The Medieval Origins of Ballet: Troubadours, Trobairitz, and the Emergence of Courtly Dance in the West

Kathryn Dickason (Simmons University, Boston)

The Medieval Origins of Ballet: Troubadours, Trobairitz, and the Emergence of Courtly Dance in the West


Tuesday, 6 June, 4.30 p.m. CET webinar presented by Donatella Tronca and Gaia Prignano

Zoom Platform:

Meeting ID: 851 5877 7371 - Passcode: 869708


The troubadours of twelfth-century southern France are well-known and well-studied. With their inventive prosody, versification, vernacularization, and rhyming schemes, these iconic love lyricists devised highly original poetic love songs that were sung, set to music, and performed at feudal courts. What is perhaps less well-known, however, is that the troubadours and trobairitz (their female counterparts) composed love songs specifically for dancers, and occasionally represented courtly dancing in their poetry. This deep connection between dance and courtly culture defies the popular argument that ballet—or Western classical dance with a courtly ancestry and aesthetic— began in the Renaissance. In this presentation, I analyze lyrics of the troubadours/trobairitz, the virtues of courtly love (fin’amor), medieval romances, and the gender politics of chivalry to substantiate my overall claim that ballet was born in twelfth-century France. In conclusion, I bridge the Middle Ages to modernity. Here I examine what I believe are medieval traces within ballet choreography and narrative of the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. Thus, this presentation reveals how medieval artistic and cultural innovations shaped a presumably postmedieval performing art.       


Kathryn Dickason is a Public Relations Specialist at Simmons University (Boston, USA). She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Stanford University and has published widely on religion, gender, iconography, literature, performance, and sign theory in medieval European culture. Her first book, Ringleaders of Redemption: How Medieval Dance Became Sacred, was published by Oxford University Press in 2021. She is now writing her second book, which is a study of Western medieval dance iconography housed at American museums and libraries.


With the patronage of:

Dipartimento di Beni Culturali - Università di Bologna

IMS Study Group Musical Iconography

AIRDanza - Associazione Italiana di Ricerca sulla Danza

MOISA. The International Society for the Study of Greek and Roman Music and its Cultural Heritage