tibicen: (Felding Demo)
Aha! I just found this essay/letter which I wrote for KWDSIII. I'm extremely proud of it, because, while it's not deathless prose, it exemplifies an endeavor to which I wish more organizations and subcultures applied themselves: making "foreigners" welcome as visitors, without demanding acculturation for acceptance, and doing so by explaining what outsiders can expect in a way intelligible to them. I call this the "Honored Guest" paradigm.

I wrote this document on behalf of KWDSIII, for us to send to our "pros". KWDSIII, being held in Boston, brought in some important dance history and dance music history scholars to teach. We did this because (1) these people are awesome and have a lot to teach us, (2) plenty of our attendees are fans of these scholars' work, and (3) we wanted to help rebuild some burnt bridges to the mundane early dance community.

Since some trouble in the past had arisen (by one interpretation) out of a culture clash, it seemed to me imperative that somebody address the issue of differing cultures. Because KWDS, being an SCA event, has a host of cultural expectations baked right in which a outside academic might never expect. So rather than them find out the hard way (encountering them, en mass, as an expectation-violating surprise) I figured they deserved an advance orientation.

Also, this document arose out of my own experience speaking or instructing at conventions; it is, in a sense, the document I'd wished other organizers had given me when I had ventured into their subcultures.



What you can expect at the Knowne World Dance Symposium

The KWDS is an SCA event, but even among SCA events, it's pretty unusual. This letter is to try to explain what we expect it will be like from the point of view of the instructors who are not in the Society.

One of the few hard and fast rules of the SCA is that at our official Events, all attendees are required to wear "Some attempt at pre-16th century clothing". All of the SCA attendees, including those members instructing classes and serving as volunteers, will be in costume for the duration of this event. Their costumes will not be restricted to the time period(s) and cultures which will be represented in the dance classes. Many people will use this Event and its theme as an occasion to show off their dance-appropriate and -contemporaneous costumes, however others will not, deferring to the weather, their lack of interest in costuming or the period, or insufficiency of skill or funds. The quality of the costumes will range from stapled-together fantasy outfits to laboriously hand-sewn reconstruction garments.

There is no requirement upon the non-SCA instructors to wear garb (as we refer to it). It is up to you what you would feel most comfortable doing.

Roughly speaking the event will be drawing the following SCA demographics. (In addition, the general public, primarily from the BEMF, will be attending on Tuesday.)

One of those demographics is the "hard-core European dance crowd". These are people whose primary interest and activity in the Society is the research and propagation of historical dance in the Society. Most of these people are subscribers to the sca-dance email list, and have been flaming each other about how many times one should repeat the B section of Rufty Tufty, the relative merits of various styles of ripreza, how one scans the steps of Bransle de Guerre in light of the Phalese arrangement of the music, and such like things, for *years*.

The "hard-core crowd" is converging from, literally, around the world for this event, and most plan on attending the entire event (Fri-Tues). They range from those who have little experience working from primary sources, to those who work exclusively from primary sources; they generally all have done a *lot* of Renaissance dance, though sometimes it was transmitted to them aurally and has suffered "folk-process". This crowd can be thought of as "the dancemaster crowd"; they are concerned as much with what they can teach others as their own mastery as dancers.

Another demographic is the "social dance crowd". In the SCA in the Northeastern US, dancing is a popular social activity. These are people who are not dance scholars or teachers in any way, but like dances and balls, and will show up to party with us. Many of them aren't concerned with how well they dance, but some are interested in presenting an attractive style on the dance floor. Some of these people will not attend any classes, but only attend the balls in the evening, primarily the Knowne World Ball.

Another demographic is "general event crowd". These will tend to be people who don't necessarily care about dance one way or the other, but who will be just looking for a fun social thing to do with their fellow "Scadians" or will be turning out to support the local SCA branch. Also, this includes "dance widow/ers", those people who have no interest in dance, but loyally follow their dance-enthusiast loved ones to dance events.

The "social" and "general" demographics. will primarily be attending Saturday, primarily to attend the Knowne World Ball. Some will also attend Sunday.

Another demographic is the "danceband crowd". These are the musicians who belong to bands who have committed to playing at KWDS, plus a few die-hard danceband musicians from far away whose whole groups could not attend. It looks like there are going to be three SCA bands, totaling over two dozen musicians. Possibly breaking three dozen. Some of these people will merely be musicians (some very skilled) who like playing for dancing; others are avid RenDance-music amateur scholars, with interests in musicology, historical instruments, etc. They will split, possibly pretty evenly, between those there for Saturday and Sunday, and those attending the whole Symposium.

All told, we expect these three demographics to push attendence at the Knowne World Ball (Saturday night) to over 200 people. This estimate is based on the fact that the Black Rose Ball (March, in RI) attracts about this many people, and that the events of the Barony of Carolingia often hit that number. (We expect a less-than-usual turn out of Carolingians because this is a "one-focus" event, but that will be offset by more people traveling to the event from other groups. The Barony of Carolingia has about 400 people in it.) It is not inconceivable that we could considerably exceed 200 people; while our plans accomodate that contingency they don't anticipate it.

In addition, there will be a program of non-European dance, which mostly is folkloric Middle Eastern. That will attract an entirely separate demographic, which we don't expect will interact much with the (predominently European) rest of the Event. It's activities will be on Saturday and Sunday, with a Mid-Eastern dance party ("hafla") Sat and Sun evenings.

We anticipate about 100 people will stay for the Sunday portion of the event, a mixture of the hard-core, the dance bands, and the generalists. This means that classes will tend to be small (100 people divided by 7 parallel sessions is ~14 people each.)

Monday, we'll be down to those people who are so enamoured of RenDance that they are willing to take the day off work. We expect about 60 people total.

Tuesday, we throw open the doors to the Boston Early Music Festival. Since admission is so inexpensive ($10) and the offerings will be so rich, we expect a healthy infusion of BEMF attendees to add to those 60 hard-core people. It is not inconceivable we will be innundated.

The format of the Event is of four class-periods per day (1.5 hrs each; Sa-Tu), then a ball or revel of some sort in the evening. Additionally, there will be "pick-up" dancing (informal, by-request) on Friday night; a late-late-late night party, probably Saturday pm (technically, Sunday am) after the KWB; and a Caroso-style ball instead of the classes in the last class-period on Tuesday.

We expect to have seven tracks of activities (this includes one or two tracks of non-European dance and one track of dance-musician activities) in two buildings on Sat and Sun, and four tracks in a single building on Monday and Tuesday.

On Saturday, one track will be dedicated to "Ball Prep": classes which specifically instruct in dances which will be done at the ball, so that "general event" demographic people who merely want to learn a few dances to be social will be able to do so.

Most of the instructors for KWDS are themselves SCA members or affiliates, and come from the "hard-core crowd".

Socially, it may seem like everyone knows everyone else. This is not strictly true. The local SCA members know each other through the local SCA club activities. The hard-core dance crowd knows each other, sometimes only "electronically", but sometimes through previous KWDSs and other "dance-locus" SCA events such as major balls and tournaments. SCA members from further afield might not know anyone else at the event. Some people will be new SCA members, who haven't been yet had oportunity to meet many people in the Society. The European and non-European dance crowds don't necessarily have much to do with each other, socially.

There are several formats of balls.

The standard format is a pre-determined playlist (ordered list of dances), not necessarily any more period-specific than "Renaissance Europe"; the list will be published in the program, and as each dance comes up it (and it's configuration) will be announced to the dancers, e.g. "Gathering Peascods, for a ring of couples" or "Petit Vriens, for three people" or "Geloxia, longways for three couples". As many sets as will take the floor at once. When the dancemaster deems they are ready, he indicates to the musicians. There is no time taken for instruction.

In this way, we have found balls go briskly; about a dozen dances per hour are done (plus or minus for the lengths of the specific dances done). This is the plan for the KWB on Saturday, and for the later parts of Sunday's and Monday's evening dancing.

Another format of ball is the "Caroso Style Ball". Only one set at a time is on the floor, seating is split by gender, and it is has a particular social protocol. The dances are all by-request, and the band must respond very promptly. In advance, the Maestra di Balli and the band firm up a playlist from which dancers may make their requests, and this is listed in the program and posted at the Ball. There is no teaching at this style of ball either. There will be two of these, one on Sunday evening, and one as the last part of the Tueday BEMF Concurrent Event.

Another format is not properly a "Ball", but simply the inevitable result of putting a bunch of dance musicians and dancers in a room together. This "pickup dancing" is an impromptu dance party/dance jam. It is all by-request. We will be doing this on Friday evening of KWDS; a board will be posted on which dancers can jot their requests, and the dancemaster will pick and choose from their suggestions. There may be instruction, on an as-needed basis.

There will be an experimental Caroso-like Ball on early Monday evening. Details have not been entirely worked out, but will be an earlier style dance which has some "performances" and is mostly by-request.


tibicen: (Default)
This came up in a recent discussion in someone else's journal. I mentioned I'd written something to the point and, IIRC, posted it to the EK list many, many years ago, and would try to dig it up. If I ever did post it to the EK list, I can't find it now (though, tantalizingly, I can find flames from people responding to a similar-but-different post I made in 2000). But I did find a draft I was preparing for LJ way back when, that I never did post. So here it is, mostly unedited.



One of the most deeply embedded memes in the SCA is that of "fun vs. authenticity". I find that vexing because it's a false dichotomy. There's actually other choices that aren't even on that continuum.

Or at least one other.

But because that paradigm has such deep roots into the Scadian psyche, most Scadians are oblivious to other possibilities. Funnists and authenticists, alike, assume anyone not with them is with the other team, and thus are oblivious to the fact that someone might be on neither of those two teams.

Someone like me. I stand at a third pole. I'm an "atmospherist".

The highest value, wrt to SCA participation, of the funnist is fun. The highest value of the authenticist is authenticity. The highest value of the atmospherist is atmosphere.

The problem that we atmospherists -- which at this point means "I" unless someone else wants to join me under this banner :) -- have with authenticists and funnists is that they elevate authenticity and fun, respectively, over atmosphere.

Authenticists often irritate us because making an end of authenticity inclines one to tunnel-vision. Authenticists will show up at an event in perfectly turned out garb and talk about computers. Or will cook an exquisitely period feast in a t-shirt and jeans. Authenticists will pour a thousand hours of research and craftsmanship into a single artifact, then demand to be able to show it off in a high school gymnasium as part of a county fair, presented with a laminate-covered report and little 3x5 note cards.

Authenticists will raise their own ancient breed of sheep, sheer them with period tools, prepare the wool and weave it in a period fashion, cut it in patterns drafted from examining contemporaneous iconography, and sew it into historical garments... which fit on them as well as potato sacks and which have as much resemblance to the fit of the model garments depicted in the paintings as a an eggplant does to an ostrich, but it's authentic because it was made right regardless of what it looks like; and they will proceed to peacock around the event looking for all the world like an unmade bed, expecting everyone else to pretend they're dressed like a Medici. Authenticists will sacrifice pretty much everything to getting the authenticity of their chosen obsession to their level of perfection -- including the rest of the damn event, their fellow authenticists' authenticity, and the total authenticity of the rest of whatever it is they are doing!

But if authenticists are often guilty of sins of omission, funnists are given to sins of commission. Authenticists may fail to pay attention to anything except their hobby horse, but funnists will actively attempt to sabotage the Society in their self-indulgent voraciousness. If the funnist thinks it would be fun to have an Elvis impersonator at an SCA event, he will bring one. Actually, he has. Funnists will actively attempt to break the SCA for their amusement, like a two year old who smashes his toys for kicks and giggles. Funnists think violating the game is more fun than playing it. Wouldn't it be a kick if we brought an inflatable alligator into court? Wouldn't it be a kick if we made a 16th century outfit out of duct tape? Wouldn't it be a kick if we had an event were we do things as non-medievally as possible? It's the funnists we have to thank for actively kicking down what little we manage to build up.

And even if the funnist isn't actively trying to destroy the Society, their elevation of fun as a primary virtue guarantees that when someone points out to them that what they're doing is detrimental to the enterprise, the best you can hope for from them is a "So what?" -- and at worst the screaming temper-tantrum of a toddler whose bottle has been taken from him.

We atmospherists are into spectacle and festival. We want to go to tourneys and see or commit feats of prowess. We want to hoist tankards in taverns and revel until broke and hoarse. We want to tread the measures across floors and enchant the appropriate genders with glancing looks and gracious courtesy. We want to be awed by the solemnity of knightings and thrilled by the bravery of our host of warriors arrayed on the battlefield. We want to luxuriate in the plenty of our feasts, the sumptuousness of our garb, and the talents of our minstrels.

We're into style. We're into the gestalt over-all experience. We want to be carried away by the whole thing. We're into aesthetics, and whether things have the feel. We're just as in to things which hint, evoke, and suggest as we are into things which just are. We're into the subjective experience, as opposed to the objective facts. We're into the romance of history, and the archetype of the medieval. We're into the symbiosis of exoticism and haunting familiarity that is the medieval in the modern mind. We're into pleasure and delight. We're into that "sensawonda" that we inherited from our grand-fandom.

In short, we're into tele. Not the total step-through-time transformation of the re-enactor, but the simpler transport of children at play. We want to, for a space of time, bide in an environment beauty and delight. We are romantics. The fact that It Wasn't Really Like That does not bother us, nor does it bother us that evoking such a bubble world involves rules, standards, boundaries and discipline.

Atmospherists think the point of the SCA is, well, to play SCA. We want to do the stuff that you can do in the SCA and basically no where else. We have shown up at the baseball diamond with our bat and our glove, and we are neither interested in endless pitching drill to get exactly the right curve ball, nor are we interested in playing football, wrestling, or having to drive the jai alai team from the infield while we're trying to play. We get a little cross with funnists and authenticists who seem to have lost track of the point of getting all together and dressing up in medieval clothes, in their respective yens to do something else entirely.

We Atmospherists think the Christmas Revels are[*] really onto something there. We tend to have a weak spot for banners and dangly sleeves. We think strange foods at the feast table is a feature not a bug. We like florid toasts and dramatic gestures, graceful bows and kissed knuckles. We're the last holdouts still addressing our fellows as "Milord" and "Milady". We're into painful earnestness. We love wit and seriousness, both. Our anthem is "Pastime with Good Company" and our hymn is "Belle qui tient ma vie".

Atmospherists understand the most reliable way to something seeming to be medieval, is for it to actually be medieval. We get along with authenticists that far. But we part ways with them in realizing that that is also often the least expeditious way for something to seem medieval. Where the authenticist is concerned with making one really period garment, the atmospherist is concerned with figuring out how to make everyone look a little more medieval.

We are both vexed with and disappointed in authenticists who fail to commodify their knowledge for dissemination to others. Yes, it's lovely you've redacted all these recipes, no, I am not going to redact them for myself, now when is the cookbook coming out? Yes, that's a lovely gown; no, I don't think all the newbies are about to go out and draft one of those from scratch; have you considered making simplified instructions to disseminate to beginners?

The authenticist thinks the atmospherist is one of his own clan, right up to the moment he, shocked, realizes the atmospherist is willing to compromise his works' historical purity to get his knowledge into as many heads and hands as possible. Then he, wounded, concludes the atmospherist is a funnist, and shakes his head in disappointment that someone with so much promise could go so far astray.

Atmospherists are wedded to the idea that this should be enjoyable. That they have in common with the funnists. But unlike the funnists they realize that humans have more capacity for enjoyment above and beyond mere distractions, capacities ranging from the most base sensory appetites through the most rarefied sensibilities of the heart, mind and spirit -- and of our pleasures from the most earthy to the most lofty, we atmospherists are unwilling to relinquish a single one. Fritos are not enough. T-shirts with belts over them are not enough. Yucking, insincere jokery, adolescent posturing of being too cool to get involved is not enough.

The funnist thinks the inventive, festive atmospherist is on his side, right up to the moment he proposes doing something gross and the atmospherist replies "That's not very medieval." At which point the shocked and indignant funnist goes back to his tribe with a new story about the horrible oppression they suffer at the hands of stuffy authenticists.

[* Er, "were". They've gone downhill in recent years. More's the pity.]


It's kinda pugnacious, though I think necessarily so in that it's trying to elbow aside the press of crowds which are squeezing out its space.
Anyone who is moved by this and identifies with the position would do well to write themselves a positive-assertion manifesto to rally the troops. I might even be moved to write such a thing on behalf of any gentles who wished to launch such a social movement, if they wished it.

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