Dancing Through the Ages

Every year, Holland, Michigan, a generally quiet and quant Western Michigan town erupts into a buzzing metropolis during the week of May 7th through May 14th. From near and far, people come to see the newly blooming tulips adorning the parks and side of the roads. However, one of the largest pulls of tourists is the Tulip Time Dutch Dancing.

Tulip Time First - Holland area 3rd, 4th, & 5th graders dance DeSchoenlapper, or The Cobbler, during a practice run at Centennial Park, for their first upcoming performances at Tulip Time. This is the first year for elementary aged dancers, the brainchild of Holland High School's costume director Kristi Berens, who sent out the call to 30 Holland area parents; with 24 responding. Kinder Dance's practice run garnered overwhelming response from the appreciative crowd, as children klomped their way into the hearts of onlookers. Berens hopes this will be the start of an annual representation by the younger kids of Holland. They'll be performing several times during Tulip Time. (Dave Raczkowski | The Grand Rapids Press)

Nearly 1,000 locals perform traditional Dutch dance, showcasing traditional Dutch costumes and wooden shoes, using the very streets as their stage. The Dutch dancing began in 1935, when a local high school gym teacher, Ethel Perry, trained 12 students to perform Dutch Folk dances, naming the group the “Dutch Villagers.”

Today the dance has evolved to be a compilation of Dutch Folk music and is choreographed and performed in costumes that are patterned after the traditional dress of the Dutch Provinces. The dance gives the community its heritage and identity. It celebrates those who came before them, and commemorates Holland’s ancestors.

The original dances of the Netherlands are the basis for the Tulip Time Dutch Dancing. Dancin157187040_-european-national-dances-netherlands-folk-music-costumeg was popular for celebration, fairs, weddings, and national feast days. Dances such as the Cramignon were chain dances that called its dancers to take lively skipping steps, hand in hand in a long chain. Dances for every Terschelling festival, including the Wilhelmus dance and the Afklappertje are very similar to Tulip Time Dutch dancing. The dance has couples walk arm-in-arm round a circle. When the musician strikes up the “Malbrouck,” the dancers form into two lines, face their partners, and with a lot of stamping and clapping, they proceed with a progressive Longways Country dance. The dancing of both the Netherlands and Holland reflect one another in procession, pattern, and dress. The use of wooden shoes and clapping creates a unique and charming sound and rhythm to the dance.

The dances taken from the Netherlands and translated into the modern context of Holland, Michigan are done so by manuals such as the Dances of the Netherlands by E. Van Der Ven-Ten Bensel. The dances described, however, are much easier to follow than Arbeau’s description of the pavan. Although the pavan is a very simplistic dance composed of two simples, one double forward and two simples and one double backwards, the vocabulary makes the assumption of the reader being well acquainted with the style and terminology related to the dance.

The De Practica, dedicated to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, scribed by Pagano of Rho, however, takes a very analytical form of a dance manual. It analyzes the fundamentals of dancing, narrowing them down to a seven principle science: ideal harmony, measure, memory, partitioning, manner, air, and movement. The dancing described is like the Dutch dancing in that it was meant for public festivities, weddings and political receptions. However, the dance was not meant to give necessarily a cultural identity like the Dutch dancing, but instead meant to idealize the prince: his virtues, power, and value.