‘Filthie groping and uncleane handlings’
An examination of touching moments in dance of court and courtship
in The senses in early modern England, 1558–1660

This chapter considers what level of contact occurred during the activity of dancing in social situations in early modern England. It examines how the private sensations produced were then recorded and commented upon in different written, visual and theatrical forms. The chapter also considers the importance given to the tactile in developing a communication skill which had to be mastered by those courtiers wanting to excel in courtly dance. 'Unclean handling' is not only occurring in the dance, but by all those involved at the court seen to be sharing the touching moments. To puritan moralists the image of holding hands in dance may have signified illicit fornication, but there are examples where the same dancing image is used as a symbol of chaste concord. The French Basse Dance repertoire comprised different choreographies, each with variable combinations of basic step units, following specific structural metrical rules.

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