THE SCA BY NIGHT - No Sleep At Pennsic!
Updated: Sep 20
STAMINA - How I Became A History Major
THE TREBUCHET - A Siege Engine Leads Me to Medieval Reenactment
THE SHIRE - Making Garb, Travel Plans and a Home in the SCA
THE SCA BY DAY - My Corners of Make-Believe
After all the fighting and classes and competitions...after the strolling, shopping, serving, selling, or snoozing…after a blissful shower and food, there is often Court where individuals are called up to receive awards for their skills and services. At the bigger wars, sometimes this also takes place during the day on the battlefield.
At this ceremony, the Scadian royalty or nobility present recipients with beautiful illuminated scrolls. These awards grant varied levels of rank from a local Baronial award or the most basic Award of Arms, up to nobility or the highest Peerages for combat, A&S, or service. Such awards also come with the right to wear various belts, sashes, tokens, or coronets that denote said rank. (9)
The King and Queen as well as their heirs, the Crown Prince and Princess, are temporary ranks, won through heavy weapons combat in Crown Tournament every six months. After their term is over, they become a different sort of nobility to honor their once-royal station.
The issue of Crown Tournament has long been heftily debated on two fronts. A) If the highest royal rank should continue to only be attainable through heavy weapons combat, and B) if royalty should be limited to a male-female partnering. You can look up the varied argument threads online for yourself about these issues.
For all I can find online (we know how sometimes search engines lie to me--excuse me--omit or bury information that would be handy to have), I haven't found any new resolution to Issue A. Issue B took some digging.
The gender of the tournament combatants themselves has long been open, and on a very rare occasion (twice so far) there will be a Queen by Right of Arms. But the consort issue has only recently been opened, allowing combatants to fight in honor of anyone they choose, regardless of gender. For a time, it was allowed at the discretion of the current Crown, but now the exclusionary language has been completely eliminated. The SCA has also approved use of gender-neutral titles, and there has been a same-gendered Royal Pair. (1-4)
According to this article by Ken Mondschein, one of the few academic books on the SCA written by a medieval scholar who is also a longtime Scadian describes the roles of the King and Crown Tournaments in this way:
That the SCA members “have created a community, or better yet a tribe, which gives them romance, companionship, and identity, a literate/filmic/academic/ludic Middle Ages. And at the center of this Middle Ages is a king, part Aragorn, part Charlemagne, part King Arthur from Malory, and part King Arthur from Monty Python…”
~Michael A. Cramer, Medieval Fantasy as Performance
In my experiences, that's a pretty accurate description. It's taken very, very seriously, this King-Thing...yet not at all, with a hefty dose of the creative and the mythical. There is always the question at these events and in developing one's persona of how closely things should remain as they were in period, versus where to apply the adage of "the Middle Ages as they should have been."
Living History vs. Fantasy.
Participants' stances on these issues vary as widely as their interests in activities, and they are forever in motion.
As such, let us allow these weighty matters to mull along with the wine, returning once more to merriment and pageantry. Hearken now and process into Court, whereby we shall bear witness to the elevation of a Court Baron, huzzah!
On the last Wednesday of Pennsic, many of the shops and food stalls stay open until midnight. This is one of the most vivid images that has ever been branded into my Scadian brain, and it ranks among my favorite memories--the marketplace by lantern light.
Our hostess has some technical difficulties at the start, and a mundane-ish walk to the market at dusk. I suggest starting about an hour in. She does not use a Scadian dialect, so if you don’t enjoy the commentary, may I suggest muting the video and putting on this Firelight & Moonbeams playlist I made for inspiration when I started drafting all these tales. You will of course miss the sounds of the crowds and any live music that was going on there so…whatever pleases your senses most. It’s a 3.5 hour live stream, so skip around as you like. But if you’re jonesin’ for War after two years of pandemic, she’s got all sorts of adventures like this one on her channel.
The last time I went to Pennsic in 2007, I noticed that there were far more staged dance events and rehearsed musical ensembles than when I had last attended in 1996. This trend seems to have grown since then, especially with greater access to formal bands than we had when I first cut my teeth.
The only time I ever got to dance to that caliber of live music was at Pennsic, because Northshield still had a great many places that touted the slogan, "Belly dance?! We'll have none of that here!" We counted ourselves lucky if we had any live drummers at all, and I wouldn't get used to melody instruments around the campfire until I moved to the Outlands.
But out at War, belly dancers abounded, along with something else I'd never experienced: a full band playing Middle Eastern and Turkish music made just for MEEEEE! I mean for dancers, Precious. (5)
Just as I was on my way out of the Society, there was a large insurgence of Tribal Belly Dance into the campfire circles at the bigger events. This started to shift the harsh stigma about showing one's midriff and wearing more modern outfits.
This certainly made it easier for me to cross-pollinate my wardrobe and dance styles between the restaurants and SCA events, and having memorized songs I knew well always makes it easier to dance on the fly. But I admit that I was stunned to see "Egyptian Cabaret and American Tribal Style" officially listed along with "folkloric" as the belly dance styles one can learn on the SCA Activities Wiki, since both of those forms are very modern, no matter any ancient roots that thread back into their histories. Most of the dancers I learned from called the belly dancing style "baladi" or a generic "folkloric," if it wasn't a style named from a specific place and time period--which could not be from outside AD 500-1500. (6, 7)
Unfortunately, there is so little period information about what the medieval precursors to what we now call "belly dance" would have looked like, and only a small amount of the music we can date, so this is one of the aspects of living history that has to have its gaps filled in with extrapolation, imagination, creativity, and pure fantasy. (5)
And that, too, is one of the largest inheritances of my dance style.
After I lost my first instructor, this was how I finally started learning to belly dance again. I'd spent two years scouring the public and university library systems for any hint of the art, as well as the shores of Lake Superior and every rock in the back woods of Minnesota. Alas, this hunt was mostly in vain, so learning that there were belly dancers in the SCA was the most wondrous discovery I'd made since Hala. Particularly when I found out that a bunch of the first dancers I met were professionals and members of Jawaahir, the dance company directed by the premier dancer in Minneapolis, Cassandra. (8)
I knew about this famous school because Laurie had told me about it while we huddled together at rehearsals for Twelfth Night. That's where she had learned, so being taken under the wings of some of Cassandra's top students felt just as fortuitous as running into a Viking warrior in a university lecture hall.
Synchronicity was hard at work, luring me onto a vastly different life trajectory than any of the ones I had ever imagined for myself.
For the next six years, those SCA bonfires, classes, and the impromptu lessons generously shared under sunshades or bandshells provided my longest and most intensive study in any dance style I've ever fallen in love with. Is it any wonder that I mix, mash, and smush up everything I study, then weave great swathes of fantasy through it?
Mostly I learned this style by doing, amongst a group of random people creating improvisational music and movement on the fly out in the elements around the fire:
Or inside a huge pavilion strewn with cushions, carpets and revelers:
Or by watching the more experienced dancers at the competitions:
Beginning to see just a few of the things my dancing inherited?
Ahhhh...the classic sounds of the SCA By Night from inside a pavilion with a hafla (drum and dance party) going on nearby--and of course, a storm to lull us to sleep.
Fare thee well, good gentles!
Sleep tight, Pennsic!
You know where I'll be until the drums stop or the sun comes up.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: THE FIRST NIGHT - Halfdan Was There.
--OR: if you've missed my adventures in dance, you can find them all HERE.
GEEKING LINKS 1) Gender-neutral titles in the SCA
2) Same-gender entrants in Crown Tournament officially changed from "at the current Crown's discretion" to no stipulation of gender in one's consort
3) Clan Blue Feather - originally formed to research and encourage homosexuality in the SCA, now covers all aspects of sexual or gender associated minority expression.
4) The rare SCA Queen by Right of Arms
--The Armored Rose - on training female fighters
6) From Cabaret to Tribal - a history
8) Cassandra School of Dance and Jawaahir
10) The SCA: