Burgundian Basse Dance:A Reconstruction of the Brussels MS

[ This article appeared in volume 2 of the Letter of Dance. ]

by Daniel of Falling Rocks

based on a reconstruction by the Carolingian Accademia della Danza

For the SCA, Burgundian basse dances form an ideal set of dances for general teaching that are distinct from both the English country repertoire and Arbeau's branle repertoire. Though they have a few steps one must learn (four), and a few very simple patterns (eight generally), once the initial teaching is done, each dance could be described in less than a minute. As an example, when reconstructing the steps for the dances, after analyzing the basic patterns, we took a piece of music and both constructed a typical dance for it, and taught it, in a couple of minutes.

The current state of these dances in the SCA is, however, not so straightforward. This repertoire is not a common one. Where it does occur, it is performed using steps other than those indicated in the manuscripts. In addition, the actual dances done are far from typical representatives of the repertoire. There is good reason for this, in that to our modern ideas of social interaction, especially during dancing, the typical dances of this type are easy to understand and easy to execute, and therefore not the most interesting. However, the mere volume of information available regarding these dances demands that we at least teach them.

The goal of this article is to teach enough about Burgundian dances to allow any reader to learn to dance them, as well as to teach enough theory for a dance teacher to use the article to teach them.

Anywhere in the following, references to "the manuscripts" refer to the Brussels manuscript and Toulouze. In the few places where they are different, they are separately referenced. All quotes are from our translation of the Brussels manuscript in issue 14 [p.11 above - Ed].

Immediately following will be the necessary basics one needs to learn and teach these dances as we have reconstructed them. Following these basics will be a discussion of the history of these dances, as well as an analysis of several patterns found within the repertoire.


In all of the following, I will use the word "tempo" to mean one measure of the dance. For most of the music associated with this type of dance, this corresponds exactly with one note of the tenor line of the music.

There are four steps that one must learn for this repertoire: simple steps, double steps, desmarches, and branles.

Simple Steps

A simple, or single, step is, in this repertoire, actually one of the more difficult to do. The manuscripts say:

The two simple steps are done advancing and the first step is done with the left foot raising the body and making a single step forward, and the second step is done with the right foot and one must raise the body and step a little forward.

This is a relatively clear description. A simple on the left is a step forward with the left foot, and a simple on the right is a step forward with the right foot. A pair involves stepping forward with the left foot, and then with the right (note the lack of any joining of feet). One simple takes half a tempo, and simple steps are always and without exception in this repertoire done in pairs.

The main difficulty arises from the words eslevant and enclinant. This is one of the few places where the manuscripts differ. (Where Brussels says eslevant, at the italicized word in the above translation, Toulouze says enclinant. Note that for the second instance of the word "raise", they both use the word elever.). We reconstructed this as meaning a continuous and even raising of the body throughout the step, as if up an incline. Another possible interpretation is to step forward as if stepping over a small brick, in a continuous, rounded motion. We chose the former for purely aesthetic reasons.


The double step is probably the easiest of the repertoire. The manuscripts say:

The first double step is done with the left foot; one must raise one's body and go three steps forward lightly, the first with the left foot, the second with the right foot, and the third with the left like the first. The second double step must be done with the right foot and one must lift one's body similarly, and then go three steps forward, the first with the right foot, the second with the left foot, and the third with the right. The third double step is done with the left foot like the first. The fourth is done with the right foot like the second. The fifth is done with the left foot like the first and like the third.

We interpreted this as meaning to simply rise onto the balls of the feet and take three steps forward. One should sink the heel to the ground between doubles, because the manuscript specifically mentions that the second step starts with the same raising of the body as the first.

Another possible reconstruction is to take three steps forward, rising gradually throughout the whole. We decided on the former, again for aesthetic reasons.

The double step takes a full tempo.


The manuscripts say:

The branle must start with the left foot and end with the right foot, and is called a branle because one makes it shaking [swaying] with one foot towards the other.

This was actually one of the more difficult steps to reconstruct, although each of our theories was rather simple in execution. The first of the two predominant theories is to step left with the left foot and bring your right foot to join it, ending with the weight on the right. To this, one must again add some intricacies; in this case, one sways a little as the weight is shifting back to the right foot in the end, much as in a sixteenth-century Italian ripresa.

The second of our major theories is as follows: step left with the left foot, close the right foot to it (keeping the weight on the left); then step right with the right foot, and close the left to it (this time keeping the weight on the right).

The points for and against each of these should be noted. In the second case, we have interpreted, "end with the right foot" to mean "end with the weight on the right foot", whereas the first assumes it means, "end by moving the right foot." It is probable that either is valid. It should be noted that the second is very similar to the way we have traditionally done this step (as transmitted to us from Dr. Ingrid Brainard; step left with the left foot, swing the weight over to it without moving the right foot, swing the weight back, and close the left foot to the right. See the section of this article dealing with the history of these dances in the SCA for further information), and the second reconstruction may be influenced by and favored because of the older tradition. Also, the main problem with reconstructing the step is inherent in the phrase, "en branle" (or, "en branlant," in Toulouze). For a short discussion of this word and its meaning, see the translation of the Brussels manuscript.

The main argument for the first is that it seems a more accurate reconstruction of the literal meaning of the manuscripts. The main argument for the second is that it looks better. Additionally, the first ends to the left of where it began.

There are enough avenues of attack for the problem of how to do this step that I would be surprised if we learned nothing more in the next few years. In particular, a study of the complete evolution of this step, from these manuscripts, through the early sixteenth century, and on through Arbeau would probably be most enlightening. One interesting point that I will mention here is that there is a related step termed the congé. This step appears in Arena1 and Arbeau.2 The former uses it in place of the branle; the latter uses it at the end of each dance (or large section thereof). According to Baron Patri, Coplande says that congé and branle are regional terms for the same step.3


The desmarche was not a particularly difficult step to reconstruct in this case, but like the branle, it would benefit much from an evolutionary study. I would suspect the major benefits to reconstruction would, however, be in other periods, most especially the early to middle sixteenth century, where Moderne says very little about how to actually do the step. Our manuscripts say:

Firstly, a single desmarche ought to be made with the right foot retreating and is called the desmarche because one draws back, and ought to lift one's body, and bring the right foot back, close to the other foot.

The second desmarche must be made with the left foot, lifting the body and turning it a little towards the lady; and then bringing the right foot near the left foot raising the body similarly.

The third must be done with the right foot like the first and must be done in the above-mentioned place where the first is done.

The description of the first desmarche is rather confusing. It says to both begin and end by moving the right foot backwards, and to end with the feet together. However, it never says to move the left foot. Also, it says that for the second desmarche, one begins with the left and ends with the right. Either one is an error in the manuscript, they are describing different aspects of the same motion, or we (or the author) are totally off base. We opted for the first, saying that the description of the first desmarche was an error, and that it should end,

...and bring the left foot back, close to the other foot.

Note that this is a change from the manuscript, and should therefore be read with extreme caution. If anyone can devise a reconstruction that reconciles all the various parts of the description without changing them, we would very much like to know.

Doing this, the step becomes fairly simple. One first steps back with the right foot (perhaps after drawing it forward first so that stepping backwards is actually a step). One then shifts the weight back to it, lifting the body at some point in the process of drawing it back. We decided to treat it as moving the body in a smooth arc-like motion as if drawing it over a brick, much as in the second reconstruction of the single step (the one we did not use), only traveling the other direction. One then draws the forward foot back and joins the feet together, keeping the weight on the right foot. The second step is done identically, everywhere switching "right" with "left."

During the second of the desmarches, there is a specific note to turn a little towards the lady (presumably this is directed to the gentleman). Ignoring this instruction leads one naturally to turn slightly apart from the lady on this step. We have therefore theorized that this is intended to remind the gentleman not to turn away, but to keep his attention on his lady. Presumably, the lady should do the same on the first and third desmarches.

It is noted that in this step is another of the few places where the two manuscripts differ. As in the simple step, Brussels says en eslevant son corps (lifting one's body) while Toulouze says enclinant... (inclining...). We can account for this difference in the description of the desmarche in a similar manner to that used in understanding the simple step. We used one of the interpretations we had discussed for the simple step, though not the same one that we chose above (mainly for aesthetic reasons). These two should probably be consistent.

We were inclined here to take the difference in wording to be a description of two different aspects of the same step. Whereas Brussels is describing the raising of the body as the weight begins to draw back, Toulouze is describing the sinking at the very end. Another interpretation is that one of the manuscripts is correcting the style of the other (either the style had changed, or it simply differed between authors). However, I do not think enough is known of the Brussels manuscript to lend any weight to this interpretation.

The Reverence

The desmarche is integrally related to two other steps: the reverence, and the reprise. There are two passages in our manuscripts that relate to what we have tended to call a reverence.

Note that all basse dance starts with a desmarche and ends with a branle...

Basse dance major starts with basse dance; for the first note, which is named the desmarche, one pays respect to the lady in inclining oneself towards her and this inclination must be done with the left foot.

Within the SCA, the first note or tempo in many dances is treated as a reverence. The authors of these manuscripts seem to imply, however, that one does a step quite common within the dance, but modifies it slightly so as to instill it with a sense of reverence, but not essentially changing the step. In effect, they seem to be asking for a sort of ornamentation to a normal desmarche.

In the tabulations of dances, desmarches are generally written as lower-case r's. The first one in each dance, however, is upper-case, and this has been treated as meaning, not desmarche, but reverence. I would argue that this is not the case for two reasons. First of all, Toulouze gives, at the end of his introduction, a list of step abbreviations, wherein he states that R (note the capital; all of the abbreviations are here capitalized) stands for "desmarche." Not only does he fail to mention the reverence, he uses the purported reverence symbol here to mean something different. I would argue that the first desmarche is capitalized in each dance simply because it is first. Secondly, there is one dance within the Brussels manuscript that has within its (rather odd) tabulature a step referred to as honeur.4 For obvious and purely linguistic reasons, I would argue that this is what we would consider the reverence of this repertoire. Unfortunately, no evidence is contained to indicate the manner in which the step is actually done.

With regards to how this step is actually done here, we again have come up with two competing reconstructions. There is but one difference between the two. In one, the dancer ends the step a little bit back from where he began, as in a normal desmarche. In the other, instead of drawing the left foot back to meet the right, one draws the right foot forward again to meet the left. The argument for the latter is that it is more consistent with reverences from other repertoires in this general time period. The argument for the former is that it is more consistent with an ornamented desmarche of this style.

It should also be mentioned that, as far is indicated in the manuscripts, the lady and the gentleman are doing the same thing for this step and for every other step in this repertoire. If there was any difference, there is no note of it among the regular dances we are considering.

The Reprise

The other term of note for this section is the reprise. As all the later manuscripts, such as Moderne and Arena, mention the reprise where the Brussels manuscript and Toulouze discuss the desmarche, the two are clearly related. The relation turns out to be very simple. Coplande, in his translation of an unknown French source, says "And ye ought to wyte that in some places of fraunce thay call the repryses, desmarches and the braule they call, conge, in englyshe leue." Patri takes this to mean that the terminology is regional.5


These are all the steps one must know. Next, we will analyze the patterns of the dances.

The largest categorization within basse dances is also the one which we will least often use, at least for the moment. Our manuscripts say,

Item: It is to be noted that there are two types of basse dances. They are, namely, basse dance minor and basse dance major. Basse dance major starts with basse dance; for the first note, which is named the desmarche, one pays respect to the lady in inclining oneself towards her and this inclination must be done with the left foot.

Basse dance minor begins with a Pas de Breban and with the first note one does not pay respect to the lady.

It should first be noted that nearly all of the dances listed in our manuscripts are major. There are only two minor basse dances in each manuscript, and they are the same two. Besides this, we have the definite problem that we do not know what a Pas de Breban is. We have seen some indications that it may simply be a series of saltarelli, or something analogous, in the first draft of a translation of one of the extant copies of Domenico da Piacenza's De arte saltandi & choreas ducendi. It is thought that "Breban" refers to the Netherlands. Any information regarding this step would be greatly appreciated.

In any case, lacking evidence of how the minor dances are to be done, and considering their basic paucity, we will restrict ourselves herein to major basse dance.

Major basse dance begins with a desmarche (made reverently, as described in the discussion on the reverence above), and a branle. After the initial two tempi, the rest of the dance is made up of several set "measures" or figures. Each measure begins with two simple steps, followed by some (odd) number of doubles. Following this, one may or may not make two more simple steps, but will then do some (odd) number of desmarches (whether or not the simple steps were done). The figure then ends with a branle. As a matter of fact, the branle seems to define the end of a figure. In non-standard dances, the number of figures claimed is always the number of branles, less the initial branle. There are some differences between this theory and some of the tabulations in Toulouze, but they seem to be clerical errors, as the dances seem to differ with the music by the length of time for the appropriate number of missing branles, and the choreography is otherwise the same as in the Brussels manuscript.6

The greatest incompatibility between the two works of this period and the works of the later period of basse dance is in the figures themselves. Most obviously, not once in all of Moderne or Arena are three reprises done together sequentially in the same figure. Even ignoring that, the large and medium figures (see below) of Moderne are completely different from those of Brussels and Toulouze.

In order to know the figures of this repertoire, two orthagonal classifications must be understood.

The first classification refers to the number of double steps. Each figure has either one, three, or five double steps. If five, the figure is a grand, or "large," figure. If three, the figure is a moyen, or "medium," figure. Finally, if there is only one double, the figure is petit, or "small."

The second classification indicates what one does after the doubles. Usually, this is merely an indication as to whether there are simples after the doubles. A "perfect" figure includes them, while an "imperfect" figure does not.

Within the manuscripts, the "perfection" of the figure indicates slightly more than simply the existence of simples, though. It also indicates whether one then does one or three desmarches (one never does any other number). In 97% of the normal (i.e grand, moyen, or petit) figures represented, one does three desmarches. There are, however, a few figures with only one desmarche. The problem is that our manuscripts differ as to exactly what each figure is called. Brussels says:

Item: It is to be noted that there are some measures in basse dance which are very perfect; the others are more than perfect; the others are perfect, and the others, imperfect.

The very perfect measures are those which have single steps before and after the double steps, with three desmarches and a branle.

The others are called more than perfect and are those which have single steps before and after the double steps, with one desmarche and a branle.

The others are called imperfect, which have single steps before the double steps, but not after, with three desmarches and a branle.

Note that four types of measures have been enumerated, while but three have been described. Toulouze is more consistent, both enumerating and describing three types:

Note also that there are some measures of basse dance which are perfect, some more than perfect, and others imperfect. The perfect measures are those which have single paces before and after the double paces, followed by three desmarches and one branle. The others are called more than perfect and are those which have single paces before and after the double paces, followed by one desmarche and one branle. The others, called imperfect, have single paces before but not after the double paces, followed by three desmarches and one branle.7

These three types correspond to the ones in the Brussels manuscript in description, though not in name. We were inclined to use the terminology from Toulouze for several reasons. First of all, it is internally consistent, not enumerating an extra term. Secondly, it is more consistent with the rest of the manuscript. In the dance Denise, in Brussels, the description of the dance is "Denise a lviii notes a vi mesures toutes parfaites comme il appert" (Denise in 58 notes in 6 measures, all perfect as it appears). The tabulation has a series of measures, each conforming to Toulouze's description of a perfect measure. (Note that Brussels has no description of a "perfect" measure.) The only other reference in the dances to perfect measures is in La Doulz Espoir (Lespoyr in Toulouze), but Brussels does not include the tabulation for this dance as a check. Numerical arguments limit the possibilities, however, to what Toulouze calls perfect measures.

There is still a problem with what Toulouze calls a pluperfect, or more than perfect, measure. While it is a perfectly reasonable description, it is the other type of measure with one desmarche that appears much more often; that is the measure that has simples before but not after the doubles, and one desmarche and a branle. While this type of figure appears nine times between the two manuscripts, what Toulouze calls a pluperfect figure appears but once. I have no particular solution to this problem of terminology, but as these measures are so uncommon, I do not feel this is an especially worrisome problem.

If only to confuse the issue, one should look at what Coplande says:

And somtyme is made .ii. syngles after the doubles, & before the riprinses [sic], & that is done when the measures ben parfite.8

And in his tabulations, he lists figures ending with two singles and either one or three reprises and a braule as "Parfyte"; figures ending with one or three reprises directly after the doubles, and then a braule are labeled as "Unparfyte." There is one exception, however, in the dance La Brette, wherein there are four measures, all ending with one reprise and a braule, some with and some without singles after the doubles, labeled "Half Parfyte." Everything with 3 reprises is labeled as to our previous scheme.9 Given the ambiguities of this work, for the sake of ease of learning, we will use only perfect and imperfect measures where possible; where impossible, we will not use these shorthands.

There are two common pieces of these dances that do not fit this standard classification. The first of these begins with two simple steps, which are followed by a double step, a desmarche, a double step, and another desmarche; all of this is ended with a branle.

This is the only common figure in this repertoire which is found in the later book of Moderne in the same exact form; while Moderne includes all of the perfect and imperfect figures (e.g. large perfect, etc.), the meaning of these terms is not the same in his work. Given its incompatibility with the general classification scheme used in these dances, the frequency with which this figure appears is remarkable: 32 times in Brussels (of a total of 245 figures listed). This makes it the third most common figure in the manuscript, less common than only the two moyen measures.

The other common unclassified piece is a prefix that is added to other figures in some dances. This is a short prefix of two simples, a double, and a desmarche. This is not a figure in and of itself, for the dances are very explicit in how many figures they contain, and this simply is not counted as such. In the fifteen places it appears in the Brussels manuscript, it is always added to a moyen (medium) measure, be it perfect or imperfect.

Some Example Dances

Having now fully described the individual measures of this repertoire, we will go through nine different dances from Brussels and Toulouze. Music for these nine is included in this issue. Afterwards, I will list a complete tabulation of the dances in our manuscripts, but those not noted first will not be given with music. This latter tabulation is for the purpose of being able to use other music a reader may find. In the following, some dances will be described as "typical." What I mean by this is that the dance in question is made up only of perfect and imperfect measures, and the two unclassified measures. I catagorized those dances with the unclassified parts as typical because of their prevalence.

La Tantaine (B12, T35)

La Tantaine is composed of a large perfect measure, a medium imperfect measure, a small perfect measure, and another medium imperfect measure. It appears in identical form, in both sources, and is utterly typical in all respects.

Barbesieux (B13, T26)

The version of this dance in the Brussels manuscript consists of a prefixed medium perfect measure (prefixed as described above), followed by the unclassified figure mentioned above, with all of this repeated. The version in Toulouze (a mistranscribed large perfect measure, followed by a prefixed medium perfect measure, followed by a small imperfect measure) simply does not fit the music, and is clearly incorrectly written. It can be extended in any number of ways, which I will not go into here.

This dance shows a number of things. First of all, it gives examples of both unclassified figures, in a very typical usage. Secondly, the version in Brussels shows the strict alternation of figures common in this repertoire. It is pretty much a standard dance, though not obviously so from the figure descriptions in the introduction.

Le Petit Rouen (B16, T1)

This is a typical imperfect dance (i.e. all its measures are imperfect). It is composed, in both manuscripts, of a large measure, a small measure, a medium measure, another small measure, and finally, another medium measure. This shows another form of the alternation mentioned above; not quite strictly alternating, there is but one measure (usually the first or last) which does not follow the alternation.

Maistresse (B18, T3)

Another typical imperfect dance, Maistresse is composed of five measures, all imperfect: a large, a small, another large, another small, and a medium measure.

Alenchon (B21, T40)

This dance is unusual in that it is composed of but three measures. They are: a prefixed medium perfect measure, a small perfect measure, and a medium perfect measure. This is nearly the only choreography in Brussels with only three figures; it does, however, appear as the choreography of several other dances: Mamour, La Portingaloise, Ma Mieulx Ammee, and La Non Pareille. Passe Rose is the only other dance in Brussels with but three figures, and it is identical, except that the medium measures are imperfect. In Toulouze, Mamour and Ma Mieulx Ammee have the former (perfect) choreography, while Passe Rose has the latter (partially imperfect) choreography. La Non Pareille is the only one of the dances that does not appear in Toulouze. The other two have changed form. In Toulouze, Alenchon consists of a medium imperfect measure, the unclassified measure, a medium perfect measure, and another unclassified figure.

There are three other dances in Toulouze with but three figures marked. The first is Barbesieux, which is in error, as said above (the book says it has four figures, but only lists three). The second is La Joyeulx Espoyr, which is extremely odd for a regular dance (among other things, it has two figures with but one desmarche). The third is Joyeusement, which lists but 3 figures, but claims and has music for 5, so is also in error.

What does all of this tell us about the repertoire? First of all, there was not a universal agreement on how a dance was done. Also, that more than one piece of music are used for the same dance is a curiosity that will become a distinct pattern later, in Moderne and Arena.10 I have not done a similar comparison of the music, so can not say if this pattern extends both ways.

Le Doulz Expoir (B26) Lespoyr (T24)

This is one of the few dances where the Brussels manuscript makes a mistake. It says that the dance is composed of 42 notes in six perfect measures, but gives music with sixty-two notes. More importantly, it does not list what the measures are. Luckily, Toulouze does. The dance is composed of a strict alternation of large and medium perfect measures, beginning with the large one. If one takes the alternation to be mandatory, then the only possibilities are this and its reverse. As we shall see, the alternation in each of these dances begins with the larger of the two figures, so there is really but one possibility for this dance.

Bayonne (B35, T31)

This is one of the very few dances in the Brussels manuscript with figures with but one desmarche. It is composed of a prefixed medium perfect measure, followed by a small imperfect measure with one desmarche (i.e., ssdrb), followed by a prefixed medium imperfect measure, followed by another small imperfect measure with one desmarche. Toulouze has a much more typical version: a medium perfect measure, a small perfect measure, another medium perfect measure, and a small imperfect measure. Again, this shows a mutability in the dance, as more than one possibility is done to the same music.

Denise (B53)

This is a typical dance, with all measures perfect. It is composed of a large measure, a medium measure, another large measure, another medium measure, a small measure, and another medium measure.

Cassule la Nouvelle (T10)

This dance is included as it is the one typical Burgundian basse dance currently done in the SCA, as far as I know. It is found in Toulouze, and consists of a large imperfect measure followed by a small perfect measure, another large imperfect measure, another small perfect measure, and a medium imperfect measure.

Complete tabulatures from each manuscript

The following are as they appear in the manuscript, uncorrected. There are far more inconsistencies in Toulouze than Brussels, but most of them can be easily corrected, especially with the two choreographies side by side.

Notes for the table following:

Any of the above figures (p, m, g, P, M, and G) with a * after it indicates that there is but one desmarche in the given figure. Any without a * can be assumed to have three desmarches.

A blank entry indicates that the given dance is not found in that work.

Table 1
Brussels Manuscript L'Art et Instruction de Bien Dancer (Toulouze)
Name of Dance # b/m Tabulation # b/m Tabulation
Beaulte B01 39/4 zM Z zM P T25 39/4 zM Z ssbdr M P
Mamie B02 31/4 M P M p*
Engoulesme B03 35/4 zM p M p T29 35/4 zM p M p
La Belle B04 31/4 M P M p* T30 31/4 m p m P
La Margarite B05 38/5 m Z m Z m T47 38/5 m Z m Z m
Luises B06 33/4 M P M p
La Franchoise B07 59/6 g m g m g zm
Le Rosin B08 42/5 g Z g Z m
La Basse Danse du Roy despaingne B09 44/6 m m* m Z m Z
Avignon B10 44/6 m Z m Z m Z T13 44/6 g Z m ssb Z m Z
Je Languise B11 44/6 m p m Z m p T14 44/5 g P g P m
La Tantaine B12 36/4 G m P m T35 36/4 G m P m
Barbesieux B13 38/4 zM Z zM Z T36 37/4 ssdddddssrrrd zM p
La Rochelle B14 32/4 M p M p T37 34/4 M p m P
Orleans B15 36/4 G m P m T38 37/4 G m P m
Le Petit Rouen B16 40/5 g p m p m T01 40/5 g p m p m
Filles a Marier B17 32/4 M p M p T02 32/2 M p M p
Maistresse B18 42/5 g p g p m T03 42/5 g p g p m
Le Hault et Le Bas B19 32/4 M P M p11 T04 32/4 M P m p
Mamour B20 30/3 zM P M T39 31/4 zM P m
Alenchon B21 30/3 zM P M T40 30/4 m Z M Z
La Portingaloise B22 30/3 zM P M T41 30/4 m Z m Z
Sans faire de vous departie B23 55/5 G zm g zm g
Direfois avant que morir B24 44/6 m Z m Z m Z
Beaulte de Castille B25 (ssd h d)x312 (ssdddrrrssdrrrssd) T19 ssdhd ssdhd sshd m* p* ssd
Le Doulz Espoir B26 42/613
Lespoyr T24 62/5 G M G* M G M
Lyzon B27 34/4 M P M P
Le Petit Roysin B28 32/4 M p M p T15 32/4 M m M Z
Le Grand Roysin T12 42/5 g p g ssdrrq14 dddrrrb
Ma Mieulx Ammee B29 30/3 zM P M T16 30/4 zM ssd ssdssrrr M
La Danse de Ravestain B30 bssddd
Triste Plaisir B31 42/5 g p g p m T06 42/5 g p g p m
Le Grand Rouen B32 48/5 g m g m g
Mon Leal Desir B33 56/6 g m g m g m
Le Mois de May B34 34/4 M P M P T05 34/3 M P M dssrrrb
Bayonne B35 33/4 zM p* zm p* T31 33/4 M P M p
La Navaroise B36 32/4 M Z M Z T32 32/4 ssdddssrrr Z M Z
Barcelonne B37 34/4 M P M P T33 34/4 M P M P
Flourentine B38 44/6 p* Z m Z m Z15 T34 45/5 g p g p m
La Potevinne B39 44/6 m Z m Z m Z T07 44/5 g p g p m
Languir en Mille Destresse B40 36/3 G m P m T08 36/4 G m P m
La Berdelete B41 44/6 m Z m Z m Z
Le Joieux de Brucelles B42 34/4 M P M P T28 34/? g P M P
Aliot Nouvella B43 36/5 p m p m p
La Basse Danse du Roy B44 48/5 g m g m g T23 48/5 g m g m g
Marchon la Dureau B45 42/4 G m G (ssdddrdrrrb)
Je sui povere de Leesse B46 42/5 g Z g Z m
La Non Pareille B47 30/3 zM P M
Vaten mon Amoureux Desir B48 39/4 M P M zM T42 39/5 M P M zM
Joieusement B49 43/5 g p g p M T43 44/5 zm P m
Passe rose B50 28/3 zm P m T44 27/3 zm P m
Le Grant Thorin B51 48/5 g m g m g T17 48/5 g m g m g
La Doulce Amour B52 40/4 G m G m T18 42/4 G m G m
Denise B53 58/6 G M G M P M
La Haulte Bourgongne B54 52/7 m Z m Z m Z m
Roti Boully Joyeulx B55 (PdB) (g+l)? (g) rbsddd? bssddd?(l) rbdrbd T20 (PdB)
Lesperance de Bourbon B56 17/2 (PdB) b M P T21 17/2 (PdB) b M P
La Franchoise Nouvelle B57 (ssdddssDssdDb) (ssdddDdDb) (ssdDb)
La Dance de Cleves B58 (ssdddssD) (ssdssd) (ssdrb) (ssdssd)(where D is a d backwards)
La Joyeulx Espoyr T09 18+ p* M p*
Casulle la Novele T10 46/5 g P g P m
Torin T11 46/5 G P G ssdssrrr m
Aliot Novelle T22 36/4 G m P m
Ma Mie T26 31/4 m Z m P
La Verdelete T27 43/5 g p g p m
La Basine T45 46/5 g p ssdddrrr ssdrrr m
Ma Soverayne T46 46/4 zM p ssdddssddd zm
Vyses T48 33/4 M ssdssrrr M ssdrrr



For each of the following manuscripts, I will omit a description of the manuscript itself. For such a description, please look at Geoffrey Matthias' series of bibliographic articles in the first volume of The Letter of Dance [First Book of Dance, Ch. 1 - Ed]. I will include such information as is not contained in that series, and is pertinent.

Brussels and Toulouze

These two manuscripts are nearly identical in step descriptions, though not in dances. Differences in the step descriptions are noted in the translation of Brussels. Toulouze has a number of errors in the dances, with either notes or steps left out or mistranscribed (in the former case, the music and the dance do not match, making the error quite obvious). In the edition of Toulouze referenced, the editor has made corrections as needed.16 Both books contain a tenor line to each dance.


Patri treats this manuscript rather fully in his article. One thing that should be added is that in the general classification schemes of figures, Coplande falls much more clearly within the repertoire of Brussels and Toulouze than that of Moderne and Arena. Although proportionally there are far more dances with only one desmarche (reprise) than in Brussels and Toulouze, the descriptions of measures therein are applicable to the choreographies in Coplande, while the descriptions of measures in Moderne are not..


Patri covered this far better than I could. It is mentioned here only as a reminder that it is another source of information about the same repertoire.

Later Basse Dances


Geoffrey described this book quite nicely. This is not strictly part of the repertoire described herein, although the steps are, for the most part, quite similar. While the basic figures are different, there is a system for describing them similar to that in our manuscripts.

I looked through this manuscript for instances of dances whose name corresponds to a dance found in either Brussels or Toulouze. I found only the following ("ML" means "length in Moderne", "BL" means "length in Brussels"):

Table 2 - Moderne and Brussels
Dance Choreography ML BL Page in Moderne
Triste Plaisir R b ss d r d r b ss ddd ss r b ss d r b 19 42 opposite page L ii
.. r9b ss d r d r b ss ddd ss r b ss d r b 19 42 page L iii
Amour (Mamour?) R b ss d r d ss r b ss ddd r d ss r b 18 30 page L
.. r9b ss d ss r b ss ddd r d ss r b ss d ss r d ss r b 24 30 page L iii
Beaulte r b ss d r d r b ddd ss r b ss d r b 18 39 page after L iii
La marguerite R b ss d r d ss r b ss ddd ss r d ss r b 19 38 page after D iii

The second of these is a bit of a guess, for the name is not an exact match. The two versions of Amour in Moderne do not even match each other in length. Of the four of these, only La Marguerite would fit the music in Brussels and Toulouze, and even that one bears no relation to the dance in our manuscripts. It consists of a figure unknown in Moderne's terminology, and a large perfect figure (according to Moderne's terminology, not the one we have been using here), whereas our Marguerite consists of alternating medium imperfect figures and "the unclassified figure." I would consider it safe to say there is no strict overlap in choreography between the basse dances of these two times.

Arena and Arbeau

The Rules of Dancing of Antonius Arena first appears in 1529,17 roughly the same period as Moderne's work. It contains a good deal of information on deportment while dancing the basse dance, as well as other types of dances, and also contains some step description. It ends by giving "The common dance in XX," along with its "Moitié."18 It should be noted that, apart from some confusion about the congé, the common dance listed here is the same as that in Arbeau, and the moitié is the same as Arbeau's retour.19 In addition, there are other titles in Moderne associated with the same pattern as the "common basse dance."20 Also, Arbeau's All Forlorn corresponds, with the same caveat, with Arena's Tout Ferlorum.21 The dance Patience in Arbeau, or Passience in Arena, does not correspond quite so well (though it is close): the last measure has simples after the double only in Arbeau.22 Arbeau's Comfort Me has no correspondent in Arena's earliest dated edition; however, in the edition dated 1530, there is a dance titled Confortez moy and six other dances which all have the same choreography as Arbeau's Comfort Me.23

Regarding the common basse dance, Mistress Ravensholm, in her article,24 calls the dance itself, "I Will Give you Joy" (or "Jouissance Vous Donnerai"). Based on the evidence presented here regarding Moderne and Arena, I find it much more likely that this is the name of the music, as the dance was likely done to this and any number of other pieces.

History of this reconstruction

This reconstruction was performed by the Accademia della Danza in Carolingia. We took a look at all of the sources in question, generally with one person reading each source as we went through each step. The figures were much easier, and could nearly be read right out of the manuscripts.

It should be noted that, despite any efforts we make to be unbiased, our results are probably still influenced by Dr. Ingrid Brainard, through the medium of Baron Patri (see the next section).

Local History within the SCA

There seem to be about three or four Burgundian basse dances done with any sort of popularity. As far as I am able to tell, only one typical Burgundian dance is done in the SCA, namely Cassule la Nouvelle. In addition, I have seen La Dance de Cleves and La Francoise Nouvelle (both of which are very atypical), and have heard that Rotti Boulli Joyeulx is done in some parts (this is not even a basse dance maier, and it is taken from the Italian dance, "Gioioso", with which there seems to be a connection beyond that of the mere name).

Almost every instance of these dances of which I have heard was derived from the reconstructions of Dr. Ingrid Brainard through Baron Patri du Chat Gris and then Carolingia, although this is almost certainly at least partly due to the bias of being a Carolingian. If you have done dances from this repertoire, and your double steps are of the form, "Down, up, flat" (meaning on the first step, step forward on one foot, bending the knee slightly; on the second step, step forward with the other foot, rising onto the toes; on the third step, step forward or close with the first foot, landing with a normal, straight leg), then I would suspect that you learned the dance through this path. The main reason is that this double was introduced as stated, and is nothing like the double described. I would doubt that any other reconstructor would make quite the same alterations in the step. If you do these dances, and your double step in a manner significantly different than this, I would be very interested to hear of it. I have also noticed (mostly on the letters pages of The Letter of Dance) a widespread execution of later basse dance in the form of the common basse dance from Arbeau. As I have said above, though, this is a different, though related, repertoire.

Observed Patterns

Table 3 -- Frequency of Each Figure25
Brussels Toulouze
figure # % # %
P 24 10.0 28 15.3
p 23 9.5 24 13.1
P* 0 0.0 0 0.0
p* 4 1.7 3 1.6
M 51 21.2 34 18.6
m 63 26.1 44 24.0
M* 0 0.0 0 0.0
m* 1 0.4 1 0.5
G 13 5.4 11 6.0
g 28 11.6 23 12.6
G* 0 0.0 1 0.5
g* 0 0.0 0 0.0
Z 34 14.1 14 7.7
z 17 7.1 9 4.9
total 241 100 183 99.9

Table 3 is a listing of all of the classified and the two common unclassified figures in each of our manuscripts. These tabulations are not, as in table 1, uncorrected for all things, but rather contain corrections where there are obvious mistakes. The only such correction in the tabulation of Brussels is in La Doulz Espoir, and the choreography thereof is taken from Toulouze. There are numerous corrections in Toulouze. We followed, for the most part, those corrections made by Dr. Lequet, insofar as they were fairly certain. The many corrections that were obvious and acknowledged guesses were treated as such, and for the most part, those dances were ignored for the purpose of this comparison.

Small figures (P and p) are about 50% more common in Toulouze, while large figures are slightly more common and medium figures, slightly less (though still clearly the most common figures). The unusual figures (Z and z) are, however, about half as common in Toulouze as in Brussels. Whereas the Z figure is the third most common figure in Brussels, it is sixth in Toulouze. It is interesting to note that while with large and medium figures, the imperfect version is clearly more common than the perfect one, this is not the case with small figures.

It is apparent from the table that the figures with but one desmarche after the doubles are rare indeed.

There are two distinct patterns we noticed in the way the choreographies are formed.

In every regular dance, there is some sort of alternation. Never are two figures of the same size found in a row. Nearly every dance alternates between two figures, either without variation, or with one of the two figures in the first or last pair replaced with another. The only exceptions I could find among the regular basse dances were Je Languise, which has an exceptional figure in the middle pair, rather than the first or last, and La Rochelle (as done in Toulouze) and Le Hault et Le Bas, which alternate size but not perfection.

In each dance, there seems to be a progression from the longer figures to the shorter ones. Within the alternation, the larger figure will always come first. If the figure that breaks a strict variation is larger than the figure it is replacing, it comes in the first pair; if smaller, it will come in the last pair of figures in the dance.

These dances are, compared to many we perform, rather trivial dances to do. They can be easily taught, and if one does nothing to try to create an atmosphere in which this sort of dance is used for some social purpose other than for their own sake, they quickly lose interest for most modern SCA dancers. They are, however, an ideal dance in which to promote social interaction, and for the particularly flashy dancer to show how he is also an interesting conversationalist.

The main problem with these dances, as far as we have found, is the music. All we have for most of these dances is a tenor line. The reason Cassule la Nouvelle is one of the few dances popularly done is that it is danced to one of the La Spagna tenor lines. If we manage to get a significant amount of music for these dances, they could easily become a simple break from the more difficult dances in many SCA repertoires.

Bassa Alenchon music Second half of Bassa Alenchon music [ the bassa alenchon music is too big for me to properly reduce without working harder. However, Ellisif has made a newer version of this which I would like to use instead. -- greg XXX]

Facsimile of Alenchon

[ Download full-size image in gif or pdf format. ]

Facsimile of many more tenors

[ Download full-size image in gif or pdf format. ]

Facsimile of 4 more tenors

[ Download full-size image in gif or pdf format. ]

1. Antonius Arena, "Rules of Dancing", tr. John Guthrie and Marino Zorzi in Dance Research, The Journal of the Society for Dance Research, v. IV, num. 2, fall 1986, pp. 18-20 (lines 193-232).

2. Thoinot Arbeau, Orchesography, tr. Mary Stewart Evans (New York: Dover), pp. 53-4.

3. Patri du Chat Gris, "A Transcription and Brief Commentary on Robert Coplande's `Manner of dauncynge of bace daunces'", The Letter of Dance, iss. 15, pp. 6-7 [p.5 above - Ed].

4. Beaulte de Castille, dance 25 in the Brussels Manuscript, and dance 19 in Toulouze.

5. Patri du Chat Gris, pp. 6-7 [also p.5 above - Ed].

6. For example, La Navaroise, Ma Mieulx Amme, Vyses.

7. Dr. A. E. Lequet, trans., L'art et Instruction de Bien Dancer (Toulouze: Paris, 1488?), the last two pages of the introduction.

8. Patri, pp. 3, 5 [p.6 above].

9. Ibid., p. 6 [p.8 above].

10. Moderne gives a choreography, and then lists up to ten names (presumably of music) that go with that dance. The first four such sections share the same choreography, so there are actually 35 dances with the same choreography (the last such section has but five names).

11. This is wrong for the given length of music. It should probably be as Toulouze describes.

12. In this dance, where there is an h the text says honneur. There is no other reference to this step in the works.

13. The text is, "Le doulz espoir a 'xlii notes a vi mesures toutes parfaites." (La doulz espoir in 42 notes in 6 measures, all perfect) The music, however, is 62 notes long. Given the corresponding dance in Toulouze (the name is not identical, but is close, and everything else fits), I am inclined to believe the tabulation to be "G M G M G M."

14. Yes, this is really what it says. I would theorize that it was meant to be a "b", but the type was turned upside-down; this does not account for the even number of desmarches. However, if one assumes the "q" is a "b" and extends each written figure to its minimum possible typical figure, the dance fits fine (i.e. g p g p m).

15. Flourentine's first figure is slightly garbled. It looks most like a petit parfait figure (though the d and following two 2 s's are mangled in my copy). It should be a moyen imparfait figure.

16. Richard Rastall, musical ed., L'art et Instruction de Bien Dancer (Toulouze: Paris, 1488?), "Notes on the Transcription."

17. Introduction to Arena, p. 3.

18. Arena, p. 46.

19. Arena, p. 46, and Arbeau, pp. 53-4. Note that the names from Arbeau are in translation.

20. Moderne, the page labeled, "G iii" and the page before; I should note that the last five dances are missing a branle after the second reprise. However, given their suroundings, and the predominance of the dance with the missing reprise, not to mention the non-existence of the given figure as a figure if the reprise is omited, I would assume that the lack of the reprise is a misprint. One of the last five is labeled, "Jouyssance."

21. Arena, p. 47, and Arbeau, p. 76.

22. Arena, p. 48, and Arbeau, p. 76. Se also the dance, Pastience, two pages after "L iii", which is identical to Arbeau's, except that it omits the initial reverence. Moderne gives an alternate choreography of Pastience on p. "D ii" (R b ss d ss r d ss r b ss d ss r b ss d ss r d ss r b vs. b ss d r d ss r b ss d d d r b ss d ss r b). I could not find any of the other dances in Moderne.

23. Ibid.

24. "I Will Give You Joy" A Basse Dance from Arbeau, The Letter of Dance, volume 2, issue 11, October 1991, pp. 1-6 [and Ch.3, below - Ed].

25. Please note that the figure labeled `z' is not a figure in and of itself, and hence is counted towards neither total.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (lindahl@pbm.com)