Most of our information about medieval dance comes from fragmentary sources, such as extant manuscripts and a few illuminations, leaving us to speculate on any form of dance steps that may have been used. From what little is known, the carole was most likely the form familiar in courts, as well as at rural gatherings. This dance was probably a simple form of round dancing, where the dancers joined hands and sang, moving in a circle.
From Chretien de Troyes, the French poet, we know there were other forms of dance. In a wedding scene written during the twelfth century, he says, “Maidens performed rounds and other dances, each trying to outdo the other in showing their joy.” What these other dances were remains a mystery, with the exception of references to the estampie.
A troubadour, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, may have written a Provencal song to fit the tune of an estampie he heard played by two jongleurs, which would set the date of this dance in the twelfth century. However, the earliest examples of instrumental pieces called estampies date from the 13th and 14th centuries, and consist of both monophonic and polyphonic structures.
With so little information as to early medieval dance, we are left to speculate on the actual dance steps used, but we can be sure the people of the early Middle Ages found a way to express joy in their lives. I’m also certain that even with an open ring of dancers, two lovers would find a way to come together, even if it was across a bit of dance floor with only a sly wink or a touch of a hand.