Saltarello `La Regina'

by Geffrei Louarn de Kaermeriadec

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

La Regina is a reconstructed dance choreographed to the famous treble-time Saltarello in C, found in a late 14th century manuscript from northern Italy. [1]

The dance is done in couples facing the musicians. It is lively and frank in spirit, well suited to nobles in a vernal mood, and it has proved successful here in the Northeast.


La Regina is danced in saltarello steps. The saltarello single is `step-hop', the double is `step-step-step-hop'. All figures begin on the inside foot (ie, the one closest to the partner).

single forward on the inside foot
single forward on the outside foot
single away from partner
single towards partner
double forward on the inside foot
double backwards on the outside foot


The dance follows a verse-chorus structure, with four verses of varying lengths, each of which is played twice, followed by the chorus both times. Hands are joined throughout, except where noted otherwise.

Verse A:

si so. Chorus (di sa st db). si so. Chorus.

Verse B:

Lords turn si so in place, turning towards their partners and passing under their arms. Ladies do same. Chorus. Ladies turn si so in place. Lords do same. Chorus.

Verse C:

Drop hands. Lords dance si so si so around ladies, passing in front. Take hands. Chorus. Drop hands. Ladies dance si so si so around lords, passing in front. Take hands. Chorus.

Verse D:

All turn two times around with partner by right hands in six single steps. Chorus. Turn left hands in six single steps. Chorus.


It is one of the great pities of the SCA that there is almost no medieval dancing. This is, in part, due to the lack of evidence: there survive no medieval choreographies apart from 15th century basse danse. Basse danses are almost never done, partly because they are long and difficult to remember, partly because their stateliness makes them rather an acquired taste. There were sprightlier dances during the Middle Ages, but nobody had the foresight and consideration to write them down.

However, some lively dance tunes were preserved, and it is possible to use them to choreograph dances which are both plausible within our knowledge of medieval dance, and easily accessible to the average Scadian. This is the idea which underlies La Regina, a dance which expresses the liveliness of its music in a form consonant with documentation from the period. I have attempted to set forth the means by which this was done, partly so that others may critique the work, but mostly in the hope that others will build upon it: there are a lot of very good dance tunes from the Middle Ages crying out for choreography.

The music itself dictated the general character of this dance. It is described in the manuscript as a `saltarello', and the springiness of the melody confirms the idea that it should be danced in lively saltarello steps. The use of inside foot is somewhat anomalous for period dance: it was required to get the `apart-together' figure in the chorus (which is documented). It would be possible to do the dance on the left foot, in which case both partners would move sideways together in the chorus.

The form of the dance is also based on the form of the music. Like many medieval dance tunes, it has `verses' and a `chorus': each verse is played twice, once followed by the `open' version of the chorus, once followed by the `closed' version. The chorus may be divided up as follows: 4,2,2,4.[2]

The verses are of various lengths:

1) 2,2
2) 2,2,2,2
3) 2,2,2,2
4) 2,2,2,2,2,2

Obviously, the division of the music into singles and doubles is a matter of opinion, and this division is based essentially on the gut-feeling of a dancer and musician.[3]

The choice of formations is based largely on 14th-15th century visual evidence and dances. The apart-together section of the chorus was inspired by an early 15th century Catalan picture (figure 1). The turning figure of the second verse is quire well documented in 15th century Italian art (figure 2). The dance-around of the third verse is reminiscent of a similar figure in `Geloxia'. A two-hand turning figure, comparable to the fourth verse, is represented in 15th century art (figure 3). The doubles forward and back, as well as the single steps of the opening verse, can be found in the 16th century almain, a dance genetically related to the saltarello.

[Editor's Note: my apologies for the mediocre quality of the figures; by the time they get to you, they are fourth-generation copies, with the expected decline in clarity.]

The most suitable recorded version known to me is on the album Chansons der Troubadours by the Studio der Frühen Musik.

[Figure 3 was completely illegible, so I didn't scan it. -- greg ]

Select Bibliography

Patrizia Castelli, Maurizio Mingardi, Maurizio Padovan, eds., Mesvra et Arte del Danzare (Pesaro, 1987). A very rich source of illustrations for 14th-15th century Italian dance.

Ingrid Brainard, The Art of Courtly Dancing in the Early Renaissance (West Newton, MA, 1981) The standard work on the subject.

Timothy McGee, Medieval Instrumental Dances (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1981) Contains the most recent edition of the Saltarello.

Patri J. Pugliese and Joseph Cassazza, Practise for Dauncinge (Cambridge, MA, 1980) A good source for the 16th century almain.

Music for "La Regina"

[With Geffrei's article, I had requested music to La Regina, I got not one but two sheets of it, from Eloise of Coulter (who sent me a published version) and Joshua ibn-Eleazar (who went back to the original and reconstructed it anew). My deepest thanks to both. The following is from Joshua's letter -- Justin]

Enclosed are three versions of the Saltarello from BL Add. ms. 29987, ff 62v-63r, which I have labelled "short form", "common form", and "long form". The three differ in whether certain measures are repeated. There is a notation in the ms which might or might not mean "repeat everything between these marks"; the short form ignores this notation, while the long form assumes it means "repeat" everywhere it occurs. The "common form", a compromise between the two, is approximately the way the piece is played on most recordings; I have no idea how this compromise was reached, since the piece does not appear in any other primary source.

[The printed version is condensed from the "common form", which appears to match the choreography to La Regina. The other two versions are available from the Letter for a SASE. -- Justin]


[1] British Library Add. 29987 f62v, 63r

[2] `2' represents the time of a single step, 4 the time of a double step.

[3] Note that the manuscript form of the chorus has only 4,2,4. Most written and recorded versions of the music choose to double the middle part; however, it would be possible to dance it as written in the manuscript, in which case the dance should start on the left foot, and the repeats will be on the right.