Barbara is one of the UK's leading teachers of Baroque dance. She has dedicated her life to Baroque music and dance, both as a performer and as a choreographer, and has taught in the UK, throughout Europe, the Baltic countries and Australia. She has been actively involved with Baroque notation and music, has lectured in Early Dance at the Royal Academy of Dance, for their BA(hons) Ballet Education undergraduate course, and has taught Baroque gesture for singers. She sits on the Early Dance Circle committee and has published numerous articles in the field.

Baroque performance, in Krakow © Ilvic
Baroque performance, in Krakow
© Ilvic

I met her this summer to discuss her approach to teaching, and her various collaborations with dancers and musicians. 

I was interested to find out about the similarities and differences between Baroque dance and Ballet. She explained that 'a key difference between the two is that, in Ballet, the dancer is always aware of the audience, whereas in Baroque, the audience is secondary. Rhythm and musicality are as vital in Baroque dance, but there is much more mime and theatricality in Ballet'. Barbara explained that she has worked with some – pretty incredible – ballet dancers but when it comes to early dance they can sometimes ‘surprisingly, not look so good doing these simple steps and appear stiff, not used to letting their body move sensuously' Barbara also noted that some steps and parallel jumps in the ballet vocabulary are reminiscent of 'Harlequin movement and the 'grotesque' characters found in Baroque.'

When Barbara teaches, it's as if notation comes to life. She asks her students to lend a musical ear to their dancing, and bring expression to the classroom. As she discusses the relationship between dance and music, Barbara shares a few stories : 'When I taught Baroque gestures to musicians, I noted how alive their bodies became when they started to sing.' She has an anecdote about a 'sublime singer' – namely the world renown Baroque singer Charles Daniels, who came to work with her, eager to learn more about Baroque dance and gestures. 'At the beginning, he was awkward in his body. I proceeded with the class and instructed him with the basics. And suddenly, when he started to sing, his entire body came alive. It was amazing...something truly magical.' She had a similar experience with musicians: 'It's almost as if it were better that they not think about the body, just sing, and let the body take care of itself. I remember once there was one group which looked odd and almost uncomfortable. The second they started to sing, their arms moved away from their bodies and there was something interesting, and magical, to watch.'

Baroque dancing, in Krakow © Ilvic
Baroque dancing, in Krakow
© Ilvic
Barbara shared with me interesting facts about the origin of Baroque dance: ’In the beginning, Baroque dance was all about the expression of passion in communication. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Jesuits created particular ballets as tools to teach young boys about their bodies and how to communicate. One of the first rhetoric teachers in France was a Jesuit who believed that movement was the vehicle that would help people communicate, and do so well.” Listening to Barbara, I couldn't help but feel that she herself was using her body to speak with me.

And when I asked her what she wanted her students to learn about Baroque Dance, she answered: I feel very strongly that when you dance, you’re not just doing technique, not just doing ‘the steps’ – technique may be necessary for dancing, but it’s not sufficient. You need passion: you need to feel that you’re expressing something, be it the music, an emotion...something with your body... When I teach, I try to impart this to my students. I want them to learn to do the steps properly, but more importantly, I want them to dance! When I see people counting the rhythm of the steps, naming the steps as they dance (muttered under their breath), I know they’re using the wrong side of their brains, and they haven’t started to dance yet.' After my conversation with Barbara, I felt inspired to attend her Baroque dance classes again, and see if I can turn on the 'correct' side of my brain, and dance!