When I visited the Netherlands this summer, I discovered something about the identity of the country that my time in Holland, MI never taught me: the Netherlands are truly low lands, that is, consisting of multiple areas or regions. At the beginning of our trip, our tour guide taught us that Holland does not in fact refer to the entire political country, but to two provinces on the Western coast, North Holland and South Holland, those which contain large cities like Amsterdam and the Hague, respectively. Dances of the Netherlands refers to this area as “Holland Proper”.
The concept of a unified Italy or a unified Netherlands remained foreign to the residents of these respective nations up until the 19th century, or arguably, even the First World War in many cases. Renaissance “Italy” was a conglomeration of city-states; Florence, Milan, Turin, Rome all had distinct dialects, art, cuisine, and took pride in these cultural identifiers. And though men like Guglielmo Ebreo worked the courts of many of these city states, these various seats of power hosted one another as if they were hosting a foreign entity. Fascinatingly enough, it is during these court visits that moresches, the intermezzi dances between royal and corporate dances, often represented the cultures of Egypt, France, Turkey, in a large, summative, and arguably stereotypical style. Though these cities did all that they could to establish themselves as culturally independent, they filled their diplomatic events with cultural profiling on a meta scale.
Similarly, a Dutch resident of Limburg lived a very different life from a resident of Groningen or North Holland. Though the German polka was, for example, disseminated all over the Netherlands as well as Northern Germany and Eastern Scandinavia, each province took liberty in their individual variations of this dance.
Yet as a resident of Holland, MI, and of the greater United States, I realize that my perception of Dutch culture, as well as any other particular European culture, has been filtered and funneled down to me by the immigrants who claim these heritages. For example, Dances of the Netherlands goes into great detail about the quasi-liturgical dances of Limburg and Terschelling, the Easter chain procession and the round dances of the Feast of St. John, respectively. I could not imagine the Dutch showing any flamboyant public expression for any church event, much less for one like the feast of St. John (N.B., another Florentine connection!). I realized that my perception of “Dutch culture” has been heavily influenced by the Calvinist immigrants, individuals who opposed both dance and the liturgical calendar.
Therefore, when Holland, MI, conducts something like Dutch Dancing during Tulip Time every May, the choreography and costuming of these dances draw from an assortment of Dutch provinces (but most likely those from which the immigrants departed) and the culture of frontier America as well.
In terms of pedagogy, the Dutch dance manual and De Practica offer two methodologies that lead to same conclusion. Though the former teaches dance steps through written word, and the latter through underlining principle (i.e., the establishment of the six principles: measure, memory, etc.), they provide a framework with which a group can reproduce some formulated product. Yet this dance will always be riddled with the embellishments and interpretations of the individual culture. Yet in the digital era, institutions like the MET’s catalog of dance allows little room for embellishment and more room for emulation.