Renaissance Dance Manuals


A handful 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.

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)
  • 1570-1675 – The Old Measures
    • The Old Measures, 1570-1675 – Introductory notes, concordance of sources, and reconstructions by Peter and Janelle Durham, self-published, 1997-2001. (pdf)
    • “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)
  • 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.

Renaissance Dance Manuals

  • 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)

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)