Dances with Style! – Minuet
What is Stylized Dance?
Sometimes music makes us want to tap our toes and move our feet – especially if that music is a dance! In classical music, the word dance can mean the steps that dancers make while dancing, but it can also mean music written to go along with dance steps.
Classical music is full of dances that people used in history for actual dancing. Those kinds of dances are called social dance. But that’s not the only kind of dance in classical music! Composers throughout history loved the sound and feel of dance so much that they also wrote stylized dances, which are musical pieces based on the idea of dance, but which weren’t meant for people to literally dance along.
You can think of it this way:
Social dance is dance for moving, and stylized dance is dance for listening!
Or try this:
Social dance is dance for your body, and stylized dance is dance for your ears!
Here’s another way to think of it:
In stylized dance, a composer puts their own unique style into a musical dance!
Each week we will explore some stylized dances from history. First, we’ll look at the social dance version of each dance: its basic rhythm and emotion, and how people danced to it. Then we’ll look at stylized versions of each dance, and see what unique style each composer put into each dance!
We’re going to use some special musical terms to talk about the nuts and bolts of dance music. To take a deep dive into the words we use to talk about music, check out ICAN’s series, The Shape of Music!
As we explore these dances, remember one important thing: whether it’s a social dance or a stylized dance, if you feel like dancing along, then dance!
The minuet is a French dance from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was a popular couples’ dance at aristocratic balls all over Europe. Its sound is stately and elegant. People who danced the minuet wore their nicest clothes and wanted to see and be seen on the dance floor!
Musically, a social-dance minuet uses a meter of 3/4: that means that the music moves in sets of three beats, or three beats to each measure. It uses a slow, relaxed tempo, or musical speed.
In this video, you’ll see dancers perform a minuet the way it might have looked in the eighteenth century. You’ll see and hear a small band playing a social-dance style minuet to accompany the dancers.
In the eighteenth century, when the minuet was popular in balls, composers were also creating a new kind of concert music: the symphony, which is a piece of music with several sections, written for a symphony orchestra. The minuet was so popular that it became traditional to include a stylized minuet as the third movement, or section, of a symphony! Audiences listened to symphonies rather than dancing to them, but when they heard a minuet in a symphony, they’d think of all the fun and romance of dance while listening!
Here’s a minuet from the Symphony No. 40 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). He composed this music in 1788.
About a generation after Mozart, composers were still writing minuets in their symphonies, but that kind of dance was starting to feel a little old-fashioned. When Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his symphonies, he often liked to make the minuet so fast and wild that nobody could even dream of dancing it with minuet steps! This kind music was so different from a social-dance minuet that he called it a scherzo, which is Italian for “joke”!
Here’s the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Third Symphony. Can you hear how fast and wild this is compared to the stately music from that video of a minuet at a ball?
To learn more about stylized dances and composers who wrote them, check out the links throughout this article!
You can also read more about the terms in this article by looking them up in Britannica Kids, or check out Music and How It Works from DK! Older kids can check out definitions in books like The Oxford Dictionary of Music or The Harvard Dictionary of Music. You can look for these books at your local library!