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Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Dance Scenes in Historically-Set Movies – April – Shakespeare in Love #prairierosepubs #moviedancescenes

Join me here for a year of movie trivia fun as I post dance scenes from movies set in historical time periods. I will give a brief summary of the movie’s plot and an equally brief set-up to the scene.

Each month on the second Wednesday, I will post a movie clip and link back to previous movie scene articles here on the blog.

 This is the criteria by which I'm choosing movie scenes:

  • In a non-musical movie, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.
  • In a musical drama, the characters in the dance scene don’t sing to each other.
  • In a musical drama, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.
  • The historical cut-off is 1960, because that date works for me. ;-)

Side note:  The article “Classic Literature is Not Necessarily Historical Fiction” on the BookRiot website offers an interesting explanation on what constitutes historical fiction and where various historical date lines are drawn.

Onward to the April movie scene.

It is altogether fitting and proper that I highlight a movie with a Shakespearean theme for April, since William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26 (likely born on April 23), 156, and he died on April 23, 1616.

Name of Movie: Shakespeare in Love

Historical Time Period: c. 1593
Location: London, England
Occasion: Formal dance at Sir Robert de Lessep’s estate
Type of Dance: Renaissance


Shakespeare in Love is a period romantic comedy-drama (1998). The story is a fictional love affair between William Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps. During this intense, short-lived affair, Shakespeare is inspired to write Romeo and Juliet , which closely mirrors their star-crossed, and doomed-from-the-beginning relationship. This movie is a play-within-a-play.

Dance Scene Set-up

William Shakespeare sneaks into a ball at the de Lesseps estate. During the ball, Viola’s father arranges her betrothal to a nearly bankrupt Lord Wessex. Viola is passingly familiar with who Lord Wessex is, but she has no interest in him as a person, let alone as a husband. She also doesn’t know a marriage pact is being made for her. Viola is enamored with all things theatrical, and she has a secret admiration for William Shakespeare, although they’ve never met.

Don’t look to this movie for historical accuracy. It is Hollywood-generated, not a documentary. This includes this dance scene. Keep in mind that movie dance scenes are created for optimum cinematography and choreography. As such, there is often have a conglomeration of dance movements to achieve those goals. This is the case here.

The purpose of this dance scene is to get Will and Viola together, just as Romeo meets Juliet at the party at her house. Shakespeare and Viola are from different social classes, and they would not have had opportunity to interact any other way than within this dance.

I’m iffy on dances of the Elizabethan era, but I’m fairly confident in saying that this dance is a combination of the Almain, which is a processional dance in which you do some specific movements with your partner and a Volta, which is a ‘toss the ladies” movement. It’s also a ‘mixer dance’ in that people can enter and leave the dance sort of like someone tapping your partner on the shoulder and taking their place as your new partner.

The dance scene…

Sir Robert de Lesseps and Lord Wessex have evidently sealed the deal on the marriage agreement. Will Shakespeare is hanging out with the musicians, just watching the dancing. Viola de Lesseps is in the midst of the dancers.

Will’s disinterested perusal of the dance is suddenly interrupted when he sees Viola from across the crowded room.

 0:29 – Will is instantly awe struck, and he asks one of the musicians who she is. He’s told, “Dream on, Will.”

The camera cuts back to Viola dancing. You’ll notice she has a new dance-partners-in-passing in the Almain.

1:00 – We see the Volta (toss the ladies). Will is on the move. He’s got his eye on Viola as he’s crashed the dance, so to speak.

1:18 – Viola looks directly into Will’s face, and she gasps. She is visibly stunned to see him. “Master Shakespeare,” she breathes.

Viola and Will separate as they move around the dance circle. Viola encounters Lord Wessex again, but her gaze is locked on Will as he dances away from her. She and Lord Wessex exchange a few words in which she flippantly, and naively, disregards his meaning.

1:42 – Will and Viola come together again. They twirl to the side of the circle, where they stop and talk. This is an instance of the the world revolving around them, while they have eyes only for each other. You can see the blurred figures of people in the background.

Viola speaks, but Will is struck speechless, ‘a poet of no words’, she says. Wessex drags Will off the dance floor. Will utters words of admiration for Viola, which prompt Wessex to put a knife to Will’s throat. Viola watches, also too enamored with Will to think of anything but how she feels right then.

Wessex (aka a combination of Paris and Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet), turns back to Viola with an expression that foreshadows the confrontation between Viola and himself that will happen later in the movie.

While this dance scene is brief, the ‘meaningful looks’, words spoken haltingly, make it clear to us that Viola and Will have fallen in love at first sight. It’s one of those sigh-worthy romantic scenes for those of us who are hopelessly, hopeful romantics, despite knowing how it turned out for Romeo and Juliet…and Will and Viola.

January Movie Dance Scene: Cat Ballou

February Movie Dance Scene: The King and I - Shall we Dance?

March Movie Dance Scene: Easy Virtue

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time 







  1. Superb analysis as ever. I am so enjoying this series of posts, with your searing insight of the interplay between the dancers and the plot. And this is another winner. I wonderful movie, and expertly choreographed scene. I look forward to the next one.

  2. Great choice, Kaye! The volta dance is superb way of showing romantic intentions, as you reveal. I remember another Volta in the film of Elizabeth as well. Thanks again for this excellent blog series

  3. Such a classic. Love you post on this one. Doris