At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the main focus is on the work of building a castle, but many guests ask also about leisure time in the Medieval and if there was any. There is no question that the people worked hard like we picture our American colonists. People who work hard also know how to take a little time to relax. Dancing and socializing were a part of that leisure time in the Middle Ages.
We have to remember, however, that the customs were strict and regulated for young people on everything. A boy could not casually take a girl’s hand or touch her elbow. Unmarried young people were chaperoned. Communities were small and everyone knew each other. Reputations were valued. But dancing was an acceptable chance to hold hands, socialize and laugh together and enjoy each other’s company. Much more enjoyable than seeing each other at church mass or across the fields at work. Unlike the free-form dancing by separate couples of today, dancing in the Middle Ages was more structured and done in a group.
There were no nightclubs. Although the local lord could call an impromptu special occasion or a group of common people could gather at a road crossing, the most typical place for dances was at fairs. In London, for example, four fairs were held every year. They were on the anniversary of the ordination of the Blessed Ambrose, the feast of the Blessed Lawrence, on the Ascension of the Blessed Mary, Mother of God and on the feast of the Blessed Bartholomew. From this list it is pretty obvious that the Church was a big influence and presence at the festivals and fairs.
Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have been able to see and participate in an excellent demonstration of Medieval and Renaissance dancing by the Dance Club from the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, Arkansas. What I noticed during the dancing was that our guests smiled and laughed as much as the dancers. It is easy to see why the fairs with the music and dancing were a highlight of Medieval life.