Where to go Next


Some Easy Dances to Reconstruct

Start with dances from these books:

  • Arbeau

  • Playford

  • Inns of Court

All of the above are available in English translations at least. Playford was originally written in English, while Arbeau is French but is very self explanatory -- it even contains some pictures.

Note that all of the dances from these books have been reconstructed, however it is not a total waste of time to go back to them occasionally. This is because (a) they are a good easy place to start and provide a useful reality check and (b) you often find mistakes in what you thought was a perfectly decent reconstruction!


Some Harder Dances to Reconstruct

My first recommendation is to point you in the direction of the 15th Century Italian books. This is because the dances are relatively easy to do, easy to teach, and easy to learn (although not as easy as Arbeau’s stuff). Also, and more importantly, it has not already been done.

There are dances in these books that have never (to my knowledge) been reconstructed.

There are reconstructions that are continually being worked on and re-worked. More and more is being found out about the steps in these dances all the time (although David Wilson’s “Steps Used in Courtly Dancing in the 15h Century” buries a lot of the arguments, as does some of Barbara Sparti’s more recent research).

The next place to go are the 15th C Burgundian dances. Here is how to do them:

  • The books themselves are written in French or Catalan, but easy to understand. Get a good translation of the introduction sections -- they are where all of the steps and patterns are described.

  • Pick one of the dances that you can actually find music to (there are a few good books on these, or you can find some on CDs or tapes). Just get a piece the right length is the important point.

  • The steps are written out in a tabular fashion -- it doesn’t matter that the language is foreign. Just remember that R9 is reverance, and the other funny looking “r” is a demarche. Again, this is described in the introduction.


Stuff for the Experts Only

Caroso and Negri are the obvious choices. They are the most difficult sets of dances to reconstruct, teach, learn and dance, and the most complex pre-17th C dances that there are.

Learning Caroso or Negri (in particular the latter) is like learning a new language. Do it a bit at a time. Get a copy of one of the books and browse through it. Ask a few experts. Play with some steps first then find a dance to work on and see how far you get.

Reconstructing from Negri is something I cannot teach in one hour -- find someone to talk to about it, get on rendance via e-mail, or phone me a lot!

There is one other area that has not been touched much -- that is the Spanish manuscripts. These are very hard to reconstruct (although the dances themselves are similar to the Burgundian basse danses) because there are no introduction sections, and the dances are written using a strange notation.

There has been one good article in Historical Dance about translating this scrawl but very few people have been game to try it.


Things I haven’t mentioned

This was not meant to be a class to show you how to reconstruct a dance -- it was designed to point you at the right books.

You can reconstruct a dance for yourself, teach it in your own local group, and then show it off to the rest of Lochac. It’s not that hard.

The list above was not a 100% complete list of all of the sources either -- I have left out some of the more obscure ones like Lupi (Italy) and Arena (France), and also the Catalan/Spanish texts of the 15th C baixa dance. If you find a copy or transcription or translation of one then go for it!

You may need a bit more assistance than what the dance books tell you. Arbeau explains relatively simply how to do doubles and singles, but there are NO step descriptions in any of the 15th C books -- we have worked it out based on timings and words in some of the introductory sections. Get David Wilson’s book if you want to do 15th C dances.

Some of the evidence we have for what these books mean is not 100% watertight. Get out your red pen if you have to and mark up someone else’s reconstruction first (with their permission of course) and see if you can see where they have drawn evidence direct from the text and where other evidence or guesswork has been pulled in. Try to understand some of the thought processes. Don’t be scared to change things.

Translations are all very well and good, but you must be able to recognise some of the language -- especially for the Italian stuff. Learn to speak “dance” not any language -- especially learn to speak “dance italian” (Julia Sutton’s habit of calling a trabuchetto a “falling jump” just does not work for me -- learn what a trabuchetto is, how it works, and why it is called a “trabuchetto” -- there is a reason!).

Find a good source of music. That can be hard to come by, I know, but it is worth the effort browsing CD shops because there are new recordings being released all the time (the rendance group is working on a discography to go with the bibliography).