developed for use during prayer. The Latin mass is the best-known of these rites.
Originally dance movements were part of these pieces as well as music and a dramatic
dialogue. By the Middle Ages these works moved from inside the churches to the out-
of-doors. On church, squares cathedral porches, and marketplaces, miracle plays, and
morality plays that taught the church’s lessons were enacted in a theatrical way. Rather
than being part of the ritual, however, these pieces had become a form of
Dance was also observed in two other sorts of activity. In dramatic ritual games
with dance movement the passing of the seasons was celebrated, even as it had been
by primitive tribes; and in the works of troubadours and other wandering minstrels,
dance and song were used to express the full range of human emotions.
Another important rite of the Middle Ages was known as the dance of death. A
ritual procession performed throughout Europe from the 14th to the 16th century, it was
a sort of danced parade that was led by a figure representing death. It was performed
perhaps with the most intensity in the years of the Black Death, a bubonic plague that
swept across Europe beginning in 1373. At once grotesque and graceful, the piece
expressed the anguish of a diseased civilization.
The dance of death reflected the rituals performed by primitive peoples, who
had also danced to acknowledge the passing of the seasons of the year and of a
human life on Earth. Other dances in the Middle Ages did the same. During the annual
May games, for example, dances were performed that celebrated the greening of the
countryside and the fertility of the land. During saints’ days, which echoed the rites
dedicated to Dionysus, large groups of women danced in churches. Similar to earlier
pieces associated with battles, sword dances were performed in Germany, Scotland,
and elsewhere in Europe. Similar to the sword dance is the Morris dance, which was
performed at secular festivals from Scotland to Spain.