A Translation of "S'ensuyvent Plusieurs Basses Dances Tant Communes Que Incommunes" by Jacques Moderne

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

by Geoffrey Mathias

This article is a translation of "S'ensuyvent Plusieurs Basses Dances Tant Communes Que Incommunes" which was published by Jacques Moderne in 1532 or 1533. It is a treatise on the Burgundian style of basse dance. There are three other similar sources from the period: the Copeland treatise in English, and the Brussels Manuscript and "S'ensuit L'art et Instruction de Bien Dancer" (also know as Toulouze, after the name of its publisher) in French. All of these sources are very similar, although not identical, and the Moderne treatise may have been based on one of the others, or they may all be based on another treatise which is not extant. It is clear that there is some relationship between the sources, however. I think that the introduction in Moderne is most likely based on the introduction in the Brussels Manuscript because of structural similarities, although the choreographic section is quite different.

In this translation I have attempted to follow the original sentence structure as closely as possible, and have translated idiomatic expressions as closely to the original as possible. In cases where I believe the meaning to be different or more expansive than the original clearly says, I have relegated such translation issues to footnotes. This has been done to avoid coloring the translation toward any specific interpretations of such areas, and to allow readers to form their own opinions about the meanings in the treatise as much as possible. It should be noted that I consider any translation to be imperfect, and encourage readers with questions to consult the original to the extent of their ability and their access to the originals.

Enclosed find several basse dances both common and uncommon: As one can see within.

Enclosed find several basse dances both common and uncommon. Both perfect and imperfect and all measures, such as large perfect measures, large imperfect measures, medium imperfect measures. Small perfect measures: small imperfect measures.

With the art and introduction of how to dance all basse dances well, which invites everyone, namely, those who wish to arrive at honor. Whoever would like to dance well with good measures should read the present book and take a taste of the writing which here follows.

Item It is very useful and profitable for one to know the manner of dancing well, with all the honor which falls to one.

Item It is to be noted that basse dances break down into three categories. They are known as large measures, medium measures and small measures which are called basses.


The large measure of the basse dance must begin and proceed with a reverence, then with a bransle, then with two simple steps and with one double, then with two simple steps as before, and then with a riprise1 and a bransle.


The medium measure of the basse dance must begin with two simple steps, then with three doubles and two simples. Reprise, bransle.


Item The small measure of the basse dance must begin with two simple steps, then with one double and two simples. Reprise, bransle.

Item It is to be noted that one reverence and one bransle, two simples and one double and one reprise occupy the same as the other. That is, each one is worth the same as the others, each an entire note.

Item All basse dances begin with a reverence, and finish with a bransle. And it is called basse dance because one plays it according to the major and minor perfect. And one's dance goes in peace2 and one must carry one's self graciously.

Item There are two manners of the basse dance. They are known as major and minor.


Item Basse dance major begins with a reverence toward the lady in which one inclines toward her. And one must do this with the left foot.


Item Basse dance minor is that which one dances after the basse dance, one calls the pas de burbon and don't do any of the basse dance toward the lady.3

Item Whoever would like to dance basse dances requires two things.

First, one must know the number of notes of the basse dance.

Second, to know how to dance in the correct measure in the manner hereafter.

Firstly, a reverence like a reprise also must begin on the right foot and go to the side making four steps while inclining the body on the left foot and, returning, arrive on the right foot.4 And it is called bransle because one swings one foot then the other. And the two simple steps are made forward.

The first .ss. step

Item The first single step is made on the left foot, inclining one's body and making two steps forward.

The first d. step

Item The first double step is made on the left foot, and one raises one's body and moves three steps forward and lightly.

The second d. step

Item The second double step is made on the right foot, inclining one's body as before and making the said three steps forward lightly and returning, fall5 on the right foot.

The third d. step

Item For the third double step one must go to the left foot at first, and so on as the measure requires.

Item It is to be known that there are never more than two simple steps6 and the others7 are always odd in number according to the art of dancing well.

Also, it must be well noted that when one makes the ss steps after the double steps, the first begins on the left foot, and the second on the right foot, so that one does the reprise on the left foot as was said above.8

One general rule is that all basse dances begin with a reverence, then with a bransle, and two singles, then with a double, and then after as the measure of the basse dance requires.

Item There are several measures of basse dance. That is, measures perfect and imperfect.

Item The perfect measures are those which have the simple steps before some double steps, and also after.

Item The imperfect measures are those which have the simple steps before the double steps and not after.

Item In order to understand the registry of the notes of every basse dance one must understand that for an R. one does reverance, and also a reprise. B. one does bransle. SS are two simple and D one does double.

[Editor's note: the superscript `9' after the `R' in the figure descriptions below doesn't refer to footnote 9 -- that's literally the way the reverence appears in the original notation...]

Large perfect measures are those
R9 b ss ddd ss r d ss r b

Large imperfect measures are those
R9 b ss ddd r d r b

Medium perfect measures are those
R9 b ss ddd ss r b

Medium imperfect measures are those
R9 b ss d r b

Small perfect measures are those
R9 b ss d r b

Small imperfect measures are those
R9 b ss d ss r b

After this are enclosed the names of all common basse dances. That is, those we dance more often now.

After this follow twenty-one pages of notation, including 115 choreographies. Many of these choreographies are given more than one name, and a number are included more than once. No music is provided for the choreographies. In the interests of saving space, I have chosen to not include the choreographies in this article, since they involve no translation issues. Interested readers are referred to the original.


Arbeau, Thoinot. Orchesographie (Lengres: 1589) Translated by Mary S. Evans (Kamin Dance Pub., 1948; reprinted with introduction and notes by Julia Sutton, Dover Pub., New York: 1967).

Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale, Ms 9085. Facsimile with introduction and transcription by Ernest Closson. Le manuscrit dit des basses danses de la bibliotheque de bourgogne (Brussels: 1912). This facsimile has been reprinted by Minkoff.

Copeland, Robert. "The manner of dauncynge bace daunces". Published in Mabel Dolmetch. Dances of England and France from 1450 to 1600 (London: 1949) Reprinted by Da Capo Press (New York: 1975).

Moderne, Jacques, pub. S'ensuyvent Plusieurs Basses Dances Tant Communes Que Incommunes, comme on pourra veoyr dedans (Lyon: c. 1532-1533). Facsimile by Minkoff (Geneve: 1985).

Toulouze, Michel, pub. L'Art et instruction de bien dancer (Paris: c. 1488-1496). Published in facsimile with music transcribed and edited by Richard Rastall and translated by A.E. Lequet (New York, Dance Horizons: 1971). Published in facsimile by Minkoff (Geneve: 1985).

1. Both the Brussels manuscript and Toulouze use the word demarche everywhere that Moderne uses the word riprise. It should be noted that Italian sources of both the fifteenth and sixteenth century describe a step called a riprise, although it is not clear that the step called for by Moderne is the same as any of the Italian steps.

2. This is a very literal translation; I believe the sense of the phrase to be `and one dances peacefuly.' This and the following phrase are presumably also reasons why this kind of dance is called basse dance.

3. The final phrase of this paragraph makes little sense until one examines Toulouze and the Brussels manuscript, which have similar, but more explicit, phrases. A.E. Lequet, in his translation of Toulouze, offers this reading of that sentence: "The basse dance mineure begins with a pas de Brabant, and on the first note, one does not bow to the lady." Portions of this phrase have been elided in Moderne, but the construction is similar enough for me to believe that this is the correct meaning of the sentence.

4. This is a very difficult phrase, both to translate and to understand. The translation issue is over the word "cheoir" which is translated here as "arrive." It could also be translated as land or fall, which have almost the same meaning, but a similar passage later in the manual (see footnote (5) below) uses the word "tomber" (to fall) directly. This makes one wonder why "tomber" was not used in this phrase. I choose "arrive" in this case because it is also an acceptable translation of "cheoir" and it implies a slightly different meaning.

Once a translation has been arrived at, the next question arises. What is meant by this passage? The reverence is being compared to the reprise, but it is not clear from this source how a reprise is done either. It seems to involve four steps, or at least weight shifts, and some kind of sideways movement. It seems unlikely that it is four steps to the side, but the description is not clear enough to rule it out. Neither Toulouze nor the Brussels manuscript contains this passage, so it is possible that the reverence has changed in the several decades which separate the sources. It may be closer to the riprise which is described by Arbeau, which at least seems to involve four movements of the feet.

5. I believe that fall is used here in the sense of having one's weight fall or land on the right foot.

6. The Brussels manuscript and Toulouze both include the word "ensemble" or "together" at this point.

7. Both Toulouze and the Brussels manuscript read "les pas doubles" or "double steps" where Moderne reads "les autres" or "the others." This may have been an attempt to generalize and indicate that all of the other kinds of steps are always odd in number, not just double steps. In fact, it seems to be true that only single steps come in even multiples throughout the choreographies in all three manuals.

8. This paragraph seems to have right and left switched. This could be intentional, or it might be a publisher's error. Both Toulouze and the Brussels manuscript say that the first single step is on the right, etc. Also, Moderne itself indicates that the final double step is on the left, so the following singles must either start on the right, or the dancer must shift weight. I tend to believe that this is an error.

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