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Conversion - Dance

Arbeau describes a move he calls a conversion (french:conuersion = wheel round), which is used to change direction suddenly when faced with an obstacle (eg the end of the hall). He describes its use in the pavanne, but it seems equally applicable to some other linear dances.

To perform a conversion, the lady continues to move in a forwards direction, while the man performs his steps in a backwards direction. Not only should the couple continue to hold hands during this manuever, but the man should guide the lady's direction with his hand. This allows a much tighter turn to be performed than would be done if both dancers tried to proceed in a U turn, and neither partner has to adjust their step length.

This move is a neat alternative to both dancers moving backwards, for it is easier for the Lady to dance, and she is less likely to trip over. Arbeau mentions that the lady may not see hinderances when moving backwards, but does not explicitly mention the likelihood of tripping on her own skirt. He may have been writing when fathinggales were in fashion, so this may have been less of a problem, but it is definately a problem in the SCA where dancers are likely to be dressed from a variety of periods, some with clinging skirts or trains.


  • Conversion described by Arbeau in a facsimilie of the original manuscript, this corresponds to page 58 of the translation by Mary Steward Evans (Dover edition).
  • short video clip of a conversion being danced