Dances from Gresley


Dances from Gresley, PDF format

The Gresley Manual forms part of a small notebook that was discovered in Derbyshire in 1984.

The manual contains a total of 8 dances where there are both music and choreography. There are a number of other dance choreographies in the manual without music, and some music for dances that have no description. It also mentions a large number of other dances by name.

The manual was probably written some time between 1480 and 1520 or so. There are some minor similarities between some of the dances and the dances of 15th Century Italy, although they form a separate tradition of dance.

The Gresley Manual was an interesting find, because it forms the first recorded set of dance descriptions in English.



This section was written by Hoskuld Atlasson of Iceland (Norman Gray) who has given me permission to reproduce it here. I have included a shortened version of Norman's full article.



This article summarizes my current interpretations for the Gresley dances. This part concentrates on the steps and step patterns. I have separated the part on the trace so I could fit in the examples. Two pages deal with the dances themselves. The last page summarises the discussion I lead on interpreting Prenes on gre at the St. Vitus dance weekend in Canberra 1999.

Interpretations of these dances include their music which has been interpreted by Katrina Hunt. As we interpreted the dances we also interpreted the music. This means that the interpretation has been two ways, sometimes the dance effected the interpretation of the music while at other times the music effects the dance.



There are only 8 dances in the Gresley Collection, which have both music and a description of the steps. Of these only 4 (Esperance, Prenes on gre, Temperans and Northumberland) have complete descriptions. The other four are missing the description of their trace.



You can tell how close to complete an interpretation is by how detailed the diagrams and descriptions are. Some will have a link to notes. These are very rough descriptions of how we came to a particular decision when doing the interpretation. The notes for Prenes on gre are very detailed. They started of as notes for a class at a dance weekend here in Canberra, and contain detailed discussion of the options and decisions which had to be made while working on the dance. Other options which came to mind afterwards have also been explained.


What we do not know

After all the work on these dances we still do not know for certain how the steps were done or the social context in which they were performed.

It is possible that these dances are not social dances but form part of masques or plays. Some seem more like "a bit of business" to keep the audience entertained while a scene changes or as a way of getting actors into the right place for the next bit of the mask or maybe mystery play. Only men are mentioned in the dances. None of the dances have the form that allows for partners.

It is also possible that these are dressage or horse dances. Although I can not figure out how a horse would do a “horn pipe”.



There have been a number of assumptions made while interpreting these dances. Some are the “normal” assumptions made when interpreting any piece of music and accompanying dance description. Others are useful only as a starting place when figuring out the forms or patterns made in the dance.

  1. The steps alternate right and left, and dances start on the left foot.

  2. One bar of music equates to one single.

  3. A single is a passo i.e. step on the ball of the foot on first beat then slightly sink on the second beat. You can bring the other foot forward but slightly behind. Do not close the step.

  4. All singles are the same size, for interpretation purposes. This is not a good assumption for the final version of an interpretation but it is a good place to start. Most dancers will change the size of their steps so that they end up where they should.

  5. Sections of the music can be matched to sections of the dance as set out in part one of the dance descriptions. This appears normal for most dances and their music.

  6. Sections of dance descriptions do not go over the ends of repeats of the music.

  7. Music is less ambiguous than trying to describe dances in words. This means that the music is more likely to be “correct” than the description for durations of patterns.

  8. The document can stand alone. That is we can find out everything about the dances from other dances in the manuscript.


Word count

Steps, patterns and words



Esperans (Gresley ms), arranged by Katrina Hunt
Esperans (Gresley ms), arranged by David Yardley

Prenes on Gre


Prenes on Gre (Gresley ms), arranged by Katrina Hunt

Further Information