Style and Accoutrements


I consider it fairly important to teach the correct manner of doing these dances, as well as the dances themselves.

This means paying attention to what the dancers were wearing at the time, and how they were wearing it.


Starting Positions

Both Negri's and Caroso's books show the starting positions for each of their dances. There are a couple of points to note in these pictures:

  • The dancers are standing fairly close together, despite the fact that they are wearing quite bulky garments. Judging by eye, there is rarely more than 30 – 50 cm or so between the man's toes and the edge of the lady's skirts (because the ladies are all wearing full floor length dresses it is impossible to see their feet).

  • None of the starting positions show the man beginning the dance with both feet together. The step description for the riverenza which begins each dance indicates that the man should normally begin with the left foot forwards (although this is not universal in the pictures). The weight is not evenly distributed, and should probably mostly be on the right foot.



All of the dancers are wearing hats or other headwear. The men have usually removed their hats and are holding them in their left hands, with the brim of the hat facing inwards to their thighs.

This matches what Caroso says in his etiquette chapter, in that the hat is held so that the underside or brim of the hat is not exposed. Caroso has a paragraph or two about how to put on, remove, and hold the hat.


Removing the hat

At various stages during the dance, the man will take off or replace his hat. The man will usually remove his hat during a riverenza, but if he needs to take the lady by both hands at some stage during a dance he will replace it on his head.

Once you remove your hat, you hold it in your left hand, alongside your left thigh. This position is shown in the diagram above. Note that the man's left hand is also required to stabilise the position of his sword, as mentioned below.

The lady wears fixed headwear that cannot be easily removed and replaced. The lady's headwear usually includes an elaborate hairstyle, and may include pearls, ribbons, and/or braids.



All of the men carry swords, except the ones in Negri's galliard section (Negri says that the sword should be removed before the galliard). The sword is in a scabbard, and hangs at the level of the man's left hip, almost horizontal, parallel to the ground.

The left hand is held low, alongside the hip, so as to keep the sword in place (this hand also carry's the man's hat). The sword can also be moved left and right by movements of the hand, or the pommel of the sword can be lifted (lowering the point to the floor) by the palm of the left hand.

The sword does limit what you can do on the dance floor, and if you are reconstructing dances of this period then you need to know what those limitations are. For example, the man cannot turn rapidly over his right shoulder while standing close to the lady or another person, unless his left hand is free. Similarly, turns to your left will need to be covered by a free hand, or done while retreating away from the lady (e.g. Gracca Amorosa) or in a larger backwards arc.

At various stages during some of the dances, the man will use his left hand for something other than holding his hat and sword. For example, in Contrapasso Nuovo, the man passes at least one lady by the left hand. In other places, the man takes his lady by both hands. This places specific limitations on what the man can do at this point.

It was considered impolite to attend a noble gathering without your sword, in addition to which the consequences of being unable to defend yourself at any point in time could be relatively severe.

It is interesting to note that at least one dance writer of the period uses fencing terminology to describe dance positions and/or footwork. It can therefore be reasonably assumed that pretty much every gentleman during the period was able to defend himself using a sword – those who did not were occasionally reduced to statistics in the process of natural selection.



The ladies carry fans, or less commonly, handkerchiefs. The fan or handkerchief can be stored in the outer sleeve of the lady's garment. There are a few pictures showing the lady's fan on a large open necklace or decorative beaded chain of some kind, so that the fan can be let drop and it will hang at approximately knee level. The fans appear to be similar to the small wooden or paper folding fans still seen today.