A Dance for Shakespeare


Commemorating 400 years since the death of Shakespeare.

Dance was part of everyday life in the poet’s time and most of his plays included dancing. We’ll present a selection of easy social country dances from the Elizabethan era.

All dances taught, no partner or special costume required.
Live music by Phillip’s Dog.

Phillip's Dog

Farmers Hall, Main Street, Samford, Brisbane, 4520

Friday, November 4 at 7.30 – 9.30 pm




Kemp’s Jig. William Kemp was an actor in Shakespeare’s company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, famous for dancing the jigs which accompanied most plays of the time. Kemp is renown for dancing a jig from London to Norwich (132km) in nine days for a bet of one hundred pounds. The country dance Kemp’s Jig appears in Playford’s English Dancing Master in 1651.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  Not only did the famous bard leave a superb legacy of literature and drama, his works have influenced our language and perceptions.  Dance was incredibly important in Shakespeare’s world –  it was an everyday recreation from the court to the tavern.  Nearly all his plays included dances, so what better way to commemorate this significant year than with dancing?

First Shakespearean performance in Australia April 8, 1800.  The popular historical drama Henry IV Part 1 was performed at the “Theatre Sydney”.  A playbill advertising the event  is held in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.

The first Shakespearean performance in Australia was on April 8, 1800. The popular historical drama Henry IV Part 1 was performed at the “Theatre Sydney”.    A playbill advertising the event is held in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.

Accounts relate that Queen Elizabeth I, herself a keen dancer, encountered rural folk enjoying their own unique dances and was so delighted with them that she decided to introduce these country dances to her court.  The dances were refined for the sophisticated life of the court, but they remained the most popular dance form for the next 200 years.

Our programme includes five dances: three which were popular in Shakespeare’s day – Half Hannikin, Upon a Summer’s Day, and Cuckolds all awry, one Benedict’s Wedding which was written  by Charles Dibdin to commemorate the 200th anniversary in 1816 , and a modern dance in the traditional style called Puck’s Deceit.  We’ve chosen easy dances so everyone will be able to join in.

Despite the first Australian performance of a Shakespearean play in 1800, there is no record of the 200th anniversary being celebrated in the colony.  However, a hundred years later a lavish ball was held in Sydney to raise funds  to establish a memorial library and commission a statue to commemorate the famous poet and playwright.  The beautiful Shakespeare Room is located in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of New South Wales.  The Library  holds the pre-eminent Shakespeare collection in Australia, including the First Folio of his plays published in 1623.

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3 Responses to A Dance for Shakespeare

  1. Pingback: Regular Events | Australian Colonial Dance

  2. Hamish Darby says:

    AUSTRALIAN COMPOSERS – suggested for Shakespeareproductions
    “Orpheus and His Lute” 1939 by Fritz Bennicke Hart
    “Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred” 1909 by Marion Alsop
    Yuletide Gavotte 1885 by John Albert Delany
    Tom Boy Gavotte 1910 by Albert Saunders
    Student Gavotte 1880 by Hugo Alpen
    Scarf Dance by Albert Saunders

    • Heather says:

      It’s good to see so many Australian composers have contributed to music for Shakespearean plays. Wouldn’t it be great if productions also included real dances, rather than just the modern bopping around which passes for dancing in most modern productions? Originally the country dances included in the plays signalled the actions with the finale usually highlighting the actors dancing together in a country dance as an harmonious conclusion.

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