Starting Sources for Renaissance Dance Reconstruction and Study
Version 1.0.10, 23 Feb 2022. Revision history at bottom.
I've been asked a bunch of times, "I'm interested in learning
about dancing and maybe reconstruction, what books should I read?" I
think it's important to get an introduction to the whole field
of early dance, and I think the books below are pretty good
introductions. Best of all, they're mostly inexpensive!
16th century French dance
Thoinot Arbeau, Orchesography. The Evans/Sutton
translation (printed by Dover in 1990 and again in 2011, ISBN
0486217450) is commonly available used for ~ $6. Arbeau's very clear
notation of the relation between steps and music makes this very
accessible; you can teach straight out of the book.
17th century English Country Dance
John Playford, English Dancing Master. 1651. There are
two reprints currently out there, ISBNs 0903102803 and 0871270803, for
$40-$50, but the transcription and facsimile on the web are complete. It's useful to look at
just to remind yourself of how little instruction he gives for the
steps and dances.
Compare prices and
16th-17th century English measures
This is one area where a web resource is a good intro, see
Janelyn and Traehearn's introduction
16th century Italian dance
Fabritio Caroso, Nobilta di Dame. The Sutton translation (reprinted
by Dover in 1995, ISBN 0486286193) is available for $11-$15. While
this translation does have some unfortunate features -- the step names
are translated to English, and there's no facing-page facsimile to
compare to -- it's a very good translation, and you can compare it to
the Italian in the
facsimile on my webpages (linked from the SCA Dance Homepage).
15th century Italian dance
Guglielmo Ebreo, On the Practice of the Art of
Dancing. Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0198165749. This used to cost
about $25, now the used price is $60-$70.
Vivian Stevens (Rosina) and Monica Cellio, Joy and Jealousy: A Manual
of 15th Century Italian Balli. I have copies of the 3rd printing, or you
can get it on-line at http://sca.uwaterloo.ca/~praetzel/Joy_Jealousy/.
If you'd like a look at a facsimile of one of the primary sources, there is an
online facsimile of Domenico's PnD manuscript.
If you'd like to do some reconstructions, there are some
15th century Italian
Smith, A. William. Fifteenth-Century Dance and Music; The
Complete Transcribed Treatises and Collections in the Domenico Piacenza
Tradition. Pendragon Press, 1996. 2 volumes: ISBNs
0-945193-25-4 and 0-945193-57-2. The first book is a facing-page
translation of 3 of the treatises, and the second is a concordance of
all the dances. They list for $72 and $70, respectively. Both volumes
currently seem to be in print.
http://www.pendragonpress.com/. Compare prices: volume one, volume two.
Wilson, D. R. The Steps Used in Court Dancing in Fifteenth-Century Italy.
Third revised & englarged edition. Self-published, 2003. ISBN 0951930737. A step
concordance. Went unavilable at Dance Books in December, 2010.
Wilson, D. R. 101 Italian Dances (c. 1450-1510): A critical translation.
Early Dance Circle, 1999. ISBN 0951364049. A good complement to Smith, which has a
concordance of the Italian; Wilson gives a translation generally focusing on the
source PnD, and then comments on differences among the sources, with copious notes.
(Out of print, and no used copies spotted for sale in December, 2011.)
Also sold by http://www.dancebooks.co.uk/.
16th century Italian
Kendall, Gustavia Yvonne. Le Gratie D'amore 1602 By Cesare Negri:
Translation and Commentary. PhD dissertation, Stanford,
1985. Available from UMI from their dissertation services,
for $35 unbound. Contains a facing page facsimile and translation
of Negri's dance manual. The translation isn't that reliable, but
it's easy to compare the English against the Italian. Note that
pretty much all the 16c Italian sources have been transcribed; see
my webpages, linked to the SCA Dance Homepage at the bottom.
Other Genres of Dance
There are a couple of areas of dance that I haven't mentioned yet, but
are worth some examination. I recommend these articles:
The Gresley Manuscript (English, 1500): http://www.hants.gov.uk/basdance/gresley.html
15th Century Burgundian Bassa Danse: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/lod/vol2/translation_coplande.html
It never hurts to know where dance is headed after 1600... so I recommend
Dance of Court & Theater: The French Noble Style 1690-1724
by Wendy Hilton. It's used as a textbook, so it isn't hard to find online
used, from $55-$65. 1st edition -- ISBN 0916622096. 2nd edition -- ISBN
094519398X -- includes additional material on the courante, additional
material on Lully.
Compare prices (1st edition) --
Compare prices (2nd edition).
Look over the stuff online
Finally, I'd suggest taking a look at what's out there online. Some high
The SCA Dance Homepage: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/dance.html
The Rendance Homepage, and mailing list: http://www.rendance.org
especially the bibliography: http://www.rendance.org/rbib/
Del's Dance Book: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/del/
The Letter of Dance: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/lod/
Eric's Dance Music Listing: http://sca.uwaterloo.ca/Music/.
http://addall.com/ -- good price comparison site, be sure to look in
both the new and used book areas.
http://abebooks.com/ -- a network of used bookstores.
Return to the SCA Dance Homepage.
October 7, 2003: 1.0 Initial version.
October 23, 2003: 1.0.1 Fixed Wendy Hilton's name, refs to "my webpages".
November 11, 2003: 1.0.2 2nd edition of Wendy Hilton's book.
July 10, 2004: 1.0.3 Smith volume 2 is back in print.
October 4, 2004: 1.0.4 Add compare urls for Smith 1 and 2. Add Wilson.
January 23, 2005: 1.0.5 Add Wilson 101 Italian Dances.
June 20, 2008: 1.0.6 Update prices, add a link.
December 9, 2010: 1.0.7 Update about Arbeau.
December 22, 2011: 1.0.8 Updates about book prices and availability: Arbeau, Wilson.
August 23, 2014: 1.0.9 Tweaks, update of Playford compare.
February 23, 2021: 1.0.10 update of Playford transcription location, added facsimile. Added PnD facsimile. Reword Caroso facsimile.
Greg Lindahl (aka Gregory Blount)