Where to Begin


Find some old dance books. No, older ones than that! Primary sources!

The primary sources can be found in the latest rendance bibliography (at the end of this book). Also use the on line version -- it is the most up to date and is absolutely huge. It is worth getting a copy even if you have to find a friend to get one via e-mail for you. There is a copy as an appendix in my dance book if you have a copy of that.

Not all of the sources in that book are primary sources, however all of the primary sources are listed in it.

The period primary sources fall into these categories, from oldest to newest:


15th C Italian

There are several manuscripts of 15th C Italian dance (there were no printed books of dance in that time). The authors were:

  • Domenico

  • Cornazano

  • Ebreo / Ambrosio (various versions)

There is an exceedingly comprehensive new translation of the above three books by A. William Smith just released in the USA by Pendgragon Press.

There is an excellent transcription and translation of Ebreo, with reconstruction of the music, by Barbara Sparti available from Oxford University Press. Buy it if you are at all interested in this period because of the wealth of background material it contains.


15th C Burgundian (Basse Dance books)

There are three main primary sources for 15th C Burgundian dance. These are:

  • The Brussels MS

  • Moderne

  • Tolouze

The latter two of which can be found in a single volume by Minkoff, and can be still obtained from Dance Books in London.

The MS “The Manner of Dauncynge of Bace Dances” is an English book but it may as well be considered a Burgundian text because it contains the Burgundian style of dances. It is possibly a translation of an earlier (lost) Burgundian MS, but it also probably contains some errors.


16th C French

The main one is of course Arbeau’s Orchesography. That is sadly out of print but can be obtained from some specialty shops. It is the seminal work on dance as far as the SCA is concerned because something like 50% of our dances come from it.


16th C Italian

There are two main authors in this area -- Caroso and Negri.

Caroso has two books (Il Ballarino and Nobilta di Dame) -- the latter is available in a translation only version from Julia Sutton. The former is currently available only in Italian.

Negri has a book “La Gratie d’Amore” -- not for the faint hearted. It is available in transcription and translation (done as a university thesis) by G Y Kendall, available from UMI -- consult your nearest university library and they will be able to get you the appropriate order forms.


English (Allemandes and Early Country Dances)

The main source for these dances is the Inns of Court MSS.

The best transcription, translation, and reconstruction of the Allemandes in this book is Peter and Janelle Durham's book Dances from the Inns of Court, which you should find listed in the bibliography in this book.

There is a journal article in Historical Dance that gives a transcription of all of the MSS. They are not very big and the article is worth a look.


English Country Dance

Well, there is only one source for English Country Dance and that is Playford. It’s not period (1651) but used heavily in the SCA.