Dancing through time

Dance History

Dance is the hidden language of the soul. (…) Dance is a song of the body. 
Either of joy or pain
  [Martha Graham]

Dance is a means of expressing inner feelings. But looking back in time and examining the history of dancing, we realise that dance may express social realities as well, relating stories about a certain period of time. We just have to learn to listen to them. 
Dance can not be torn out of its context; it can not be separated from the costumes or from the timeframe it was used in.

Medieval dance

Although the first detailed dance descriptions only date from the 15th century, we have a few information about the dances of the 13th and 14th centuries as well.

In medieval literature one may find several hints referring to certain dances or specific dance steps, such as the saltarello and trotto steps. At the same time, the period illustrations show dancers arranged in circles or rows.

A special (and controversial) case is the Saltarello dance entitled La Regina, which was reconstructed in the 20th century by Geffrei Louarn de Kaermeriadec on the basis of a manuscript from Northern Italy dating from the end of the 14th century, and which was published in The Letter of Dance no. 7 of November 7, 1990.

Luckily, we have more data on the music of these centuries, which was revived by a number of historical music lovers. By interpreting and using the steps mentioned in that handful of sources, we have created, based on medieval music, other dance choreographies as well, which we consider to be similar to those that would have been danced in the period.


  • In alreley
  • La septime estampie royale
  • La quinte estampie royale
  • Trotto

Renaissance dance

Due to the considerable differences regarding the music and dance steps, Renaissance dance is separated, in a conventional manner, in two categories: 15th and 16th century dances.

15th century

The first dance treatises date from the 15th century. In the manuscripts of Italian authors Domenico da Piacenza (ca. 1400 – ca. 1470), Guglielmo Ebreo, baptized as Giovanni Ambrosio (ca. 1420 – ca. 1484), and Antonio Cornazano (c.1430 – c.1485), one may find, along with the dance descriptions and accompanying scores, a rich theoretical background regarding the correct execution and performance of the dance steps. 
Specific dances for this century are the balli and the bassadanza.
Bassadanza is a slow, elegant, and majestic dance that highlights the interaction between the dance partners.
The Balli are complicated and expressive dances, which include (within the same dance) bassadanzasaltarello as well as piva dance steps that alternate with the musical rhythm. These dances encouraged improvisation and theatrical performance, many of them also having a theme (e.g. Gelosia i.e. jealousy). 


Domenico da Piacenza (c. 1400 – c. 1470):
De arte saltandi et choreas ducendi (c.1450 – 1460):

  • Anello
  • Gelosia
  • Leoncello Vecchio
  • Leoncello Novo
  • Marchesana
  • Mercantia
  • Mignotta Vecchia
  • Petit vriens
  • Rostiboli Gioioso
  • Sobria
  • Tesara
  • Verçepe

Guglielmo Ebreo (botezat Giovanni Ambrogio) (c. 1420 – c. 1484): De pratica seu arte tripudii, citată uneori cu titlul Trattato dell’ arte del ballare(c.1463):

  • Amoroso
  • Colonesse
  • Voltati in Ça Rosina

Michael ToulouzeL’Art et instruction de bien dancer (1488):

  • Casuelle la Nouvelle

Anonim: Brussels Manuscript (1445), (1488):

  • Filles à Marier


Acum sunt elaborate cele mai importante tratate de dans.


Thoinot Arbeau (1519-1595) –  Orchésographie (1589):

  • Pavane
  • Gaillarde
  • La volta
  • Allemande
  • Branles: Double, Simple, Gay, Bourgoigne, Cassandre, Champaigne, Pinagay, Charlotte, Guerre, Aridan, Poictou, Escosse, Triory, Malte, Lavandieres, Pois, Hermites, Chandelier ou Torche, Sabots, Chevaulx, Montarde, Haye, Official.
  • Bouffons
  • Basse dance, Retour, Tourdion

Fabritio Caroso (1526/1535 – 1605/1620) – Il Ballarino (1581),
Nobiltà di Dame (1600):

  • Allegrezza D’Amore 
  • Alta Carretta 
  • Ballo Del Fiore 
  • Barriera Nuova 
  • Bassa Pompilia
  • Canario 
  • Chiara Stella 
  • Contrapasso Nuovo 
  • Dolce amoroso foco 
  • Gracca Amorosa 
  • Il Bianco Fiore 
  • Leggiadria d’Amore 
  • Passo e mezzo 
  • Spagnoletta Nuova 

Cesare Negri (c. 1535 – c. 1605) – Le Gratie d’Amore (1602),
Nuove lnventioni di Balli (1604):

  • Alta Mendozza
  • Alta Somaglia
  • Ballo fatto da sei cavalieri
  • Ballo fatto da sei dame
  • Bassa Ducale
  • Bizzaria d’Amore
  • Biscia Amorosa
  • Il Canario
  • Il Gratioso
  • Il Bizarro
  • Fedeltà d’Amore
  • La Biscia Amorosa
  • La Nizzarda
  • Leggiadra Marina
  • Passo e mezzo

Baroque dance

For this period (17th and 18th centuries) we distinguish between: 
English country dance
Baroque court dance (in the French court)
Theatrical dance (opera-ballet)

Country Dance - REPERTOIRE:​

John Playford (1623–1686/7) – The English Dancing Master (1651):

  • All in a Garden Green
  • Amaryllis
  • Argeers
  • Black Nag
  • Child Grove
  • Cuckolds all in a row
  • Daphne
  • Dargason
  • Gathering Peascods
  • Goddesses
  • Greensleeves
  • Grimstock
  • Hole in the Wall
  • Hyde Park
  • If All The World Were Paper
  • Indian Queen
  • Jenny Pluck Pears
  • Juice of Barley
  • Lilli Burlero
  • Newcastle
  • Nonesuch
  • Parson’s Farewell
  • Picking of Sticks
  • Sellenger’s Round
  • Short and Sweet, or, Orlabear’s Maggot
  • The Fine Companion
  • The Gelding of the Devil
  • The Wherligig
  • Upon a Summer’s Day

Baroque - REPERTOIRE:​

Raoul Auger Feuillet (c.1653–c.1709) – Recueil de Dances (1704), Recueil de Contredances (1706), Recueil de dances (1709):

  • Le Menuet de la Reine
  • La Lirboulaire
  • La Bourrée d’Achilles
  • La Bourgogne
  • La Savoye
  • La Forlana

Edmund Pemberton – An essay for the further improvement of dancing (1711):

  • Mr. Groscort – An Ecchoe Boree & Minuet



  • The Duke of Kent’s Waltz (Cahusac’s Annual Collection, 1801)
  • John Playford: Spring Garden (The Dancing Master, 1665)
  • Joseph Hart’s Lancers Quadrille: 4th Les Visites, 5th Les Lanciers (Hart’s 13th Quadrille Set, 1825)
  • Paine’s 1st Set – L’Eté, La Poule , La finale (Paine of Almack’s 1st Set, Paine James, 1816)
  • Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot (published by John Playford’s son, Henry Playford, in his 1695 Dancing Master)
  • Fair Quaker of Deal (John Playford, The Dancing Master, 1728)
  • My Lady Winwoods Maggot (John Playford, The Dancing Master, 1728)
  • Pavilion Waltz (Companion to the Ballroom, Wilson Thomas, 1820)