The Dancing Master

Baroque Dance and J.S. Bach

Bay Area historical dance troupe SF Renaissance Dancers and baroque music ensemble Nash Baroque are creating a performance of compositions by J.S. Bach together with 18th-century French dances to reveal how baroque dance influenced Bach’s music. This production, involving a total of 11 artists,will take place over two performances in Berkeley and San Francisco this coming March.

In the Bay Area, there is a wonderfully diverse and vibrant contemporary dance community. However, a gap exists in the understanding of highly influential historical dance forms on the dance and music we enjoy today. These two groups, through this project, hope to make historical dance relevant for modern audiences, enticing our contemporaries to take a new look at the past.

Performances of “The Dancing Master” give audiences a better appreciation  of baroque dance and its influence on music through time by offering two fun and fully-costumed one-hour performances of baroque dances as they influenced the music of J.S. Bach.

Bouree from usandwe on Vimeo.

Vicki Melin (traverso) and Katherine Heater (harpsichord) formed SFEMS Affiliate Nash Baroque in 2013. They present concerts for festivals and chamber series as well as benefits to fund children’s music education. Members of the group are professional musicians who have advanced performance degrees from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, and the Sweelinck Conservatory of Amsterdam. Nash Baroque Ensemble draws on a number of talented musicians, recognized nationally as specialists in music of the baroque, to create the best ensemble for the chosen repertoire.

Jennifer Meller formed San Francisco Renaissance Dancers (SFRD) in 2012 after she joined well-established early music choir San Francisco Renaissance Voices (SFRV) as a dancer in 2011. She was promoted to the role of Dance Director in 2012 and formed the SFRD company to specialize in recreations of early operas from medieval, Renaissance, and baroque eras. Since then, Jen has been choreographing, performing, and making costumes for productions with local early music ensembles including The Play of Daniel, Ordo Virtutum, Venus and Adonis, and Dido and Aeneas.

True reconstructions of 18th-century dances are rarely seen in the Bay Area. Connections will be sought between specific Bach compositions and 18th-century dances. By performing them together the hope is audiences will be transported to a time when this collaboration between music and dance flourished.

Costumed performance with live musicians is a necessary part of fully understanding baroque dance. The baroque movement vocabulary is more deeply understood once the heavy and restrictive clothing is donned. And when the musicians start to play, improvising and reacting with and around the accents of the dance, a dancer can feel lifted and light, despite the costume.

Musicians are often surprised to learn that the baroque dance style is more lively than they would have thought. For baroque musicians to see the movements associated with a music form helps them to understand the way the music would have been played at the time. This leads to a performance of whimsical interplay between musician and dancer that would have been natural during the 18th century.

Striving for a deeper performance practice not only will enable audiences to feel transported to another time; it may inspire interest in early dance. The audience will be invited to dance with us, helping them understand that they are part of the early dance and music community, and not just observers.

Performances will take place 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco; and 2:00 p.m., Sunday, March 3, at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley:Each concert will be begin with a short description of the dances performed in the program and an invitation for the audience to learn a simple Baroque social dance.

SF Renaissance Dancers and Nash Baroque, are in the midst of an Indigogo funding campaign, which ends January 27. To contribute to or learn more about this fascinating project, visit

Leave a reply
Written by Jonathan Harris
San Francisco Early Music Society