No general discussion of recreation in world would be complete without noting the power of dance. Social dance is common among the peoples, be they Foe or Shadow or Bright, and they are extremely popular regardless of the instruments available. There is a tradition of makeshift percussion use that is preserved by Bards, and all dances can be done with nothing more than a good beat and some sort of point where there is a change.
Dances typically symbolize three things, all of them telling a story: Victory, Fighting, and Romance. The formal dances of entertainers, including those who somehow seem to float across the stages on their toes, all derive from these core ideas, though they may take it into very complex and involved dances that are very popular among nobles, accompanied by choirs or singers.
The Kotril is perhaps the most traditional dance throughout the lands, and some variation on it is danced by all persons. There are three kinds of other traditional dances, and may be danced in triplets or quads, with separation by gender a common feature of the starts.
The forms are based on the starting positions: a square, two lines, or a circle. Lines involve no touching, and movements of forward and back, arms behind backs, and separated by gender among the different lines, moving forward and back towards the others.
Circle dances always require touching, and involve moving left or right, rotating and spinning the circles and the participants around the two. Circles may be organized by height, gender, or some other aspect decided on and historic (Therian will dance by sect, as an example).
The square start dances are stomping and clapping dances, with the dance setting the beat and tempo for the musicians, and slowly increasing in speed and tempo from a 2/2 start. The squares will expand and contract, challenging each other.
In some cases, squares and circles will start out entirely of one gender or group, and then will begin a move towards each other about a third of the way through the dance, intermingling and forming up the circles and squares with mixed groups, but otherwise following the same pattern.
Each region has a series of regional dances that they engage in, and it can include such patterns as the sword dance of the Kahokians or the Comedies of the Qivira, performed as social activities as well as performances. One of the best known of the forms is the swordancers of the secret societies, who combine sound, speed, motion, dance, elegance, beauty, and even magic into their displays both for show and for actual combat.
Courtly entertainment featured around Dancing comes in three broad types: Balls, Masquerades, and Debuts. Debuts are a fixed affair, and held at all different stations, and feature dancing as a major portion of the festivities.
Balls are very formal affairs, with wealth, prestige, and influence all on display. Balls have three five to them: The Entrances, The Procession, The Feast, The Performance, and The Dances. The Entrances is an elaborately staged affair, having persons arriving in order of the least senior or lowest ranked, slowly working up in often long lines to the final entrance of the Host, who would outrank all for the Ball save the Emperor or Princessa. Ball season is always during the summer months, when the evenings are cooler, and take place from Dusk on, sometimes carrying through the entire next day. The Procession goes on in a large gathering room where light snacks called Ordurves and liqueurs are served, often something special and always a point of pride for those hosting. It begins the moment the first guest is announced and continues until the Host arrives. The host then invites all those attending to the Feast, which can be all manner of set up, but is focused on feeding and providing guests with a good meal. They may stand, they may sit, the food may be laid out or it may be brought to them individually; the particulars vary from Ball to ball and are determined in part by the ability to provide for the guests invited. Most Nobility do not have a large space, and the Palace is only known to hold three balls during the summer. This also adds to the sense of exclusivity and honor afforded attendees. The feast is followed The performance, which is when some group is brought in to entertain guests, allowing them to watch or walk around and generally mingle. Those performers often include Dancers, who will perform either solo or couple dances.
The final portion of a Ball is the Dance itself. Here the attendees will begin to pair off with partners, and begin the courtly dances according to the music played. There are five courtly dances, and the involve two to five people moving together in a group that will slowly traverse the entirety of the ballroom floor, completing steps and movements, sometimes synchronously, though in one case asynchronously around a predefined pattern. A Typical dance is either 5 or 10 minutes in length, and there is a pattern of two dances each chime, then a pause, then two more dances, and this can go on until a predetermined time and the guests begin to leave according to the same fixed entrance protocol, but in order of highest rank to lowest. This means that the lower ranking folks are there the longest, and as many of them are typically younger, they do not seem to mind.
Masquerades are an informal version of a ball, with one of the key elements being that one should not know who one is (though of course most people can tell). Domino masks are often worn by the older crowd, but full-face masks are most common, decorated in wild patterns and strange style. With the masks goes the sometimes overly daring, always extremely fashionable, and frequently flamboyant dress that is worn. Masquerades are held in Winter, and only in the cities.
Masquerades do not have an Entrance – it defeats the purpose of “secret” – but they do have invitations, and so there is always a line to follow that process in. There are then two rooms plus a garden that is often used. The first room is the Commingling, and proffers food, drinks, and a chance to talk. The other room is The Dance, and typically there will be two or four sections for that often with one section having performers who will continuously demonstrate the dances that the guests are doing in the other section(s). At the end of the Masquerade, the final hour is taken up by The Reveal, where people will come forward and declare the identity of different people, winning a small prize if they are successful, or being unmasked themselves as a penalty. Each person can only Reveal one other.
There are entire small industries that have grown around the Masquerades.
In all events, on entering the festivities people will be given a Dance Card, which lays out the order of the dances and what the dances are for that evening. Food is often prepared to enable more vigorous dancing.
Of the five common dances, the one considered most enjoyable is also one of the oldest dances known: the Kotril
The Kotril places dancers in groups of eight, often divided by gender, arranged in two lines that face each other. The music is a likely, up-tempo selection, often eight or sixteen measures in 2/4 time. From that starting position, each side will take two steps forward, one step back, in time to the music, and cross to the other side where they will turn and begin the cycle anew. After third such crossing, when the participants are beside each other, a Caller will announce one of eight different movements and the dancers will respond to the calls and perform the movements. From that point, it becomes a square of movement, with partners breaking apart and coming together, interspersed with dancing with others, and the dance will move swiftly through several different movements, until at last the partner will be returned to each other and finish the dance before moving back to their start, finishing the dance with a final change over.
The Kotril is danced throughout the lands and is said to be the dance that celebrated the end of the Bitter Road. However, it is also present in much the same form among all the peoples, including the Foe, and there is even an undersea version danced by the Tritons.
The second dance is the Gambol, played in a moderate tempo 4/4, starting on a downbeat, with dancers formed in two concentric circles, the taller on the outside, the shorter on the inside, facing each other. It follows many of the same patterns and movements of the Kotril, but they are done only with the one partner, and while holding hands. It is bad form to lose touch.
The third dance is the Sedukta, which is an energetic dance that features jumps, stamping of the feet and violent movement, accompanied by music with syncopated rhythms, danced between partners in a direct line, moving back and forth, in such that participating couples are passing each other as they move across the floor. It has many movements, and the start is couples staggered on either side of the long portion of the ballroom, facing inward, then turning to each other and beginning the movements. It is customary for the flower of following partner’s choice to be presented by the leading when they ask. It is also a set structure that the lead is the one that always asks, and if accepted then that person becomes the follow. Sedukta is one of the most popular dances for show, as well, and some entertainers do little more than perform this for nobles and the general population. It is an extremely vigorous and deeply moving dance, representing in many ways a seduction of the parties, on both sides.
The fourth dance is the stately, ¾ time, slow tempo Mineta, done by two couples who start with one leg out behind them, one leg into a center square formed by them, and all hands touching at the center above their heads. It then breaks up in a stately fashion with the square trading partners at set times, and following a series of steps that varies only when the leaders and the followers come together, at which point they mimic each other exactly without touching – but the rest of the time, there is always at least one point of contact. There are four basic steps, three twirls, and at the end of the dance it closes with bows and curtseys.
The fifth courtly dance is the Slide. It is done in staggered lines, arranged across the narrow of the floor, with the tallest in a back row, medium in a middle, and shortest in a front. A series of two forward, one back, a hop or skip, a slide forward with a lift of the off leg, three forward, two back, a hop, a slide forward a slide forward with the opposite leg, then four forward and two back a hop with a twirl, and so forth with the two lines passing and crossing each other until the reach the opposite side where they turn and begin the journey back. The slide is done in 5/8 time, and is considered somewhat scandalous because of the leg lift, which can reveal too much of the women’s legs, and perhaps a bit more of the men’s hind ends. One of the underlying goals is not to tip and touch others.
There is a unique form of celebration that occurs for young women who are of Merchantry or higher status in society at large, called a Debut. These are formal occasions that present the young women to society as a whole and indicate that they are considered eligible for marriage.
One notable exception to this is Aztlan, where it is the young men who are debuted, and the only other serious exception within the empire is Dorado, where all young adults are debuted at different celebrations.
These Debuts are always held the fifth day of the season following their 15th birthday in Aztlan, Sibola, Durango, Qivira, Lyonese, and Akadia, 16 in Dorado, 18 in Antilia, and are not done in other realms. While the nature of each differs, the general event involves a gathering of all the eligible children of that age together for a formal event. This event lasts roughly six hours, and the primary purpose of it is to identify and find a mate. For this reason, the 5th of each season, following the solstice or equinox festival, is a Debut date.
Debuts are usually highly competitive events, as the individual young women are essentially showing their fitness for marriage and are essential for those who do not apprentice. In Dorado, they have two, simultaneously, where they begin separate and end with a large dance and attempted matchings between boys and girls.