Renaissance Dance Manuals

Intro | English Sources | European Manuals | Related Recordings


A number of dancing manuals survive from late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Europe. Most are in Italian or French; the two extant English dance manuals pre- and post-date Shakespeare’s time. A handful of brief descriptions of the processional dances know as the English measures or “Old Measures” survive from the Shakespearean period. However, instructions for all other dances mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, from the galliard to the volta, must be gathered from non-English sources.

Caveat: The earliest surviving European dance manuals are from the mid fifteenth century (see below). Therefore, any seemingly historical dancing from earlier periods is necessarily highly speculative at best, based on images and passing references in literary works and archival sources instead of on  detailed choreographic descriptions such as those found in Renaissance dancing manuals.

For works that situate these dances in their historical context, see the Dance in the Renaissance themed bibliography.

Intro | English Sources | European Manuals | Related Recordings

English Sources

  • c. 1500 – The Gresley Manuscript, never published, written (or at least found) in Derbyshire.
    • “The Gresley Dance Collection, c.1500” – David Fallows’ account of the discovery of the manuscript, plus transcriptions of text and music, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle
      no. 29 (1996): 1-20. (behind paywall at JSTOR)
    • “Dance Steps and Music in the Gresley Manuscript” – Notes, transcription, music, and reconstructions by Jennifer Nevile, Historical Dance 3, no. 6 (1999): 2-19. (pdf)
  • c. 1549 – c. 1675 – The Old Measures
    • “Dancing in the Inns of Court” – Transcription and notes on the sources by David R. Wilson, Historical Dance 2, no. 5 (1986-1987): 3-16. (pdf)
    • The Old Measures, 1570-1675 – Introductory notes, concordance of sources, and reconstructions by Peter and Janelle Durham, self-published, 1997-2001. (pdf)
    • Ian Payne, The Almain in Britain, c. 1549-c. 1675: A Dance Manual from Manuscript Sources (Aldershot, Hampshire, UK; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003).
    • Anne Daye and Jennifer Thorp, “English Measures Old and New: Dulwich College MS. XCIV / f.28.” Historical Dance 4, No. 3 (2018): 27-40.
  • 1650 – John Playford, The English Dancing Master, London. (pdf)
    • There are numerous editions, as well as nineteen essays in the proceedings of the 2001 Historical Dance Society conference in London.

Intro | English Sources | European Manuals | Related Recordings

Other European Renaissance Dance Manuals

  • c. 1455 – Domenico da Piacenza, De arte saltandii & choreas ducendi, Paris.
    • Edition by David R. Wilson, Domenico of Piacenza, Cambridge, Early Dance Circle, 1988.
    • Edition and translation by A. William Smith, Fifteenth-Century Dance and Music, vols. I and II, Stuyvesant, NY, Pendragon Press, 1995.
  • 1463 – Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, De pratica seu arte tripudii, Paris.
    • Guglielmo Ebreo of Pesaro: On the Practice or Art of Dancing – Transcribed and edited by Barbara Sparti. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993 (1st ed.), 1995 and 1999 (2nd ed.).
  • 1465 – Antonio Cornazano, Libro dell’arte del danzare, Rome. (treatise is a copy of the lost 1455 original)
    • “In Libro dell’arte di danzare di Antonio Cornazano” – Edition by C. Mazzi in La Bibliofilia 18 (1915-1916): 1-30.
    • The Book on the Art of Dancing: Antonio Cornazano – English translation by Madeleine Inglehearn and Peggy Forsyth. London: Dance Books, 1981; The Noverre Press, 2011.
  • c. 1470 – Gioanne Ambrosio, De practica seu arte tripudii, Paris.
    • Edition in A. William Smith, Fifteenth-Century Dance and Music, vol. I, Stuyvesant, NY, Pendragon Press, 1995.
  • 1581 – Fabritio Caroso, Il ballarino, Venetia. (scan) (facsimile)
    • Il Ballarino: Steps and Dances – English translation by Margaret Roe, self-published, 2012.
  • 1588, 1589 – Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie, Langres. (scan) (facsimile)
    • Orchesography – English translation by Mary Stewart Evans, New York, 1948. Reprinted and edited by Julia Sutton, with  Labanotation by Mireille Backer. New York, 1967, 2011. (Amazon)
  • 1600 – Fabritio Caroso, Nobiltà di dame, Venetia. (facsimile)
    • Courtly Dance of the Renaissance – English translation by Julia Sutton, Oxford, 1986. Reprinted with Labanotation by Rachelle Palnick Tsachor, New York, 1995. (Amazon)
  • 1602 – Cesare Negri, Le gratie d’amore, Milano.
    • Le gratie d’amore – Translated by Yvonne Kendall. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1985.
  • 1604 – Cesare Negri, Nuove inventioni di balli, Milano. (scan) (facsimile)
  • 1619 – Barthélemy de Montagut, “Louange de la Danse,” never published, written c.1619 in England.
    • Louange de la Danse – Transcribed, edited, and translated by Barbara Ravelhofer. Cambridge, UK, 2000. (Amazon)
  • 1623 – Françoise de Lauze, Apologie de la danse, 1623. (scan)
    •  Apologie de la Danse by F. de Lauze 1623: A Treatise of Instruction in Dancing and Deportment – Transcribed, edited, and translated by Joan Wildeblood. London, 1952. (Amazon)

Intro | English Sources | European Manuals | Related Recordings

Related Recordings

  • The Broadside Band, Il Ballarino: Italian Dance, c1600, 2000. (Amazon)
  • Songs & Dances from Shakespeare, 1995. (Amazon)
  • Ensemble La Follia, Cesare Negri: La Gratie d’Amore (1602), 2000. (Amazon)
  • Jouissance, Dances from the Inns of Court, 1997. (direct purchase may be available here; if that doesn’t work, please let us know)
  • The New York Renaissance Band, Arbeau: Orchésographie, 2008. (Amazon)

Updated July 21, 2021.

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