Starting Sources for Renaissance Dance Reconstruction and Study

Gregory Blount
Version 1.0.10, 23 Feb 2022. Revision history at bottom.

I've been asked a bunch of times, "I'm interested in learning about dancing and maybe reconstruction, what books should I read?" I think it's important to get an introduction to the whole field of early dance, and I think the books below are pretty good introductions. Best of all, they're mostly inexpensive!

Getting Started

16th century French dance

Thoinot Arbeau, Orchesography. The Evans/Sutton translation (printed by Dover in 1990 and again in 2011, ISBN 0486217450) is commonly available used for ~ $6. Arbeau's very clear notation of the relation between steps and music makes this very accessible; you can teach straight out of the book. Compare prices.

17th century English Country Dance

John Playford, English Dancing Master. 1651. There are two reprints currently out there, ISBNs 0903102803 and 0871270803, for $40-$50, but the transcription and facsimile on the web are complete. It's useful to look at just to remind yourself of how little instruction he gives for the steps and dances. Compare prices and Compare prices.

16th-17th century English measures

This is one area where a web resource is a good intro, see Janelyn and Traehearn's introduction and concordance.

16th century Italian dance

Fabritio Caroso, Nobilta di Dame. The Sutton translation (reprinted by Dover in 1995, ISBN 0486286193) is available for $11-$15. While this translation does have some unfortunate features -- the step names are translated to English, and there's no facing-page facsimile to compare to -- it's a very good translation, and you can compare it to the Italian in the facsimile on my webpages (linked from the SCA Dance Homepage). Compare prices.

15th century Italian dance

Guglielmo Ebreo, On the Practice of the Art of Dancing. Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0198165749. This used to cost about $25, now the used price is $60-$70. Compare prices.

Vivian Stevens (Rosina) and Monica Cellio, Joy and Jealousy: A Manual of 15th Century Italian Balli. I have copies of the 3rd printing, or you can get it on-line at

If you'd like a look at a facsimile of one of the primary sources, there is an online facsimile of Domenico's PnD manuscript.

Next Steps

If you'd like to do some reconstructions, there are some additional recommendations:

15th century Italian

Smith, A. William. Fifteenth-Century Dance and Music; The Complete Transcribed Treatises and Collections in the Domenico Piacenza Tradition. Pendragon Press, 1996. 2 volumes: ISBNs 0-945193-25-4 and 0-945193-57-2. The first book is a facing-page translation of 3 of the treatises, and the second is a concordance of all the dances. They list for $72 and $70, respectively. Both volumes currently seem to be in print. Compare prices: volume one, volume two.

Wilson, D. R. The Steps Used in Court Dancing in Fifteenth-Century Italy. Third revised & englarged edition. Self-published, 2003. ISBN 0951930737. A step concordance. Went unavilable at Dance Books in December, 2010.

Wilson, D. R. 101 Italian Dances (c. 1450-1510): A critical translation. Early Dance Circle, 1999. ISBN 0951364049. A good complement to Smith, which has a concordance of the Italian; Wilson gives a translation generally focusing on the source PnD, and then comments on differences among the sources, with copious notes. (Out of print, and no used copies spotted for sale in December, 2011.) Compare prices. Also sold by

16th century Italian

Kendall, Gustavia Yvonne. Le Gratie D'amore 1602 By Cesare Negri: Translation and Commentary. PhD dissertation, Stanford, 1985. Available from UMI from their dissertation services, for $35 unbound. Contains a facing page facsimile and translation of Negri's dance manual. The translation isn't that reliable, but it's easy to compare the English against the Italian. Note that pretty much all the 16c Italian sources have been transcribed; see my webpages, linked to the SCA Dance Homepage at the bottom.

Other Genres of Dance

There are a couple of areas of dance that I haven't mentioned yet, but are worth some examination. I recommend these articles:

The Gresley Manuscript (English, 1500):
15th Century Burgundian Bassa Danse:

Baroque Dance

It never hurts to know where dance is headed after 1600... so I recommend Dance of Court & Theater: The French Noble Style 1690-1724 by Wendy Hilton. It's used as a textbook, so it isn't hard to find online used, from $55-$65. 1st edition -- ISBN 0916622096. 2nd edition -- ISBN 094519398X -- includes additional material on the courante, additional material on Lully. Compare prices (1st edition) -- Compare prices (2nd edition).

Look over the stuff online

Finally, I'd suggest taking a look at what's out there online. Some high points:

The SCA Dance Homepage:
The Rendance Homepage, and mailing list:
   especially the bibliography:
Del's Dance Book:
The Letter of Dance:
Eric's Dance Music Listing:

Bookbuying Resources -- good price comparison site, be sure to look in both the new and used book areas. -- a network of used bookstores.

Return to the SCA Dance Homepage.

Revision history:

October 7, 2003: 1.0 Initial version.

October 23, 2003: 1.0.1 Fixed Wendy Hilton's name, refs to "my webpages".

November 11, 2003: 1.0.2 2nd edition of Wendy Hilton's book.

July 10, 2004: 1.0.3 Smith volume 2 is back in print.

October 4, 2004: 1.0.4 Add compare urls for Smith 1 and 2. Add Wilson.

January 23, 2005: 1.0.5 Add Wilson 101 Italian Dances.

June 20, 2008: 1.0.6 Update prices, add a link.

December 9, 2010: 1.0.7 Update about Arbeau.

December 22, 2011: 1.0.8 Updates about book prices and availability: Arbeau, Wilson.

August 23, 2014: 1.0.9 Tweaks, update of Playford compare.

February 23, 2021: 1.0.10 update of Playford transcription location, added facsimile. Added PnD facsimile. Reword Caroso facsimile.

Greg Lindahl (aka Gregory Blount)