Strange FootingPoetic Form and Dance in the Late Middle Ages

Strange FootingPoetic Form and Dance in the Late Middle Ages

Seeta Chaganti

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226547992

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


In Strange Footing, early dance reveals the medieval experience of poetic form. For premodern audiences, poetic form did not exist exclusively in a poem’s structural attributes. Rather, the form of a poem emerged as an experience, one generated when an audience habituated to watching and participating in dance encountered poetic text. In bringing dance-based perceptual practices to bear upon the apprehension of poetry, medieval audiences experienced a poem’s form as virtual, a strange footing askew of ordinary space and time. To understand how premodern dance-based experiences shaped premodern poetic encounters, Strange Footing formulates a new method for the study of the past. It juxtaposes medieval spectacles with instances of contemporary dance to reenact the immersive spectacle of the premodern performance. Danse macabre, for instance, finds elucidation in Lucinda Childs’s multimedia choreography; premodern round dance, meanwhile, yields new experiential aspects when read alongside the work of Mark Morris. When contemporary audiences and performers engage the work of Childs and Morris, they apprehend force and energy supplementing dancing bodies: the strange and sometimes disorienting virtuality of dance. Strange Footing uses these encounters to identify where medieval representations of dance convey the premodern spectator’s awareness of such virtuality. The medieval audience's apprehension of virtual force dictated their experiences of various poetic traditions, including carols, lyrics, and “dance of death” stanzas. In configuring a new method to interpret the past, Strange Footing redefines poetic form, demonstrating how the obliquities of virtual dance led medieval audiences through experiences of poetic form.