Many people think of the sarabande as an elegant and romantic dance, but it was once a fast and lively dance and song. Called the zarabanda, it originated in South America and Mexico, and the European conquerors imported the dance to Spain and Portugal in the 16th century. Africans in Brazil influenced the movements of the dance steps.
Pious Europeans found the sarabande absolutely shocking, because they thought that it contained lewd steps and words. Philip II banned the dance in 1583, and ordered steep punishments for those caught dancing or singing the sarabande. Men and women were sentenced to 200 lashes. Men also had to endure six years in the galleys, while women were banished.
People still kept dancing the sarabande, however. In 1603, Father Juan de Mariana called it 'so lascivious in its words and so unseemly in its motions that it is enough to inflame even very decent people'. Several priests and monks criticised the dance, especially when Creole nuns danced it in front of churches on Christmas Eve.
The sarabande became a popular court dance in France and Italy in later centuries. It changed into the stately and romantic dance that we know today.
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