Soon after the Ring of Fire, the residents of Grantville will discover that dancing was far more important in seventeenth century European society than it was in twentieth century America.

In The Courtier (1561), Castiglione recounts an anecdote about a noblewoman who asked a knight to dance with her. He refused, saying that dancing was not part of his profession, which was to fight. She sweetly suggested that since the country was at peace, he should be stored in an armory with other implements of war, suitably oiled so that he didn’t rust.

A century later, in issuing a patent to his new Academie Royale de Danse, Louis XIV declared that dance is “one of the arts most useful to our nobility, not only in time of war, in our armies, but in time of peace as well, in the divertissements of our ballets.”

The attitude that dance was an essential social skill was not limited to the nobility. In England, the professionals and their wives had to be able to dance, too. In 1631, a Middle Temple bencher warned that it was “accounted a shame for any Inns of Court man not to have learned to dance, especially the measures”. (Durham) Guildsmen might be required to do a ritualized “guild dance” on a particular day of the year, and it is evident from period paintings that peasants enjoyed folk dances.

So the up-timers—especially those who take up positions outside Grantville—are going to have to learn the down-timers’ dances. My story “Two Left Feet” (Grantville Gazette 27) was driven by the conceit that Mike Stearns would be expected to dance in 1635 at the new prime minister’s inaugural ball . . . and wouldn’t like the idea one bit.

Of course, the down-timers visiting Grantville are going to be exposed to up-time dances, possibly including square dancing, contra dancing (more on that later), Appalachian clogging, modern ballet, and ballroom dancing (including tango, waltz, polka, etc.) and swing dancing.

Bear in mind that the exposure is not limited to the dances that the up-timers presently do; there will be dance scenes in the movies shown to the down-timers.

Kerryn Offord has written several stories (“A Night at the Ballet,” 1634: TheRam Rebellion; ” A Falcon Falls,” Grantville Gazette 13) which relate to the creation and activity of a ballet company in Grantville (the company later moves to Magdeburg), and in my “Federico and Ginger,” an Italian dancing master studies Fred Astaire and creates, with the aid of the cheerleaders at the high school and his star pupil (Princess Kristina of Sweden), a dance extravaganza celebrating Gustavus Adolphus’ rule, with both up-time and down-time dance elements.

In this article, I will first discuss the social context of Renaissance dancing (especially early-seventeenth century dancing), and then describe the dances (especially court dances) of our period.

Social Context

Dancing is not an isolated phenomenon, it’s a part of the participants’ culture. Cultural rules dictate when and where dancing occurs, and who participates.

When? Particular dances may be performed at select moments in the life cycle (birth, baptism, birthdays, puberty, marriage, death) of the dancer or the dancer’s relatives and associates. Others are governed by the calendar; they are done every Sunday, or in recognition of the season (arrival of spring, midsummer or midwinter, or harvest time, or the movement of the herds to downhill or uphill pastures), or on a “recruitment day” or “market day.” Or they may be sporadic, preceding or following cooperative work.

In rural Germany, in particular, “the occasions for dancing and entertainment included Carnival, Easter, ember days, sowing, the driving out of the cattle, May Day, the feasts of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Martin, the anniversary of the local church’s dedication, and the winter solstice.” (Ency.)

Where? Dances may be done outdoors or indoors. If outdoors, it might happen anywhere that is reasonably flat and wide (a courtyard, a field), or only in a place specially designated for dancing. If indoors, the dance may be held in a “private”(think of a Harlem rent party) or “public” (a dance hall, a temple, a threshing floor) place. Dancing indoors has its hazards; in 1284 at Nefyn, the floor collapsed (Med Eng 31).

By Whom? The right to do particular dances, or to dance at all, may be limited according to gender, age, marital status, heredity, occupation, social class, or selection by initiates. There are:

—ritual dances such as the English Morris dance or Romanian Calusarii;

—occupational dances performed by members of town guilds (there is a memorable image of German sausage makers parading a very long link of sausages down “main street”, and I have photographed the dance of the barrelmakers in Erdobenye, Hungary) or by herdsmen (such as Hungarian swineherds);

—court dances done by members of the nobility; and

—country dances that are essentially all-inclusive.

In eastern Europe there are villages where only the men danced, or only the women danced. Even when the women danced, there was room for variation: only unmarried women danced; married women danced but only with their husbands; and married women danced but never with their husbands (if her husband asked her to dance, it would be declaring that the wife was such a bad dancer that no one else would dance with her).


In the Renaissance, the church attitude toward dancing was rather ambivalent. On the one hand, there was an association between dancing and paganism, traceable back to the dancing of the idolaters (Exodus 32:6). On the other hand, there were some favorable references to dancing in the Bible; David dancing “before the Lord” when the Ark of the Covenant was recovered, and Miriam celebrating the parting of the Red Sea.

In some places and times, there was a prohibition on dancing on holy days or in churches. On the other hand, village priests were known to lead dances, even in church. Some churchmen opposed dance only when it was associated with licentious behavior, rather than decrying dancing per se. Overall, the Catholics were more tolerant of dancing than were the Protestants.

Court Dancing

In the movie The King’s Speech, the stutter-prone George VI (Colin Firth) complains that the need to give radio speeches has forced the royals into the lowest class of society: performers. But in the seventeenth century, royalty, nobility and gentry were eager to perform—provided they did so indoors, and for their peers. (Smith).


In the sixteenth century, the Italians were the trendsetters in dance. Their dances included both processional dances like the pavane, and faster “after dances” (gagliarda, saltarello, canario). Sometimes several dances were combined into a virtuoso figure dance suite, the balli or balleto. These suites were rehearsed in advance by a small ensemble of nobles (possibly including some professional “ringers”), and performed for an audience in chambers of noblewomen, or at balls.

In Italy, the old knightly tournaments evolved into the staged tournoi a theme, and ultimately into the horse ballet: riders guided their mounts through dance patterns (Strong 54ff). One such spectacle was featured in Agnioli Ricci’s 1637 Le Nozze degli Dei, which honored the wedding of Ferdinand II, Grand Duke of Tuscany (and a character in my stories “Under the Tuscan Son” and “Arsenic and Old Italians”).

The court dances were also adapted by theatrical troupes, who would present snippets to liven up a play. These troupes traveled outside Italy and helped to engender interest in Italian dance. Italian dancing masters and their pupils also fanned out across Europe.


By the mid-seventeenth century, Paris had eclipsed the various Italian cities as the capital of dance (Nevile 22). In France, the nobility began their formal public life at age ten, and dancing was an expected skill. Woe betide those who did not master it, or worse, merely thought they had:

“A son of Montbron . . . had been asked if he danced well; and he had replied with a confidence which made every one hope that the contrary was the case. Every one was satisfied. From the first bow, he became confused, and he lost step at once. He tried to divert attention from his mistake by affected attitudes, and carrying his arms high; but this made him only more ridiculous, and excited bursts of laughter, which, in despite of the respect due to the personage of the King (who likewise had great difficulty to hinder himself from laughing), degenerated at length into regular hooting. On the morrow, instead of flying from the Court or holding his tongue, he excused himself by saying that the presence of the King had disconcerted him, and promised marvels for the ball which was to follow . . . As soon as he began to dance at the second ball, those who were near stood up, those who were far off climbed wherever they could to get a sight; and the shouts of laughter were mingled with clapping of hands . . . Montbron disappeared immediately afterwards, and did not show himself again for a long time.” (Hilton 15-16)

In France, there were court balls every week; they began with an obeisance to the king. then couples danced for the whole court, one at a time (danse a deux), in order of social rank (Hilton 3). A dance a deux is pictured in Abraham Bosse, The Ball (1635).

While the social dancing at a royal ball had its performance aspects, the ballet de cour created by Catherine de Medici and Balthazar de Beaujoyeaux was longer and more heavily choreographed, with an eye toward the spectacular. The French kings recognized the propaganda value of the court ballet, which dramatized both the splendor of the king and his power against evil. Some of the ballets used elaborate stage machinery from Italy.

In my story “Federico and Ginger” (Grantville Gazette 4), Federico’s grand spectacle is inspired by La Ballet de la Nuit (1653), which had 45 entrees in four parts ending with a traditional grand ballet with 22 dancers (a mixture of nobles and professionals). The individual dances (entrees) were probably around two or three minutes long. Le Balet Comique de la Royne (1581) lasted five hours. The ballets had both noble and burlesque elements, analogous to English masque and anti-masque (see below).

The court ballets were performed at Carnival and on other occasions. Each year, courtiers learned two to four new dances; they needed to have twelve dances in their repertoire, and roles were awarded on the basis of technical merit. (Hilton).

Professionals (from the theater) were used if the role was beneath the dignity of a noble or required proficiency beyond that of the available aristocrats. Actresses could partner with noblemen, but it was more awkward for an actor to dance with a lady of the court. The first documented professional dance troupe was that of Horace Morel, who presented Le Ballet de l’Harmonie Universelle and La Ballet des Effets de la Nature in 1632.

Louis XIV performed from 1647 (age 8) until 1670 . . . typically several times a week! He took lessons daily, loved both comic and female (played in drag) roles (the king didn’t have to worry about dignity), and danced in seven different ballets in 1656.

While the Sun King was an avid dancer, some of the other noblemen didn’t share his enthusiasm. The Royal Academy was founded in 1661, essentially to supply professionals for the ballets. When Louis XIV retired from dancing, there was a mass exodus of courtiers from the ballet de cour. The Royal Academy became a professional company, with few if any of the nobility, but the stage dances were adapted for ballroom use.

Dances were also a part of the higher educational system. Every year, in early August, as part of award ceremonies, the rhetoric students at secondary schools would present ballets de college. A performance might also be given in honor of a king’s visit, or a royal birth, coronation, or marriage. The subjects were usually allegorical (e.g. the seasons, a chess game). The costs of production were covered by fund-raising, subsidies, gifts, and sometimes admission fees; actors might furnish their own costume. Guest ballet masters choreographed the production and taught the students; they might also dance the most difficult roles. The performance might be in the hall or courtyard of the college with tent set up, or in nearby castle; it would be announced by drummers or posted programs. A single performance might have audience of 4000 people, including of course parents, friends and local dignitaries.


The English court dances were imported from France; the English contribution to Renaissance dance took the form of jigs, hornpipes, and, most of all, country dance. I will discuss those in the “Folk Dancing” section of this article.

The court dances were done, not only by the nobility, but also by the gentry. The Inns of Court were where the bright young Englishmen went to study law. They weren’t law schools in a modern sense; rather they were more like private clubs for lawyers, with both offices and dining facilities. The lawyers taught the students on what was probably a fairly informal basis, more like a modern internship.

The Inns of Court regularly hosted revels (at one time, every Saturday between All Saint’s Eve and Candlemas) and the members were expected to participate. Indeed, William Dugsdale (1666) says that the “Under Barristers” were punished for having failed to dance the last Candlemas Day and were warned that if they offended again, “they should be fined or disbarred.” (Durham).

To learn the dances, the neophytes hired private tutors or attended dancing schools. We know that in 1594, William Fitzwilliam of Gray’s Inn “paid almost as much for a month’s dancing lessons as for his commons (meals).” Another source says that in 1595, a month’s dancing lessons cost five shillings.

It appears that as many as thirty couples might be dancing at one time, so clearly the Inns of Court revels didn’t ape the French custom of hierarchical danse a deux (except perhaps when they had noble or royal guests).

In England, masques were a principal entertainment for the court, and were commissioned by the king, the queen, or nobles or lawyers seeking to impress them. Those with royal sponsorship were held at Whitehall, the royal banqueting hall, and there would be perhaps 600 members of the aristocracy in attendance. Masques were also held at the Inns of Court or at the country manors of great magnates.

I will describe the masque in the mature form it achieved during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Please note that even then there could be variations on the basic structure.

The masques began with some kind of introductory song or speech that explained what the performance was about. (Note that these were known more for their elaborate costumes, scenery and stage machinery than for the complexity, subtlety or provocativeness of their plots.)

Then came the anti-masque, a comic or grotesque dance representing the order of chaos. By way of example, the anti-masquers were witches in The Masque of Queens (1609), satyrs in Oberon (1611), and “frantics” (characters in the commedia della arte tradition) in The Lord’s Masque (1613).

These would be driven out by the entry dance of the forces of order, the masquers; these might portray gods and goddesses, legendary heroes, exotic princes, knights of King Arthur’s Court, soldiers of Imperial Rome, and so forth.

After performing their main dance, the masquers invited members of the audience to join them in the revel. After an hour or so (Ency. GB 252), the invitees returned to their seats, the masquers performed their final speeches or songs and their withdrawing dance, and this might be followed by some sort of royal reception or banquet.

The masquers, usually 6–12 in number, were lords or ladies, occasionally both at the same time. There are a few productions with a double entry, one of male masquers and the other of female. Lady masquers wore low cut bodice or gauzed breasts, with skirts shortened to the calf. Male masquers sometimes were called upon to dance “in travesty,” that is, playing female roles.

Children were first used as torchbearers, but they could also do comic or grotesque dancing, as in an anti-masque (Jonson 1608). Otherwise, the anti-masquers were all male professionals.

Henrietta Maria moved revels from mid-performance to the end of the program in 1631. The invitations followed rules of precedence; that is, the principal masquer invited the principal audience member of the opposite sex to dance, and the performers worked their way “down the ladder.” Only audience members seated up front were asked to dance; their choice of seating implied a willingness to cooperate.

The revels would begin with” measures,” escalate to galliards, corantos, and canaries, and close with branles and country dances (see below).

A masque was usually performed just once, in a royal banqueting hall or similarly august setting, but there’s some evidence for a “running masque” that moved from home to home.


The Complaint of Scotland (1543) lists a variety of court dances, including pavans, galliards, turdions and branles. Indeed, an earlier source (The Fader, 1500) mentions the “brawll of France” and the “new paven of France”. (Machaffie)

Germany and Austria

In the 1630s, Germany was something of a backwater for court dancing; the centers of innovation were elsewhere. The Germans learned court dancing by both direct (lessons with resident dance masters) and indirect (from visitors or while traveling) means.

In the early eighteenth century, the dance masters at the German courts were primarily French (Little 9); I suspect that in the early seventeenth century, they would have been mostly French or Italian. Their status was on par with that of a doctor, lawyer, fencing master or tennis master.

The seventeenth-century Germans would also have seen theatrical performances, with dance elements, by traveling French, Italian and English troupes. And German noblemen did go on the Grand Tour, and bring back foreign dances.

Even if the Germans weren’t innovators, they were certainly eager to dance. Dance houses were built as venues for balls, which could be sponsored by noblemen or merchants. These predate the RoF; a multilevel Bread-and-Dance House was built in Nordlingen in 1444; there were bakers’ shops on the ground floor and the dance floor above. Ball dancing could be in regular dress or in costume, and the sponsor was considered the “King of the Ball” (and his spouse, the “Queen”). (Nevile 11) Since the balls were for the benefit of the nobility or for those seeking entry to noble circles, I suspect that court dances dominated. However, it is possible that some folk dances crept in, especially late in the evening.

There were also court ballet performances in the French tradition. In the early seventeenth century court ballets at Stuttgart, only men danced, taking on female as well as male roles. On the other hand, in Dessau in 1614, noblewomen were allowed to perform. (Nevile 61)

A detailed description is available of a masque performed in Stuttgart in 1616. This featured four giant heads, from each of which dancers representing three different nations emerged. The dancing included “a galliard after the English manner” and a Frenchman dancing a coranto. (Brandt 32). I must wonder about the accuracy of the statement in the Dance Encyclopedia that “German courts did not develop the spectacular dance pageants or masques that were a feature of the Italian, French and English courts of this period.”

The students at the German gymnasiums (loosely comparable to an American prep school) gave dramatic performances that could include dance numbers. (This can be likened to the French ballet de college.)

Albrecht Durer created a woodcut, The Masquerade Dance with Torches for Freydal (1517-18), a faux medieval epic honoring the Emperor Maximilian I. The outfits of the dancers are clearly courtly. It is unclear whether it represented an authentic court dance or was purely a work of the imagination. But torch and lantern dances were part of some guild presentations. (Ency.)

Turning to Austria, there was theatrical dancing in the school plays of the Jesuits and in court festivities. At court, Italian teachers dominated; Carlo Beccharia at the court of Rudolph II (1576-1612), and Santo Ventura, at least from 1626, had Ferdinand II (1619-1637) as his patron.

There was both court dancing and a horse ballet at Ferdinand’s marriage to Maria Anna in 1631.


During the reign of Frederick II, there were visits by English theatrical troupes. By the 1630s, the Danish royal court had enjoyed the benefit of two French dancing masters, first Jacques Freville (1615-1623) (Wade 84) and then Alexander von Kuckelsom. In October 1634, Kuckelsom presented a court ballet in honor of the marriage of Prince Christian to Princess Magdalena Sibylla of Saxony. (Has this marriage been butterflied away?) The king played Neptune, the crown prince was his son, and the bride debuted as Pallas Athena. (Marker, 32).

It’s interesting that the Danish king, an avid Protestant, tolerated the presence of a Roman Catholic dancing master. Jacques Freville, by the way, was more than a dancing master. He was an agent of the Dominican Fathers . . . and Danish spies were well aware of his activities. (Garstein 95).


There apparently was no court dancing in Sweden at the time of RoF; Gustavus Adolphus was perhaps more interested in the “dancing place of Mars,” the battlefield. In 1636-8 (the sources disagree), Antoine de Bealieau, a French dancing master, came to Stockholm under royal patronage (Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna and the underage Queen Christina), and introduced ballet de cour. (Strong 59). His first production was Le Ballet des Plaisirs de la Vie des Enfants sans soucy (January 28, 1638).

Out of thirteen documented court ballets, five were for royal birthdays, three for noble weddings, one for Christina’s coronation, and one celebrated the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War. Twelve of the thirteen texts indicate that they were performed in Christina’s presence. (Bohlin). These ballets all ended with a Grand Ballet and Queen Christina took part in at least that of Les liberalitez des Dieux (1652). She also is known to have played the part of Diana (Artemis) in Le Vaicu de Diane (1649). Bohlin speculates that she might have also played Pallas Athena (Minerva) in La Maissance de la Paix, a propaganda piece that portrayed her as the Pallas of the North, just as her father had been the Jupiter of the North.


In other European countries, such as France and England, folk dancing influenced court dancing, and vice versa. However, the Dutch nobility essentially ignored their own folk heritage, drawing their court dances from French and to a lesser degree Italian sources.

In addition, the court dancing was more a social than a performance art. The only documented full-length court ballet of the seventeenth century was Ballet de la Paix (1668), with Prince William III of Orange dancing multiple roles. There were some instances in the second half of the century of ballets being performed before or after a drama.


Court dances, presumably Italian in character, were performed at the 1518 wedding of Bona Sforza of Milan to King Zygmunt (Sigismund) I. (Ency.)

Ambrosio Bontempo was an Italian dancing master active at the Graz court 1586–1623/5.

King Zygmunt III married Archduchess Anna of Austria in 1592 and Bontempo was involved in this celebration (Przybyszewska-Jarminska). However, I have no particulars.

In 1637–8, another Italian dancing master, Santi Ventura, created a ballet as part of the Austrian contribution to the celebration of the wedding of Wladyslaw IV to Princess Cecilia Renata in September 1637 (Przybyszewska-Jarminska). That is, by the way, the desperately unhappy marriage that is “butterflied away” in Flint, 1634: The Bavarian Crisis, Chap. 64.

The first home-grown court dance may have been the polonez (polonaise), which is said to have itself evolved from Polish folk dances, possibly the chodzony, wolny or wielki (Randel 668). Silverman (142) quotes a legend (her words) that “it was first used by nobleman at the ascension of Henri III to the throne of Poland” in 1573 (or when he arrived in Poland in 1574, according to some sources.) The legend is discounted by Niecks (268) and others. A further complication is that the term “Polonaise” was used in France for music or dance that seemed Polish in character (like the use of “Allemande” for Germany-seeming pieces)(Little 194).

In 1645, a French writer declared, “I know of no dance in which so much loveliness, dignity and charm are united as in the polonaise. It is the only dance which becomes exalted persons and monarchs and which is suited to courtly dress . . . .” (Sachs 424). It eventually became the opening dance for a Polish ball.

However, I collected vague, third-hand references to other dances done at court as early as the sixteenth century: “first the ladies danced, carrying garlands and moving in twos, one pair behind the other; next young men danced, also grouped in twos; then the men approached the women to partner them in processional dances.” (Ency.) Those processional dances, of course, may have included the precursor to the Polonaise.


In 1594, Lope de Vega’s comedia El Maestro de Danzar said that dancing “makes the ugly beautiful, and the beautiful even more perfect.” (Esses 518). “Under Philip IV, from 1621 to 1665, dance and courtly behavior were so important as to form almost a religious code.” (Ency. 668). Even a century later, Bartolomeo Ferriol y Boxeraus’ Reglas utiles para los aficionados a danzar (1745) declared the skill of dancing to be “an emblem of the man of court” (Esses 519).

There is only one surviving dance treatise from Spain (Navarro, 1642), so it’s difficult to form a clear picture of Spanish court dancing. Negri’s 1602 treatise was translated into Spanish in 1630; in general, there was a strong Italian influence on court dancing in Castile and Andalusia. (Ency.)

The court entertainments that featured some sort of dancing included the sarao and the mascara. The sarao was “a gathering of respected persons of high social station in order to enjoy instrumental music and courtly dances.” (De Murcia 96); it was essentially a dance suite, without a strong dramatic thread, performed for a small audience. The mascara required the dancers to portray particular characters, and had some semblance of a plot.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of Spanish court dance culture was the “dancing duel” (reto) described by Esquivel Navarro (1642). The offended dancer went to the offender’s dance studio, requested that the alta (the standard opening dance) be played, and as he danced it, he proclaimed, “I challenge and dare so-and-so, a pupil of so-and so, to dance four mudancas of the pavana, six passeos of the gallards, two mudancas of the folias, two of the rey, and two of the villano, chacona, canario and rastro, to the sound of good accompaniment, to see who does more and who looks better.” (Esses 521). The challenger had to put his money where his mouth was, depositing a stake with the senor maestro whose studio was to be the venue for the duel. (Half the stake to go to the victor, and the remainder to the musicians). And the challenger even had to name seconds!

To accept the duel, the challenged also had to dance the alta and declare (hat off), “It has come my attention that so-and-so . . . has challenged me to dance.” He then put his hat back on as arrogantly as possible (which for a Spanish nobleman, was arrogant indeed) and formally accepted the challenge, including making a matching deposit and naming his own seconds.

In 1637, Esquivel himself issued one of these challenges; he was a Madrileno who had just arrived in Seville, and one of the maestros of the escuela he had visited had “criticized his dancing behind his back.” Esquivel issued a general challenge to all comers, and no one showed up for the duel. This in turn validated the dancing style Esquivel had learned from his master, Antonio de Almenda. (Esses 521).

Descriptions of Particular Court Dances


Our principal sources for early seventeenth century court dance figures are the manuals written by various dancing masters. While we have perhaps a dozen of these from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there are problems working with them. First, they make assumptions, such as that the reader already knows the basic steps, or at least the character of the movements (how high you lift your leg, for example). Secondly, they don’t necessarily clearly indicate the timing of the movements. Finally, the fact that a treatise was written in 1600 doesn’t mean that it actually reflects what was still being done in 1600; the writer’s heyday as a dancer might have been a quarter-century earlier.

If all we have is a reference to the dance by name, without any description—in a diary or chronicle, perhaps—then we have no way of knowing whether the dance being done then is in fact identical or even similar to the dance of the same name done at an earlier or later time.

If the reference to the dance is in the name of a piece of music—as the name of a movement, perhaps—then we don’t know whether the dance was in fact being done then. The music could have come before the dance, or the dance could have died out but music was still being written for it.

Dance Technique

The effect of costume on dance technique cannot be overestimated. Clothes can constrict what parts of the body can move where and the overall weight of one’s outfit has an effect on stamina.

Costumes varied, of course, by time, place and social class, but as a reasonable example of what one would have to put up with in the course of seventeenth century court dancing, visualize the men wearing starched ruff, doublet, breeches, boots, hat, sword, and cape, and the woman either a corseted bodice and double skirt, or a corseted gown. The ruff and corset imprisoned the head and torso, so the ladies’ garb forced reliance on intricate and rapid footwork.

Modern ballet is marked by a pronounced turnout of the toes. We know from paintings and dance manuals that in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Italians used parallel feet or slight turnout. Caroso said that it was “most ugly to point one foot south and the other north, as if the feet were deformed.”

In France, Arbeau said that the amount of turnout was at the discretion of the dancer, but should not be more than a right angle. He warned that it should be less for the man as it imparted a feminine look. But by 1637, more turnout was favored; De Lauze urged “toes well outward” to facilitate movements from the hip.

The appearance of shoes with heels (long known in Asia) in the 1570s no doubt encouraged the stamping sequences of the canary.

The entrechat, a rapid crossing and re-crossing of the legs before and behind while in the air, was known in our period; a picture from 1637 shows one (Sachs 121), and Arbeau (1589) describes an early form (the capriole).

The principal couple hold was hand in hand, but there were definitely peasant dances which featured the closer hold with hands on shoulders or shoulder blades—See, in Theodore de Bry (1528-98)’s Peasants Dance the second-to-last couple, and in his Court Dance, the first couple (in turning position, with hands on waist and shoulder)(Sachs Plate 24).

“Aerials”—figures in which the man lifted his partner—appeared in a few dances, and of course required a strong connection. In Branle Official (Arbeau 1589), the man lifted his partner by the waist, In Lavolta (Arbeau 1589), he put one hand under her busk and the other around her waist. There is also a lift in the balleto La Nizzarda (Negri 1602).

Branles (Brawls, Brandi)

In Love’s Labor Lost, Armando’s page says “Master, will you please win your love with a French brawl.” The French dancing master Arbeau says that it evolved from French folk dances. However, its roots may be deeper; the branle simple has the hora pattern (two steps in one direction, one in the other) that is found all over Europe.

Of course, the spirit of one-upmanship inherent in court dancing guaranteed that more complicated branles would be devised. John Marston, The Malcontent (1604) Act IV makes fun of complex “brawl” dance patterns (and the description seems like Arbeau’s Branle de Malte):

Aurelia (Duchess): We have forgot the brawl.

Ferrardo (Duke’s minion): So soon? ‘Tis wonder.

Guerrino (courtier). Why? ‘Tis but two singles on the left, two on the right, three doubles forward, a traverse of six round; do this twice, three singles side, galliard trick of twenty, coranto-pace, a figure of eight, three singles broken, down, come up, meet, two doubles, fall back, and then honor.

Aur: O Daedalus, thy maze! I have quite forgot it.

Maquerelle (guarding the duchess’ door from interruption): Trust me, so have I, saving the falling back and then honour.

When you consider how quickly modern dances go out of favor, the longevity of the branle is amazing. Isabelle d’Este and Anna Sforza danced French country dances, which perhaps were branles, in 1491 (Sachs 111). According to Antonius de Arena, by 1528, three types were done at balls. (Ency 522). Milanese royalty danced a brandi for 8 in 1574; 82 dancers enjoyed a brandi in 1594. Arbeau’s 1589 dance treatise (Orchesography) sets forth steps for 24 branles, and there are many branles in de Lauze’s 1623 monograph. Six types are mentioned by Mersennes (yes, the mathematician!) in 1636.

In the reigns of French kings from Francis I to Louis XIV, the French ball began with series of branles. Mersenne (1636), for example, describes a suite comprising five branles and a gavotte. (Sachs 385).

However, by the mid-seventeenth century, the branle was fading in popularity. In 1642, in Spain it was an old dance that dance masters had to know but which wasn’t actually danced. Still, Pepys saw branles at a court ball in 1666 (Sachs 124), and it was still identified as the first dance of the ball in Rameau (1725).

The branle was a group dance, done as a chain or circle. Arbeau (1589) says that it was done by “as many young men as do damsels,” implying that men and women alternated, and elsewhere indicates that the lady is on the right. It appears that it was permissible for the more energetic dancers to “ornament” the figures, putting in little springs on their steps, or substituting a triple-scissor for a step-close. Some of the branles feature miming movements—beating the washing like a washerwoman, or pawing the ground like a horse.


There are two theories about the name of this dance. One is that it is from “padovana” or “paduana,” meaning a dance from Padua. The other is that it’s from “pavone,” peacock, and I confess that I find the second explanation more appealing.

The pavane is a slow processional couple dance which is more about showing off how elegantly the dancers are dressed than how “musical” or “agile” they are. It may perhaps be compared with the nineteenth-century ballroom form of the Polonaise (another walking dance), with wedding and graduation processions, or even with modern “voguing.” It was often done as part of a suite, in which case it was usually followed by a saltarello or galliard.

One common figure, shorn of ornamentation, combines two “singles” (step-close, step-close) and a “double” (step-step-step-close), totaling eight counts. This can be done forward, backward, or turning (“conversion”). In converting, the woman always travels forward (probably to avoid “wardrobe malfunction”). Other combinations of singles and doubles are possible.

The dance is mentioned in Dalza’s Intabolatura di Lauto (Venice 1508). The combination of forward and backward movement existed by 1520 because that’s when Giovanni Andrea da Prato wryly admitted that his writing style had this in common with the pavane. In 1589, Arbeau said that the pavane is a grand processional for royalty and great nobility on a feast day, or for the entry of a god, goddess, emperor or king in a masque, or to open a grand ball. It’s mentioned by Mersennes (1636) and Navarro (Spain, 1642) but by then was probably already in decline. Please note that it survived in music well after the dance itself became extinct. (Ency. 114)

Allemande, Almain, Alman, Allemayne

This was another processional dance, performed in England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The name implies that it was derived from a German dance. Wilson (Inns of Court) says that the Almain ended double and single steps with a raised leg rather than closing the feet as in the Pavane. Arbeau (1588) describes a French version, but it was no longer danced in France in 1636 (per Mersennes). A version for two couples is described by Negri 1602. (Ency.)

The (Old) Measures

This is not a single dance, but rather a group of dances traditionally done together at the English Inns of Court. It isn’t clear that all of them would be done the same night, mind you. They are the Quadran Pavan, Turkelone (Lone Turk?), Earle of Essex Measure, Tinternall, Lorrayne Allemayne, Auld Alman, Brounswycke, Queen’s Almaine, Newe Allemayne, Madam Sosilia Alman and Black Almaine. Our sources for these dances are dated 1570, 1606, 1630, and more vaguely as “mid to late seventeenth century.” The term “measures” may also be a generic term for the class of processional dances including both pavanes and almains. (Pugliese & Casazza).


As a musical form, the courante dates back to the mid sixteenth century. There is a problematic description of a “Caranto Dyspane” in a record of dances done at a 1570-ish Inns of Court revel, and equally confusing descriptions in Arbeau (1589), Negri (1602), and De Lauze (1623).

The courante provides a good example of the same name being used, at different times, for quite different dances. Arbeau says that it was a duple meter dance done with “little springs” and Shakespeare refers to “swift courantos”; you may think of it as a pavane with hops, or as being somewhat like the nineteenth-century Schottische. However, the courante done at the court of Louis XIV was the “slowest and most noble” of the triple meter couple dances. It lost favor to the minuet in the 1660s.


Praetorius in Terpsichore (1612) said it was descended from Branle de Poitou, whereas Taubert (1717) said it was from the courante. In any event, it superseded the courante as Louis XIV’s favorite dance. Unfortunately, the first useful descriptions of the dance are from 1725 and 1735, which makes it problematic to determine what its movement vocabulary was in the 1630s.

Galliard, Gagliarda

In the assemblies held by the English Inns of Court, a pavane would be followed by a galliard. In Chaucerian England, the word had the meaning of “valiant” or “high-spirited.” The first literary English reference to the galliard as a dance was in 1539 (OED). The Morris dance term “galley” is in turn derived from “galliard,” and refers to a circular motion of the foot, hanging from a raised and bent knee.

However, the dance is of Italian origin. In 1497, Vincenzo Calmeta complained that Bianca Lucia Stanga of Milan “has taken up fencing, dancing the gagliarda, carrying a dagger, wearing a cape like a braggart or gallant, and other doings which the female sex must not only avoid but abhor.” (per Sparti’s introduction to Compasso’s Ballo della Gagliarda). In 1529, Arena calls it a “new and very refined dance . . . makes one sweat . . . makes us gasp for breath . . . makes my legs ache.” (Aerobic, in other words.) Its popularity in Italy may be judged by the fact that it was the only dance included in every known Italian treatise or dance collection written or republished between 1560-1630.

The Shakespearean plays contain several references; in Twelfth Night, Sir Toby asks, “What is thy excellence in a galliard . . . ” and Sir Andrew answers, “I can cut a caper . . . I think I have the back trick . . . ” And later Toby adds “I would not so much as make water but in a sink-a-pace.”

So what does that all mean? The caper (capriole) is a fancy form of the final jump (saut major; cadence) of the basic galliard step; the term has carried over to English morris dancing (as a high leaping step) and as “cabriole” to ballet (a cabriole is a jump with the leading leg raised 45 or even 90 degrees and the following leg beat against it). The “back trick” is the ruade, a backward kick with one foot while leaping on the other. (Of course, it has lewder meanings . . . .) The “sink-a-pace” is one of those delightful English bastardizations of French, here of cinque passe, five steps. The basic galliard step is five steps in six counts of music, the fifth step, the saut major being delayed.

Shakespeare’s interest in the galliard wasn’t surprising, given Queen Elizabeth’s (1533-1603) attitude toward it. She danced 6–7 galliards in morning for exercise; at a royal ball, she allowed one pavane at beginning of ball for the old fogies, and then the rest of the time the participants were expected to dance the galliards. Even in 1599, she was seen dancing 3–4 galliards, and more surprisingly, in April 1602, she did two galliards with the Duke of Nevers.(Eng 45)

De Lauze’s Apologie de la Danse (1623) offers descriptions of many more corantos than galliards. Depending on whether your cup is half-full or half-empty, this could be read as showing that the galliard was still popular in France, or that it was losing ground to the coranto. Indeed, the galliard was also referred to by Mersennes (1636) and Navarro (1642).

The galliard took a variety of forms. It could be danced by a lone male or female, a single couple, a fixed set of couples, or a changing set. It was probably most often danced by a single couple. In late sixteenth century France, as described by Arbeau, the couple did a reverence (bow), and walked around the room. The woman executed traveling galliard steps moving away from her partner (who stood in place or danced simply), and then he danced over to and in front of her. Then he would dance away and she would dance to join him. This flirtatious separate-and-rejoin motif would be repeated until the music stopped.

Arbeau also mentions a variation (“Lyonaisse”) in which the man dances with a woman, then withdraws. She dances alone then chooses another partner. After a while, it is her turn to withdraw, and eventually her partner chooses another woman to dance with. This is what we call a “single couple progressive” dance, “progressive” indicating that there is a regular change of partners within a single dance. Negri “rule 54” describes a two couple “progressive” Italian form, which operates in an analogous manner.

Galliards also appeared as “movements” in dance suites (balleto) performed by a fixed set (usually 2–4) of couples. And the gagliarda was a popular “number” in the Italian intermedii, plays with dance and music.

Although there were standard figures, improvisation was common and expected. Each dancer no doubt developed and to some extent practiced privately an individual repertoire, to serve as a base for inspiration (or to fall back upon if inspiration failed) when dancing for an audience. This is, in fact, what happens with improvisational folk dances, such as the virtuoso Transylvanian men’s dances, Pontozo and Legenyes.

The dancing masters were happy to invent and teach (for a price) new galliard figures for those to whom innovation didn’t come naturally. And figures were published in dance treatises for those who couldn’t afford individual instruction. Reviewing just the Italian treatises, Compasso (1561) taught 165 variations, Lutii (1589) 35 (or 32); Lupi (1607) 200; Negri (1602) 50. In France, Arbeau’s Orchesography taught 20 different figures.

The solo dance had no set length, and could continue until the musicians took pity on the dancer and stopped, or played so long or fast that the dancer surrendered. (Wilson).

All of the galliard variations that have come to my attention have an odd number of weight changes; consequently, if you start with left foot free, you end with right foot free. The dancing manuals all insist on a rule of symmetry, that is, each figure is done twice, one to the left side and once to the right side. (The same rule also applies in modern Irish step dancing, most likely because it’s a performance dance and the repetition makes it easier for an “adjudicator” to spot a mistake. There are folk dances that do not follow a rule of symmetry; you can do different variations to left and right. And there are many folk and ballroom dances in which the figure has an even number of weight changes and hence can be repeated without reversal.)

However, it is not necessary that the galliard variation be a single measure. It may stretch over two or more measures, but the “cadence” (the delayed high leap into a rest posture) comes only at the end of the variation. If there is no combination or division of beats (e.g. replacement of four movements with two or six), then the one measure variation is five movements (hence, “cinque passe”), the two measure ones, 11, the three measure ones, 17, and so on, leading to an extended variation being called a “passage” or “trick” of 11, 17, 23, etc. (Some sources would instead call these tricks of 10, 15, 20, etc., i.e., an integer multiple of the 5 “steps” of the single measure figure.)


This was a variant on the galliard, done to quicker music but with quieter steps. It, too, was sometimes paired with the Pavane to form a short suite.


An Italian dance of this name is known to have existed as early as the fifteenth century, but the only useful documentation is from Caroso in the late sixteenth century. It was a fast dance, and in musical suites, it often followed a pavane. However, it differed from both galliards and tourdions.

Volta (lavolta)

The name means “turn,” and the word is used in fifteenth-century Italian dance manuals as a generic term for a turning movement or for a turning couple dance. However, the dance with the characteristic “aerial” for the woman can only be dated to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Arbeau (1589) is our principal source for this dance. He characterizes it as a kind of galliard, popular (and perhaps invented) in Provence. Some authorities assert that it came from Italy, but I believe that this is based on a misreading of those dance manuals.

In one variation, the couple first dances some basic cinque passe galliard steps, and then moves into the turning position. In another, the same step used for turning is also used as a processional.

The hold is quite unusual. The woman stands at right angles to the man. In the position for a clockwise turn, the woman is on the man’s left; the man has his left arm around her waist, and his right hand is holding the bottom of her busk. (This is the stiffening element at the center front of a corset.) Her right hand is on his back or collar, for support, and her left hand holds down her skirt. (Despite this precaution, according to a 1570 French observer, the leap showed “something delightful to the eye.” The male eye, at least.)

They take two small steps, both dancers starting with the left foot, and then the woman jumps into the air while the man raises his left leg. The man pushes her around with his left thigh as he pivots on his right foot, and they both land with weight on both feet. There are thus a total of three weight changes for the six count galliard measure. The turning can be repeated, with or without the aerial. The hold and steps can also be reversed, to turn counter-clockwise.

This may be a bit difficult to visualize. If you resort to the internet, you will eventually come across the painting that hangs in the solar at Penshurst Place in Kent, the home of the Sidney family since 1552. According to the visitor’s guide, it portrays Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester) dancing “La Volta.” There is no doubt that it shows “La Volta,” but it has been disputed whether the identities of the dancers is correct. The National Portrait Gallery classifies it, somewhat cryptically, as “Elizabeth I: borderline false.” (Gristwood 288). Jansohn (110) dismisses it as a “genre painting,” and likely inaccurate in its portrayal of “passive female legs” (in the painting, the woman appears to be sitting on the man’s thigh, which is rather unlikely).

The Volta has appeared in the movies, too, but these renditions are usually not to be trusted (in particular, Cate Blanchett and Joseph Fiennes in the 1997 Elizabeth). I can recommend watching the following reconstructions:

By the group “Saltarello” (Heidelberg Germany)

By Bella Lovegrend (Eger Hungary)

The dance was apparently popular in late sixteenth century France, because Arbeau teaches it even though he express strong doubts about the wisdom of performing it: ” . . . she will feel her brain reeling and her head full of dizzy whirlings; and you yourself will perhaps be no better off. I leave it to you to judge whether it is a becoming thing for a young girl to take long strides and separations of the legs, and whether in this lavolta both honor and health are not . . . at stake.” (Sutton 121)

It was the dance that some observers loved to hate. Johann von Munster (1597), who saw it at the French court in 1582, complained that the lord “grasps her in an unseemly place” and expressed amazement that “such a lewd and unchaste dance . . . should be officially permitted and publicly practiced.” Similar views were expressed over half a century later by Johannes Praetorius (1668): “it is a whirling dance full of scandalous, beastly gestures and immodest movements.”(Knowles 19)

There were safety concerns, too. Guillaume Bouchet (1597) warned that the dance had caused “an infinite number of murders and miscarriages” (Ency.) and Praetorius repeated the warning. More reasonably, the diary of “R.Z.” (1600) cautioned that if the dancers don’t pivot fast enough, “they may both fall,” but if they turn too quickly, they will get dizzy. (And probably fall anyway.) (Id.) And from personal experience, I can say that it is easy to lose one’s balance while doing a complicated partner lift from a one-legged support.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the risk to body and soul, it was (as Munster admitted) a popular dance at the court of Henry III (reigned 1575-1589), with the king being “first and foremost.” Nor was he the only royal fan; in England, both Elizabeth I and James I favored it. (In the movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the queen declares, “I require all my ladies to learn it.” In that scene, Bess Raleigh is taught the dance; according to IMBD trivia, “there were so many retakes that the actress was sore and had trouble walking the next day.”

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the Duke of Bourbon refers to “lavoltas high”, and in Troilus and Cressida, Troilus complains that he cannot “heel the high lavolt.”

In William Cavendish and James Shirley’s 1640-ish comedy, The Variety, a dancing master in old-fashioned (Elizabethan) dress, assumed to be Elizabeth’s dancing master Thomas Cardell, dances a volta: “he put his right arme about her, and took her left hand in his, and when he did so touze her with his right thigh and legg, and lift her up so high, and so fast, and so round . . . marry as sonon as he had ended his dance she would lye down as dead as a swing’d chicken, with the head under the wing, so dizzie was she, and so out of breath.” (Jansohn 139)

Several authorities state that the dance was banned from the court of Louis XIII (reigned 1610-1643) but they didn’t cite any primary sources.

It’s interesting that in 1668, Pretorius said that it was “a new galliard” and a “foreign dance,” as it implies that the dance was still being performed and had reached the Gemanies.

La Nizzarda

Another dance with the man lifting the woman, identified in Lope de Vega’s El Maestro de Danzar (1594) as a French dance. The name can be translated as “The Girl from Nice”, which would make a good title for a thriller. Sachs points out that Nice is in Provence, the point of origin of the Volta, according to Arbeau. However, the Volta is a galliard variant, and La Nizzarda definitely isn’t.

The dance was described by the painter Frederigo Zuccharo in 1600 and the dance master Negri in 1602. It was apparently still around, or at least still remembered, in late in the seventeenth century, as Corsini’s Torrachione Desolato (1660) identifies it as the dance out of which “much mischief grows.” (Sachs 378)

Canary (Canarie, Canario)

This is presumably named after the Canary Islands. The dance was first mentioned in a 1554 Spanish source (Diego Sanchez de Badajoz). It had the separate-and-rejoin motif, with male or female solos alternating with dancing in unison, that we saw previously in the galliard. However, it took this a step further, as it often featured a pedalogue (talking with feet); one partner would challenge the other with a syncopated heel-and-toe stamping step (akin to the modern Mexican zapateado or Spanish flamenco), inviting a response in kind. Think “Dueling Banjos,” but with feet. We know from later sources (1598, 1611) that castanets were used.

We have detailed dance descriptions, suitable for reconstruction, from the Italian dance masters, but none later than 1607. However, it is clear from Mersennes (1637) and Navarro (1642) that the dance was still popular in Europe in the 1630s. According to Rousseau, the dance per se was gone by 1768. However, individual canary figures may have survived as elements in other Spanish dances; a stamped passo di canario figure is mentioned in a 1745 treatise. Also, the canario is still a type of Spanish folk song.

Sarabande, Zarabanda

There isn’t enough known about the dance to reconstruct its steps, but it made quite a splash while it lasted. Apparently, it made the volta look staid, being rife with sexually suggestive pantomime. A 1583 ordinance punished it with two hundred lashes, followed by six years in the galleys for men, and exile for women. (Sachs 367). Nonetheless, Thomas Platter the Younger saw it danced in Barcelona in 1599 by as many as fifty couples at one time. By 1618, it appeared to have received some measure of grudging acceptance, as it was one of the dance numbers, paired with a tourdion, in a comedy performed for the court. And by 1621, a character in Lope’s La Villane de Jetafe dismissed it as “muy vieja.”

While old hat in Spain, it was the new sensation in Italy and France. In Italy, Giambattista Marino complained (1623) about the “dirty fellow who has brought this barbarism upon us.” And in 1625, it was integrated into a French court ballet, La Douairiere de Billebahaut. Some version of it was even danced at Versailles in 1697, at the wedding of the Duke of Burgundy.


The name of the dance comes from the word “gavaud”; a bent leg. The court dance possibly evolved from a folk dance in Gavotte, southeastern France; Rameau (1725) says it came from Lyonnois and Dauphiny.

According to Arbeau, in the late sixteenth century it was a branle-like dance done after a suite of branles, combining branle (with hops) and galliard elements. Each couple danced alone, then kissed the other dancers. Or the lord kissed all the ladies and the lady kissed all the lords. (One can readily perceive the popular appeal of this dance.)

We know from notated music that the dance was done in duple time. Step reconstruction is problematic, as the steps changed radically between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1623, there were at least three different gavottes, with regional variants; each had unique floor pattern and music (this is perhaps true of all French dances of the period, but it is certainly true of the branles.)

In the first third of the seventeenth century, a branle suite evolved, and became standardized as five different branles then a single gavotte. This suite was done at the beginning of a French ball up through say 1680s, per Rameau. A new type of gavotte appeared in Lully’s ballets of 1653 and thereafter; it did not accompany a branle. The gavotte continued to be danced in theater after it had disappeared from social dance.

Gavotte is also a type of modern French folk dance, but the two gavottes that I have learned have nothing obvious in common with the seventeenth century form.


The bourree was a folk dance from Auvergne. There is a certain amount of dispute as to when it became a court dance. Sachs (409) admits that it was performed in 1565 at “a court festival in honor of Catherine de Medici,” but insists that the performance was by imported locals and thus was still a folk dance. He thinks it significant that even in 1676, Madame de Sevigne expressed regret that it wasn’t done at Versailles. However, a bourree was included in Le Ballet de la Delivrance de Renaud (1617).

During the period 1650-1750, it was performed at court first as a simple couple dance (danses a deux) and then as a contredanse (more about which shortly). (Ency.)


Depending on who you ask, the name comes from German geige (violin), or Old French giguer (to leap, gambol or frolic), or English jig. A gigue appeared in a Lully ballet in 1660, but the first dance description is from 1700. This gigue—as distinct from the English jig—is outside our period. However, the gigue music of Bach and Handel has probably been preserved in Grantville and may inspire dance compositions.

Folk Dancing

Ritual dances

Some rural dances were ritual dances of pagan origin. The best examples, perhaps, are the Romanian Calusarii (mentioned in the Codex Caioni; Caioni lived 1629-1687) and the English Morris dance. The dancers wore bells on their feet (to scare away the fairies) and their faces were blackened (so the fairies wouldn’t recognize them later on). The dancers had to observe various taboos and were thought to have healing powers. The Morris became somewhat Christianized; one Morris tune has the words, “Hark now to the angels sing, ‘Glory to the Morris Ring.'”

Both of these dances survived to the present-day, although of course we have no way of knowing how much their figures have changed over the years. The Morris dance as described by Arbeau does not sound like an English Morris as taught today, but it’s possible that the French boy who performed it for Arbeau had copied the costume but made up the steps.

There were also urban ritual dances, the guild dances. These were held at the annual guild assembly, and during guild-sponsored festivals, usually during the Carnival season. Guild festival dates were exclusive; no other guild could hold a festival the same day in the same town. However, one guild could support another; for example, the knifesmiths and sometimes the weavers and cabinetmakers were invited to perform dances at the Nurnberg butchers’ festival.

There were typically three dance elements in a guild festival. The first was the processional, in which the guild members cavorted through the city. (If you visualize a Mardi Gras parade without the floats, you have the right idea.) Secondly, the procession would stop from time to time at inns, hostelries, private mansions, brothels and ultimately the guild hall to enjoy ballroom dances (and other activities). Finally, there was the “signature” dance, most likely held in the village square. Coopers danced with hoops, knifesmiths and furriers with swords, weavers with garlands, butchers with rings (representing sausages), and so on.

Social dances

In contrast, other folk dances were done for entertainment (and flirtation). We know that these included line, circle and couple dances, and the couple dances could themselves be done with the couples in a column, in a circle, or scattered across the dance floor. The couples could dance with or without holding hands.

Unfortunately, the dancing masters usually didn’t bother to describe these dances in a manner that permits their reconstruction. Most of our knowledge of period peasant dances is from paintings, which of course are mere “snapshots” of the dance. However, we have a greater knowledge of English country dances, which I will take up first in the country-by-country survey that follows.


Morris dancers of the English Midlands performed in the spring or in mid-summer, in teams of six men, twirling handkerchiefs or clashing sticks. The teams were accompanied by characters of unusual aspect and behavior, such as the Fool, Maid Marian, and the Hobby-Horse. There were also solo Morris dances (jigs); in 1600, William Kemp danced from London to Norwich, a feat that was called the Nine Days Wonder.

In contrast, the English sword dancers appeared in mid-winter. One of the characteristic figures was the formation of a “rose,” interlocked longswords. These might be joined around the neck of a kneeling participant; when the swords are pulled away, this person fell to the ground. (Sharp 38). In some cases, this victim is revived afterward.


Thomas Richards’s Misogonus refers “country dauncis” (performed in 1559 by Children of the Chapel). Davies, Orchestra 1590-94 speaks of rounds and hays. Nashe lists dances on village green including Green Sleeves and Pepper is Black. A music book (Morley 1597) refers to country dances in music book. The masques of James I made use of country dances.

Playford’s English Dancing Master (1651) provided figures and tunes for 105 country dances. This is our principal source of dance descriptions for seventeenth-century English country dances, but unfortunately it was published two decades after RoF. We know the names of several pre-RoF country dances, including Green Sleeves, Pepper is Black, Sellengers Round, and Shaking of the Sheets, but we can’t be sure that the 1630s version of these dances hadn’t changed in the interim. There is only a small stock of dance descriptions of pre-Playford country dances, and the manuscripts in question disagree with each other and with Playford. (Marsh 5).

The Playford dances are of two types, those with fixed sets of two, three or four couples, and the “longways” sets for “as many as will.” The longways sets were columns of couples, and the practical limit on the length of the column was the size of the room (and the ability of the couples to hear the musicians). I suspect that when the country dances were done at court revels, the dancers lined up in order of rank.

It’s likely that country dances were originally “round” (circle) dances, that having been the formation necessary for an indoor dance in earlier times, when rooms were warmed by a central firepit rather than a ceremony. A 1622 poem (Davies, Orchestra) refers to “Rounds or Country Dances.” But the majority of the dances in even the 1652 Playford collection are of the longways type.

Because a column of couples could be considered a line of men facing a line of women, when the English country dancing was exported to France in the mid-seventeenth century, it acquired the name contradanse. Likewise, the English country squares were “rebranded” as “cotillons” (1716) and later as “quadrilles” (early nineteenth century). The French squares and contradanses spread in turn to Germany by the late seventeenth century. (Ironically, as the English form had virtually died out, it was the French form that was imported to America in the late eighteenth century.)

Our best evidence that the longways dance had been invented by the RoF, curiously, is from a French source: De Lauze, Apologie de la Danse (1623) says that “measures” and “contradanses” are the typical English dances. (Ency.)


One period oddity is the “cushion dance” that is referred to in Selden’s table talk (1620s). I suspect this is like the Romanian Perinitsa, in which the “active” man or woman dances around the room, picks out a partner, lays down a cushion and they kneel on it and kiss. The partner then becomes the active dancer and picks a new victim. The cushion dance of Scotland was called “Babbity Browser” or “Bee Baw Babbity” and had the same “pick-and-kiss” motif; it was often the finishing dance of a ball.


The solo or pair competition jig and hornpipe, and a round hornpipe for couples, had entered the English dance repertoire by the late sixteenth century. Indeed, Spelman (1609) thought that American Indian dancing was similar to “our darbyshire hornpipe”. (Ency.)


We know the Scots had “circle of couples” dances in 1549, and some kind of Morris dance is mentioned in a 1568 source. OED cites “Newes from Scotland” (1591) as showing that Scots “took hands” to dance a “reel.” The one observed was danced to “Cummer Gae Ye Afore,” and it was some kind of ring dance in which one circled widdershins (counter-clockwise). The earliest reference to the strathspey (a slow dance with a sliding step) is from 1653. The Highland Fling is possibly mentioned in a poem from 1570, and it may have evolved from the reel. (Self).

On January 7, 1623, the church authorities in Elgin fined five men 40 shillings each for sword dancing in the church courtyard. We don’t know if this meant the dance was performed by a five man team, or whether some of the dancers escaped official attention—the dancers were masked. On July 8, 1633, a linked sword dance was performed for Charles I at Perth by the company of glovers. (Domestic Annals of Scotland) It has been suggested that this was of Scandinavian origin (Self).

Dating the solo crossed sword dance (Gillie Callum) is more problematic. One theory is that it was an ancient pre-battle divination ritual; avoid jostling the swords as you danced over them, and you would survive the battle. (Since the dance measured dexterity, and surefootedness has its value in sword-fighting, this may have had some predictive value.) Others claim that it was done after the battle, one of the swords being the former property of a deceased foe (indeed, that the dance was first done by Malcolm, of Shakespearean fame, in 1054). In “Federico and Ginger” (Grantville Gazette 4), I assumed that Federico had learned the dance on a past visit to Scotland.


Fynes Moryson, an English visitor, reported in 1600 that the Irish had country dances, and “withy” and sword dances, and did not dance “measures” or galliards. (Brennan 16). The same Irish dance types are again referred to in a poem from 1669, so it’s a safe bet that they were done in the 1630s. Surprisingly, Irish references to the jig, reel and hornpipe don’t appear until the eighteenth century. (20ff.)

Germany and Austria

In rural areas, between Christmas and Epiphany, masked young men, equipped with bells or rattles, performed ritual dances whose purpose seems to have been similar to that of the English Morris and Romanian Calusarii. During the sixteenth century, at least, “they were often performed with religious trappings . . . to veil their pagan origins.” (Ency.)

The townsmen had the ritual dances of the guilds, in particular the barrelmakers, butchers, cutlers, shoemakers and bakers. A colored pen drawing shows “The Sword Dance of the Cutters Guild” as performed in Nurnberg, 1600. (Sharp 19;):

Artwork reveals that German peasant dances existed, and included both couple and non-couple dances. Unfortunately, I have no specifics about he dances of northern Germany.

“Regional dances of southern Germany in the seventeenth century included the Dreher (‘spinning top’), Schleifer (‘slide’), and many forms of Landler (or Laendler), a slow dance in 3/4 time.” (Ency.) The Laendler is named after Landl, a town in the mountain region (Styria) of northwest Austria, and it was also called the Steyrertanz.

The Dreher is mentioned as early as 1406, in the Schleswig Chronicle. (Jaffe 161). In 1520, Kunz Haz of Nurnberg complained that at weddings, “Now they dance the wild weller/The spinner or what they may call it.” (Sachs 381). The couple turning dances (Dreher, Laendler, etc.) required a close hold, with hands on shoulders, shoulder blades, or waist. Such a close hold is shown in Heinrich Aldegrever’s The Wedding Dancers (1538), and Montaigne reportedly saw one of the couple turning dances in 1580, in the House of the Fuggers in Austria. (378).

These turning dances—and not the volta as some Francophiles would have it—are the precursors of the Viennese waltz. However, the real Vienna waltz was a nineteenth-century creation. It is certainly known in Grantville, as it is a part of the standard ballroom dance repertoire (albeit in a differently stylized form).


In 1555, Olaus Magnus mentioned the Sword Dance and the Bow Dance. I have no particulars concerning social dances of the period.


We know that “Morris dances” (not necessarily the same as the English ones) and sword dances were done, because town guilds paid for performances, and town councils sometimes banned them. Another ritual dance was the Zevensprong (seven jumps), but I am dubious about the claim that it dated back to Teutonic times.

There is a rich body of Dutch art depicting dancers in action, but the dances aren’t usually named.

In the northern provinces, there are dances with names like Skotse Fjouwer (Scottish Flower), that perhaps reflect a Scottish influence. These could have been introduced by Scots mercenaries, who were in the Netherlands from the late sixteenth century, but I am just not sure that they were known in our period. Certainly, the quadrilles of the eastern and southern provinces came from France only in the late seventeenth century.


The earliest known dance song is from 1488; music for 27 dances was published in 1537–48 by Joaannis de Lublin. (Ency.)


According to Gyorgy Martin (17), “A French seventeenth-century abbot tells of dancing at the princely court of Transylvania where chain dances resembling the Branle were followed by couple dances like the French Contra-Danse.”

Within the old layer (pre-1800) of Hungarian folk dances, we first have the maiden’s round dances (Karikazos); Ference Arpati’s Cantilena (1570) refers to “girls running around briskly.” Based on the more extensive documentation from the nineteenth century onward, the Hungarians didn’t think of these as really being dances, as they were done to singing, when the musicians were taking a break. Consequently, they could be enjoyed during Lent. Only unmarried woman who were eligible for marriage could participate. These dances had fixed steps, there was no improvisation.

Next, there are the heavily improvised herdsmen’s dances. Among these, we have held or thrown weapon (sword, axe) dances such as the Hajdu. The earliest references to it are apparently from the reign of Matthias Corvinus (1458-90). The only description I can quote is from Edward Brown (1673): “They dance with their naked Swords in their hands, advancing, brandishing and clashing the same; turning, winding, elevating and drpessing their bodies with strong and active motions . . . ” (Martin 24) Curiously, “one Hungarian noble in 1615 sent some men with hatchets and weapons to perform a Heyduck dance to honour his son, a student in Wittenberg. They performed the dance to the sound of violins, trumpets, pipes and bagpipes.”

There were also “display weapon” dances, in which one or two weapons were placed on the ground and the point was to dance over them without disturbing them.

Another development was the replacement of real weapons with substitutes, such as sticks (in the Botolo) or more unlikely props: “spits, rods, musical instruments, rush-mats, straw-ropes, rugs, ribbons, hats, caps, bottles or whips” (presumably accompanied by some choreographic changes). These faux weapon dances could be done solo (usually by a man), by two men in a mock duel, by a man and a woman (although I don’t think she wielded even a frying pan or a rolling pin.), or by a group of men (sometimes using the faux weapons to link themselves together).

The herdsmen’s dances also included leaping dances (Ugros) without props. At the 1572 national assembly, “after the tables were removed the military youth and the grown children of the nobleman danced in the portico . . . in a dance form which is a specialty of shepherds . . . . [Balint Balassi] crouched down to the ground, snatched his legs together, then kicked them apart, then leapt up jumping high.” (Balassa 449) These ugrosok could be done by groups ( all male or of mixed gender), or by couples. Even in the seventeenth century, “‘The highest lords leap the dance with women folk.'” (452)

Finally, there are the old couple dances. According to Martin, the surviving records of seventeenth-century Hungarian dance music include tunes recognizably derived from western European court and folk dance music.

The “dance cycle” as it is now called was also known in the seventeenth century, that is, in a given village there would be a fixed order of dances, for example an ugros, then a slow couple, and then a fast couple dance, leading even then to the expression “Three makes the dance!” (453)


In Seville and Toledo, on the occasion of religious feasts and royal visits, hand-picked altar boys (los seises) danced before the cathedral altars, performing pavane-like choreographies. They had what you might term “full scholarships” and were trained, at least to some degree, by dancing masters. (Ency.)

The city councils also commissioned dances to be performed in the general processions associated with these religious feasts. In these processions, the priests led the way, bearing the Host; then came distinguished dignitaries, and finally, on floats, the actors and dancers. The procession was on a predetermined route, which would be suitably decorated. From time to time it would halt for the priest to perform religious ceremonies, and for the performers to do their thing.

The bailes were short dances presented during the interludes between renditions of the autos sacramentales (a dramatic reading concerning the Eucharist). The more elaborate danzas included both dances done every year (the Sword Dance, the Tarasca, and the Dance of the Giants), and four to eight commissioned “invenciones” (ballets on historical, religious and other themes). (Brooks 147). In 1631 Seville, the invenciones were The Sarao, The Vendors of Lisbon, the Fables of Anteon, The Little King of Granada and the Sultan Qeen, The Coalgirl and The Negroes. (368)

Dancing was not limited to religious occasions; for example, at the conclusion of a merchant’s fair, late in the evening when the air had cooled, there would be dancing. (Ency.)

Dancing Masters

Dancing masters didn’t just teach dance, they also taught etiquette, and what we would now consider to be “PE” (albeit fencing, riding, and vaulting rather than baseball, football and basketball), composed, performed and taught music (both vocal and instrumental), and acted as master of ceremonies for special events. Some, at least, were expected to know poetry, mathematics, geometry, aesthetics, philosophy, rhetoric, painting, and sculpture.

The dancing master might be a court functionary, or be the proprietor of a dancing academy, or give lessons in pupils’ homes, or even in public. The Spanish master Navarro was disdainful (1642) of itinerant masters who sat in taverns and gave dance lessons to whoever would throw money into their caps. (Ency.; Brooks).


Agnes de Mille wrote, “The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music. Bodies never lie.”

Dancing is an important part of human communication, expressing comradery among villagers, facilitating courtship between members of the opposite sex, or demonstrating the physical and mental prowess of performers.

The up-timers are going to have to show that they don’t have “two left feet.”