable triumph over life.