Robin Gilbert and Carlos Fittante in "Tigerlily and the Dragonfly". Photo: Julie Lemberger

Spirals Abound

A Baroque Dancer's Reflections on the French Small Sword School 
by Carlos Fittante

What do Baroque dance and French small sword technique have in common?  As part of BALAM Dance Theatre's work to research and clarify its art, I undertook a weeklong intensive study at The French Small Sword School of the Martinez Academy of Arms that offered me rare insights into these fields.

Shown in photo: A practice small sword from the Martinez Academy of Arms

I was inspired and in awe of the physical skill and intelligence of this period martial art form.  Both Maestro Ramon Martinez and Maestra Jeanette Acosta-Martinez are true masters with outstanding scholarship, knowledge and experience, and an impressive physical ability to reconstruct this school. 

Body Positions

Aplomb was the first body position taught and is a fundamental concept in Baroque dance, as well.  This refers to a vertical carriage of the body and a sense of ease and serenity.  The implications are profound!  In the heat of a duel, one must remain detached, centered, and calm.  The arrangement and stillness of the torso is not disturbed.

Many other similarities and some differences were found.  A 90 degree turn-out of the legs is used by both; however, the arrangement of the body angle is different, with a three-quarter orientation in the fight technique and en face in dance.  In the martial arts form, stepping occurs with the heel first.  In dance, the ball of the foot slides on the floor with the heel raised before taking a step. 

Droigté (fingering or dexterity) was the most surprising concept I encountered in handling the weapon.  The small sword is held between the fingers with a firm but light grip, and the wrist remains flexible to allow for a timely parry and riposte (ward off and respond).  Through a minute and precise movement range, the small sword point is partially directed and redirected by squeezing and releasing the fingers, creating mini spirals with the weapon.

These spirals and the use of the fingertips are deadly with the small sword.  They seemed akin to the ornamental hand gestures and wrist curls in the dance technique.  In dance, the gestural spirals create aesthetic movements that complement the legwork and help express the emotions of the character.  

The 18th century courtier trained daily in dance and fencing.  Studying at the Martinez Academy of Arms sparked in me a refreshed and exciting perspective on the Baroque dance movement that I know and love, and I will continue my gentleman’s training in the art of defense.  Touché!

For classical fencing lessons in the French, Italian, and Spanish styles, go to Martinez Academy of Arms.