Veni, Vidi, Coranti

[ This article appeared in volume 4 of the Letter of Dance. ]

(I Came, I Saw, Even the Experts Aren't Certain What I Did)

An Essay (meaning I had to try it) by M. Siôn Andreas o Wynedd c1996

"Yooooo hoooo, Master Siôn!"

I cringe. It is Lady Prunella the Persistent who in her second year in the Society has decided to take up --everything-- including dance.

"I could have said `no'," I mutter to myself, "I could have run. I didn't have to kneel there and let them hang a medallion on me. Heck, I could have become a taxidermist."

But it's no use. She's here, she has a question, and I'm oath-bound to help her.

"Salve, magister," she says, curtseying.

"Hi ho, Prunella," I reply in the vernacular, "What can I do for you?"

"I have a question, if you wouldn't mind."

"Sure. What is it?"

"Well, I want to do a performance dance piece at the Barony of Gruelhaven's Twelfth Night revels, and I was wondering if you could help me with the documentation."

Only Gruelhaven's Authenticity Police require documentation for every aspect of their events, down to the feast entertainment, so I grit my teeth and ask, "What dance did you want to do?"

"Oh! One I've never seen at all in the SCA ever before!"

"Uh huh?" I know this look; I used to have this too, when I was young.

"I'd love to do {pause for dramatic effect} the coranto!"

Her eyes are aflame with enthusiasm. I could run Pennsic with her enthusiasm, one accountant, and the Department of Public Works.

"Ack. Not the best choice, I'm afraid."


"No. I really don't think that there's ever been enough evidence for us to come up with a really good reconstruction of the coranto."


"No. Here, let me show you what I know."

The vexed question of the coranto has popped into my scope many times over the years, and I have seen several well-meaning reconstructions of the dance. I'm not sure I ever really agreed with any of them, least of all my own limping, hopping, attempts, but the valor in the attempt at reconstruction is always to be encouraged.

The first stop at attempting to reconstruct the coranto is always the description in Thoinot Arbeau's 1589 treatise, Orchesographie. In this text, he not only gives the steps, but also gives some idea as to how one used the coranto as a social dance.

The basic steps, according to Arbeau, are:

"Pour faire donc vn simple à gaulche en la Courante, vous qui estes en contenance decente, saulterez sur le pied droict, en asseant le pied gaulche pour votre premier pas, puis saulterez sur le pied droict, en tumbant en pied ioinct pour le second pas, & ainsi sera accomply le simple à gaulche ..."

Or in other words:

Simple à gauche:
Hop on right foot, kicking left foot into air,
Land on left foot,
Hop on right foot again [left foot in air?],
Land pieds joints.

Arbeau then tabluates the dance, relating another view of the components of the steps:

Name of step According to tablature:
Simple à gaulche: Pas du gaulche
Pieds ioincts
Simple à droit Pas du droit
Pieds ioincts
Ces quatre Pas gaulche
mouuem?ets sont Pas droit
double à gaulche: Pas gaulche
Pieds ioincts

As one would expect, one would follow this set with another which would mirror the first, so two simples, to the right and to the left, and a double to the right.

Arbeau notes that, in his equivalent of the "Goode Olde Dayes," the way to dance the coranto was for the men each to choose a partner and, after taking her to the far side of the hall, abandon her and come back to his fellows. All the men would do this one after another, and once all the ladies had been deposited on the far side of the room, each man, in turn, would attempt to reclaim his partner. The partners, in turn, would refuse the suit, and the rejected man, broken-hearted, would return from whence he came. In the end, all ladies having repented of their cruelty, the partners would advance to the center of the room, and all would "dance the coranto helter-skelter."

"Well, that sounds like fun to me," Prunella says, "What does it look like?"

I try to do the steps according to Arbeau's instructions. It is not a success. This body was not meant to do those moves.

"Is that it?" she asks, disappointed.

"Well, that is the dance if I were only accepting Arbeau's word. One thing that is hard to get across, but that you need to understand, Prunella, is that Arbeau is not necessarily the best source for these things. In some cases, he flatly contradicts contemporary iconography. It's just that he's the only source for France in his day. Happily for us there might be one or two other sources we can turn to."

Cesare Negri describes a dance called the "Corrente" in his treatise, Le Gratie d'Amore. This dance is done using a dance step called the seguito as its basic unit. Negri describes several different seguiti in the beginning of his book, but for this dance he describes a special kind of seguito, one especial and almost restricted to this choreography:

"... Con il .S. de quattro .P. in fuga col saltino, cominciando col piè sinistro innanzi, ponendo il primo passo il piè destro al calcagno del sinistro, si fa poi un .P. con esso piede, dopò si farà un'altro .P. in saltino, e la cadenza col piè destro."

So the seguito of the "Corrente" would appear to be four passi done with "little jumps". The first passo is made with the right foot coming to the heel of the left foot which was a little bit forward, and then a step is made upon that left foot, making the second passo, then another passo in saltino is made, presumably with the right foot again, and then a cadenza.

Seguito del Corrente:
Right foot to heel of left foot,
Step onto left foot,
Step [on the right foot?],

All in all it sounds very similar to the simple à gauche in Arbeau's coranto.

"Oh, well then, that's all I need. Right?" she asks brightly.

"That's hard to say. Let's see where this all leads, what do you say? This is fun."

"You're sure about that?"

"Oh, yes, great fun. But we really don't have enough here yet. Especially to perform at Gruelhaven, your docs are going to need to be solid as a runestone."

There is always de Lauze's Apologie de la Danse. De Lauze explains the courante, but having tried to make sense of him, I admit defeat. I don't know enough ballet terminology to make sense of the steps described, and when I asked Miklos Sandorfia, who knows much more about this than I do, he admitted that he hadn't made much headway with it either, except to determine that the dance that de Lauze describes seems to be more akin to the Baroque courante, a very different dance from the Renaissance coranto. Happily, there is one other interesting source.

"Well, you know, Master Siôn," Prunella tries to get a word in edgewise, "I mean, I think you've given me more than...."

Several years ago, while attempting to reconstruct a dance from the Ramsay Manuscript called "The Spanioletta," I ran into an interesting coincidence. The choreographic description began with "Take handes, fall in to your pace..." Since I was not even sure what sort of dance "The Spanioletta" was supposed to be, I wondered just what the proper pace for the dance should be.

The phrase "fall into one's pace" occurs in four dances in the manuscript:

The Spanioletta: "Take handes, fall in to your pace,"
The Bodkin Galliard: & soe fall into your cinque passe,"
The French Levolta: "falinge in to your pace,"
The Temple Coranto: "Take handes & fall into your pace,"

Furthermore, "The Spanioletta" refers to the "pace" twice more: "parte with your pace" and "meete with your pace."

My decision at the time was that "The Spanioletta" used the galliard step, but I wonder if it were pure coincidence that John Ramsay used the same terminology to refer to doing a step of the galliard as he did for doing a step of the coranto.

"Now, Master Siôn, certainly you don't..."

This possibility intrigues me, since the cinque pace of the galliard and the simple of the coranto are very different, or at least they are if one doesn't question Arbeau. However, Arbeau did do one interesting thing. He placed the coranto in proximity to the galliard and the lavolta. This leads me to wonder if there might be a galliard step mentioned in Orchesographie which seems akin to the coranto step as described by both Arbeau and Negri?

Oddly, there might be. Arbeau describes, almost in passing and placing little emphasis on it, a galliard sequence:

Autres cinq pas:
Greue gaulche,
Posture gaulche sans petit sault,
Entretaille droicte causant greue gaulche,
Greue droicte,
Sault majeur,
Posture gaulche

Which is to say:

Another cinq pas:
Kick left foot into air,
Land with left foot forward,
Undercut left foot with right, causing the left foot
to kick into air,
Kick right foot into air,
Leap, and land with the left foot forward.

This would then be followed by the reverse, beginning with a grève droit.

"It's not exactly the same step, but the resemblance is remarkable," I note, "Remarkable enough that we might want to make a closer examination of other contemporary texts to see how or if they treat this galliard step."

"Well, I certainly trust you, Master Siôn, so you don't really have to..."

"What a lovely puzzle you were setting up for me. I haven't thought of the coranto in years. This is more fun than I've had in a long time. I wonder what Caroso has to say."

"Isn't Caroso the very long-winded one, the one who's so hard to understand?"

"Hard to understand? Caroso? Never. Why, just look..."

Caroso does describe the gagliarda, and the cinque passi in gagliarda, but one gets the impression from reading his text in Nobiltà di Dame that the most popular step sequence for gagliarde in his day was his cinque passi in gagliarda, to which he refers as a corrupted term as he could only account for two steps and a cadenza.

"Prima farai un Zoppetto col piè destro in terra, inarborando il sinistro innanzi ; poi lo calderai giù dritto à piombo, & questo è un passo, & non salterai, stendendo bene il ginocchio; et non bisogna fare, come già si soleua far, che quando si calaua il piè sinistro, in quello instante s'alzaua il destro in dietro, che pareua proprio, che egli volesse tirar un calcio; & nel far cosi fatto moto, faceua brutto vedere à i riguardanti: però farai in questo modo. Fatto che haurai il detto Zoppetto col destro, & inarborata il sinistro, lo calerai in terra spianati à piombo; & col piè destro, che ti trouerai hauer di dietro, lo spingerai, facendo un sottopiede; auertendo che la punta d'esso vadi dritto in dietro al calcagno del sinistro, alzando immantinente esso sinistro, il quale calandosi al luogo, doue si trouana prima, si alza di nuouo il destro innanzi: & questo si chiama Passo in aria; talche son due, si come t'hò detto, & non cinque; cioè il secondo fermato in terra; & questo, ch'è alla quarta battuta in aria; & all'ultimo si fà con quello la Cadenza...

Prunella looks absolutely lost, or maybe she just doesn't care.

"What could be clearer?" I offer, "OK, well, maybe Caroso is a bit expansive in his textual descriptions, but the extracted step is still fairly simple to understand."

Caroso's cinque passi
Hop on right foot, left foot in air,
Place left foot on ground,
Undercut left foot with right,
Hop on left foot, right foot in air,

Happily, not every Italian was as wordy as Caroso, and there is a perfectly lovely description which appears in Livio Luti's Opera Bellissima.

"IL Passeggio semplice detto il cinque passi; il quale si fà vniuersalmente in tutto il ballare di Gagliarda; si comincia col piede, col quale si fà la riuerenza nel voler in cominciare, dando vna botta in aria col sudetto piede, & vna in terra inanti, & vn sotto piede fermo con l'altro piede, & col medesimo dare vna botta inanti in aria, & la cadenza."

So what we have is:

Luti's cinque passi:
Kick, with one foot,
Step onto the same foot,
Undercut the first foot with the other, causing
the first to make another kick,
Kick with the second foot,

If we compare all the different versions of the steps we've examined, an interesting correlation appears, a correlation which might be more visible in a chart such as Appendix 1.

"So, I think that if you work on the Italian standard gagliarda step, do it for your coranto step, and present this documentation to the Authenticity Police at Gruelhaven, you can't help but impress them. Now what will we do about a choreography for you?" I muse, "You know, Curt Sachs in his World History of the Dance mentions that one Thomas Platter of Basle noted, upon the occasion of his having to cross the Rhone during a high wind in 1596, that the zigzag route of his passage was "comme quand on danse la courante." You know, I bet we could make something out of that."

Prunella's enthusiasm has fled. The flames that are quickly dying in her eyes, however, are now bright in mine.

"Oh, Master Siôn," she says quickly, "That's far too good of you, maybe if I just got a partner and entered something easier, like "Rostiboli," maybe that would do just as well."

"Well, if you're certain. I mean, doing the coranto this way would be cutting-edge stuff," I say, "Certainly it would be something folks would remember for a while. I mean, I'm always available to help you write documentation and coach you at rehearsals, and..."

"No," she says, cutting me off and backing away, "I'm certain. There's not really enough time to go rehearsing something entirely new, and I'm sure that "Rostiboli" will suit the Baron and Baroness of Gruelhaven just fine. Thank you very much for all your help."

I wave good-bye, smiling all the while. Who said long-term immersion in dance history and an indulgence for BS-ing would never come in handy for anything?



Arbeau, Thoinot. Orchesographie. Langres: Jehan des Preys, 1596; facsimile reprinted., Geneva: Minkoff, 1972.

Arbeau, Thoinot. Orchesography. Translated by Mary Stewart Evans. New York: Dover, 1968.

Caroso, Fabritio. Nobiltà di Dame. Venice: il Muschio, 1600; facsimile reprinted., Bologna: Forni, 1970.

Caroso, Fabrito. Nobiltà di Dame. Translated by Julia Sutton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Compasso, Lutio. Ballo della Gagliarda. Florence, 1560; facsimile reprinted., Freiburg: fa-gisis Musik- und Tanzedition, 1995.

Cunningham, James. Dancing in the Inns of Court. London: Jordan and Sons, 1965.

De Lauze, F. Apologie de la Danse. Translated, with original text, by Joan Wildeblood. London: Muller, 1951.

Luti da Sulmona, Prospero. Opera Bellisima nella Quale si Contegnono Molte Partite, et Passeggi di Gagliarda. Perugia: Pietropaolo Orlando, 1589.

Negri, Cesare. Le Gratie d'Amore. Milan: Ponti & Piccaglia, 1602; facsimile reprinted.,
New York: Broude Bros., 1969.

Sachs, Curt. World History of Dance. Translated by Bessie Schönberg. New York: Bonanza, 1937.

Personal communication with Ld. Miklos Sandorfia (Andrew Draskoy).

Siôn Andreas o Wynedd CL, CW, APF, AoA is the name of the eldest son of each of his personas' fathers. The persona most concerned with the current article heads the Accademia di San Vito in late 16th-century Milan where he may be heard to say, "Just who does this Negri person think he is anyway?" Ian Andrew Engle (PO Box 12092, Columbus, OH 43212-0092) is a contract cataloguer who sits in an ivory tower at OCLC in Dublin, Ohio and processes books written in squiggly languages.

Appendix I

A step correlation between the various dances and sources cited in Veni, Vidi, Coranti.








... Saulterez sur le pied droict,

... Cominciando col piè sinistro innanzi, ponendo il primo passo il piè destro al calcagno del sinistro,

Greue gaulche,

Prima farai un Zoppetto col piè destro in terra, inarborando il sinistro innanzi;

... Si comincia col piede, col quale si fà la riuerenza nel voler in cominciare, dando vna botta in aria col sudetto piede,


en asseant le pied gaulche pour votre premier pas,

si fa poi un .P. con esso piede,

Posture droicte sans petit sault,

poi lo calderai giù dritto à piombo; ...

& vna in terra inanti,


puis saulterez sur le pied droict,

dopò si farà un'altro .P. in salino,

Entretaille droit causant Greue gaulche,

& col piè desro, che ti trouerai hauer di dietro, lo springerai, fancedo un sottopiede; auerando che la punta d'esso vadi dritto in diero al calcagno del sinistro, alzando immantimente esso sinistro,

& vn soto piede fermo con l'altro piede,


en tumbant en pieds ioinct pour le second pas ...

e la cadenza col piè destro.

Greue droicte,

il quale calandosi al luogo, doue si trouana prima, si alza di nuouo il destro innanzi: ...

& col medesimo dare vna botta inanti in aria,



Sault majeur, Posure gaulche.

& all'ultimo si fà con quello la Cadenza ...

& la cadenza.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (