The Galliard and Tourdion: An Introductory Description

by Justin du Coeur

[ This article appeared in volume 1 of the Letter of Dance. ]

[Construction note: go through this, and italicize all the French. XXX]

This article serves as a quick introduction to one of the most important dance forms of the Renaissance, the galliard (as well as its close cousin, the tourdion). It was originally serialized in three parts: the basic five-step tourdion, easier variations, and slightly more complex variations. This series has been rewritten slightly, to clean up errors and make it flow as a single article.

I recommend that beginners take the sections one at a time, and try to get the hang of each before going on to the next. The first section describes the basic cinq pas -- probably the most important single step in Renaissance dance. The second describes some basic variations, and the third describes some somewhat advanced variations.

Part 1: The Basic Five-Step (Cinq Pas) Tourdion

Much of the Society loves to do processional dances, such as the Pavan. Far too often, however, when this Pavan is followed by a Tourdion or Galliard, the vast majority of those dancing will quickly vanish from the floor, protesting that they either do not know, or can not do, the dance. The following will, I hope, help to alleviate this a little; it is a simple introduction to the basic Tourdion.

First, some terminology. "Tourdion" and "Galliard" are very similar dances. They have largely the same steps, differing primarily in tempo and "showiness". Whereas the Galliard is generally danced to somewhat slower music, giving the gentlemen a chance to jump around and show off their hose to best effect, the Tourdion has quicker music, to which one generally dances a bit more sedately. My description here is intended for a Tourdion (which more often, in my experience, follows a Pavan), but all of it is applicable to the Galliard.

The following sequence is the basic cinq pas (five step), the most elementary and common Galliard sequence. The cinq pas appears in many, many period dances, particularly those of the sixteenth century. Once one has the cinq pas firmly ingrained in the reflexes, one may want to learn more variations to the dance; the only real limit to Galliard variations is the imagination. However, the cinq pas will serve in any basic Tourdion, so I shall leave variations for a later section.

[posture gauche]

Posture Gauche

One begins the Tourdion in a posture. In this position, one foot is slightly in front of the other, and the weight is evenly divided between the feet. In the posture gauche ("left posture", illustrated), the left foot is in front; in the posture droit ("right posture"), the right is in front. Generally, SCA tourdions start in a posture gauche; however, Arbeau (who provides the clearest and simplest descriptions of the Galliard) describes it as starting in a posture droit. The dance is basically the same either way. Note that the full-body illustration shows the feet rather far apart; This appaears to be exaggeration on Arbeau's part. The dance is considerably more graceful if the feet are near to each other, separated by no more than a finger's breadth or two.

[Construction: place illo. of pied en l'air droit here. XXX]

Pied en l'air droit

From the posture gauche, you execute a pied en l'air droit, which basically means that you kick your right foot slightly into the air. As you do this kick, make a very small hop (a petit saut), landing on your left foot. (Every pied en l'air should be accompanied by this hop; I will just assume it from hereon.) This takes one beat, and you should wind up looking rather like the accompanying illustration.

Then do a pied en l'air gauche, kicking the left foot into the air and landing on the right foot. Then do the same again, kicking first the right, then the left foot, into the air. The kicks should be kept small for the Tourdion because a) the music is rather brisk, leaving no time for larger ones, and b) one generally dances this dance holding the lady's hand, and (in the words of Arbeau):

"... he who dances it boisterously causes needless discomfort and jolting to said damsel."
After doing these four small kicks, you do a saut moyen, a small jump into the air. This gives you time to pull the left foot, currently hanging in front, a little behind the right, so that you land in a posture droit (right posture), with the right foot in front. The saut and posture almost always go together, and the combination is called a cadence.

Now you do the same thing, mirror-imaged, kicking left, right, left, and right, then pulling the right foot behind into a posture gauche. The dance continues like this, alternating gauche (left) and droit (right), for as long as the music runs.

One of the great difficulties in learning this dance is remembering which foot is supposed to go where. I recommend learning it as "back foot" and "front foot", instead of "left" and "right". Thus, each cinq pas starts by kicking the rear foot forward, followed by three more kicks, and a jump into the air pulling the front foot behind. Then that same foot that was just pulled behind kicks forward again, and so on.

The music for a Tourdion is generally in three or six, with a slightly syncopated rhythm. For a good example of this rhythm, hum "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (or "God Save the King/Queen" if you prefer it a little closer to period), which is a fine galliard tune, suitable for dancing at the bus stop, waiting on lines, or wherever. One typical Tourdion tune is illustrated below.

A Typical Tourdion Tune, from Arbeau

Arbeau notes that the posture looks more graceful if one sets the rear foot down slightly before the front:

"For when they both come down together it looks as if a sack of grain had been dumped on the ground."
This isn't something that the beginner needs to worry about, but one who has this step sequence down pat may then want to work on the subtleties of the dance.

An SCA Tourdion is typically processional; couples will progress forward slowly while doing the Tourdion. However, it is perfectly acceptable for the set to instead stop, with couples dancing with their partners, instead of as a line of couples. The dancemaster may want to indicate which is preferred, lest those wishing to process be hampered by those who have stopped.

A Simplified Version of the Same Tune

Finally, and most importantly: note that this dance requires practice. It is quite simple to learn the idea, but convincing one's feet is a different matter entirely. Typically, if one practices this once a week, it will take around a month before it becomes an ingrained reflex. Trust me, your feet will eventually learn the dance; until they do, practice it at every opportunity. Once you have learned it, it comes rather easily, and is perhaps the single most useful step sequence you can learn for period dance.

Part 2: Some Variations

One of the beauties of the Galliard is its variety. There are a number of "basic" Galliard steps, each one beat long, and these can be combined in a nearly infinite number of ways. This section gives some favorite five-step variations; Part 3 will show some longer variants.

The Bell Step: Probably the easiest variation is generally known as the "Bell Step", because one's feet move back and forth like the clapper of a bell. This involves one new, rather simple, step. To make a ruade droite (right), you leap onto left foot, raising the right behind you. Don't kick the right foot out (this is a very good way to kick the person behind you, a definite social faux pas), just bring it about halfway up. A ruade gauche is just the same step, mirror-imaged. Both are illustrated below.

[Construction note: put ruade droite and gauche here. XXX]

Ruade Droit and Ruade Gauche

The jargon for the bell step is as follows:

To do it, start in a posture gauche (as depicted earlier), with the left foot in front. Make a little leap, raising the right foot behind you, and landing on your left foot. Now, make another small leap, bringing your left foot up in front, landing on your right foot. Now, do all of that again, first raising the right foot in back, then the left in front. After that is all done, you are left with your left foot hanging in front. Make a somewhat larger jump, bringing the front foot behind to land in a posture droit, with the right foot in front. Now, do the entire thing again, reversing left and right.

This is the simplest Galliard I know, a little easier than the cinq pas (although not as generally useful). I advise new students of the Galliard to have this one down pat before moving onto the harder variants.

The Toe Tap: This variant doesn't have a name of its own that I have ever heard; I call it the "Toe Tap" for reasons that will shortly become obvious. Once again, you need one or two new steps for this. To make a marque pied droit, you leap onto your left foot, bringing the right toe to the instep of the left foot, with the feet parallel. In other words, the right foot is next to the left, but an inch or two further back, with the heel slightly raised. A marque pied gauche is just the same, with the feet reversed.

[Construction note: put marque pied droit and gauche here. XXX]

Marque Pied Droit, Marque Pied Gauche

A marque talon droit is similar to the pied droit. You leap onto your left foot, bringing your right heel to the instep of the left foot.

[Construction note: put marque talon droit and gauche here. XXX]

Marque Talon Droit, Marque Talon Gauche

In jargon, this dance is:

You start, as usual, in a posture gauche. Leap onto the left foot, bringing the right toe to the left foot. Then, with another tiny jump, bring the right heel to the left foot (yes, letting the toe go where it may -- the dance may not be simple, but it isn't intended to cripple you). Then, switch feet, landing on the right foot, and bringing first the left toe, then the left heel, to the right instep. Finally, leap up, bringing the front (left) foot behind, to land in a posture droit. Then, reverse the whole thing.

Kick the Shins: This one, as in the one before, has no "real" name that I have stumbled across, so I have named it descriptively. Again, you need one new step for this Galliard. To make a pied croise droit, leap onto your left foot, bringing your right foot up in front of your left shin with a slight kick (but don't actually kick the leg, just kick in front of it). A pied croise gauche is the reverse, jumping onto the right foot and bringing the left up.


Pied Croise Droit, Pied Croise Gauche

The terminology for this dance:

Jump onto your left foot, bringing the right up in front of the left shin with a small kick. Then, make another small leap, and another small kick with the right foot. Then switch feet, leaping onto the right, and bringing the left up for two kicks. Jump up into the air, and bring the front (left) foot behind into a posture droit.

This dance is fairly easy to do, but rather hard to make look nice. The kicks must be very crisp and precise, otherwise it looks like you are jumping onto one foot and wiggling the other in front of it. Practice it until you have very good control of where the front foot is going. (This can take quite a while -- after several years, I still don't do it nearly as well as I might like).

The Knot Step: I may as well finish off with a bit of a challenge here; the first few times you try this one, your feet are likely to get rather tangled. It is an Italian step, and comes to the SCA from the work of Dr. Ingrid Brainard.

The basic element of the Knot is a step known as the grappo in Italian. It is somewhat like a ruade step, in that it involves putting your foot backwards. However, instead of simply raising the foot behind you, you actually place it behind the standing leg's ankle. Thus, the right grappo puts your right ankle behind (maybe touching) the left, and the left grappo puts the left ankle behind the right. Try it, and you'll start to understand why this is known as the knot.

The steps for a five-step grappo sequence are:

Starting in the usual posture gauche, bring your right amkle up behind your left. Then, bring the left up, then the right again. Jump onto your right foot, bringing the left up in front, then make a leap (all in chorus, now), bringing the front foot behind into a posture droit. Then reverse the entire thing.

This is a tricky step, and should be given some practice before you try it at an event -- they don't call it the Knot step for nothing...

Practice these steps; they are a good sampling of five-step galliards. Those who are a bit ambitious can look into Orchesography, where most of these come from -- a number of other variants are described therein, and I have described all the steps you will need to do most of them.

Note that you needn't feel constrained to a single variation at a time. In a typical free Galliard, one will bring in a number of variants, stringing them together in almost any way. Indeed, much of the artistry in Galliard dance is in combining the steps prettily -- a choice combination, danced well, can truly wow an audience in ways that a single variant never could.

Part III: Some Advanced Galliards

In this section, I will be using the term greve frequently. Remember that that is basically the same thing as a pied en l'air, except that you bring the leg up a little higher, accentuating the move a bit more. Thus, a greve droit means bring the right leg up in front of you, and greve gauche means to bring the left leg up. However, don't give in to the temptation to make this look like a Roxy high-kick; bringing the leg up a little higher means just that: a little.

The Travelling Step: This next step is just a little harder than the basic ones, and is quite useful, for it allows you to move around on the dance floor more than the ordinary five-steps do. One more concept must be introduced first, though: the entretaille. An entretaille is basically a very small hop, done before a normal step. It is generally found before a pied en l'air or greve step. Say that you are going from a ruade droit (with your right foot behind you) to a greve gauche (with your left foot in front). Normally, you just do the change of feet, bringing the right down and the left up, with no more bounce than is natural. However, if the dance says to:

then you would make a distinct (albeit small) hop as you changed feet. The distinction is subtle, but if you have gotten this far, it is something that you should be thinking about.

The figure for the travelling step is:

Arbeau appends a note to his description, saying,

"... instead of placing the soles of both feet on the ground for the said posture they support themselves on the heel of the foot in front and keep the knee rigid, not bent, believing this to be more graceful."
Thus, putting it together, you start by bringing your right leg up in front of you (the greve droit). Now, bring that leg straight down, letting the knee straighten and letting your weight come forward a little. (In effect, taking a small step forward on the right foot.) Now, do the entretaille, hopping slightly as you bring the right leg up again into another greve droit. Then change feet, bringing the left leg forward, and end with the usual leap into a posture droit.

Once this step is well practiced, it can be used to move quite quickly across the dance floor. By varying how you do the posture, you can make the step as short or long as you please, while maintaining a modicum of grace.

The Eleven Step: now, we move into a new realm of the Galliard. An eleven step galliard is done in basically the same way as a five-step; the major difference is that you use twice the time for each figure. In other words, where a five step galliard generally consists of four steps, followed by a cadenza, an eleven step generally consists of ten steps, followed by a cadenza. Needless to say, the figures get rather more complex, although it is really not much more difficult than a five step.

The most common eleven step, the first described in Orchesography, has the following pattern:

This really isn't as hard as it looks, just long. You start by bringing your right leg up behind you. Then do a "cut", hopping onto the right as you bring the left forward. Swing the left foot behind you, then forward again. Bring your right up in back again, landing on the left. Do another "cut", bringing the left forward. Swing the left back again, then "cut" the left forward, hopping as you bring the right up in front. Swing the right back, and "cut" it forward as you bring the left up in front. Finally, do a leap into a posture droit.

I've found that this is one of those dances that are easiest to learn with a little mantra. If you are verbally inclined, learn this first, and use it to teach your feet the dance. As I say it, it goes, "back-front-swing-swing-back-front-swing-cut-swing-cut-and-change". If you think about it for a second, you will see that each word in this chant corresponds to a one-beat movement in the dance. (Except the "and-change", which really means jump, landing in a posture -- two beats.) Try the figure out. It typically takes about as long to learn your first eleven step as it does your first five step, so don't get discouraged. With practice, it will come, and it looks quite impressive once you have it.

I'll leave off on this article with one more eleven step. The pattern for this one is:

Again, it is pretty straightforward if you think about it. Bring your right foot up behind, then cut it forward, hopping as you bring the left foot up in front. Then do all that again, right behind, then left in front. Then, quickly come down into a posture droit, the right foot in front. Bring the right leg up into the greve. Then reverse that, going into a posture gauche (left foot in front), and bringing the left leg up. Then swing the left foot back, then forward again, and leap into the posture droit to finish. You can use this last swinging motion to your benefit, giving a little more upward motion to do a really good jump into the posture.

If you found the chant useful for the previous figure, you might want to use the following for this one: "back-front-back-front-down-up-down-up-swing-swing-and-change."


Orchesography, Thoinot Arbeau, (1589). Translated by Mary Stewart Evans, with notes by Julia Sutton, Dover Books, 1967.