Galliard and Caper


The galliard was one of the most popular and iconic dances of the late Renaissance, in England and across Europe. It was Elizabeth I’s favorite dance, according to ambassadors’ reports, and James I enjoyed a well-executed galliard, as well.

The galliard had five steps: four kicks and a large jump. The galliard sequence takes six counts of music: each of the kicks takes one count, and the jump takes two counts. Because of its five steps, the galliard was sometimes called cinque pas or sinkapace (the most common Shakespearean English spelling).

At balls and courtly entertainments, it was common to pair the solemn, processional pavan with the faster, more athletic galliard:

While the galliard was often danced by couples, either as a stand-alone piece or as a section of a longer dance suite, it was also the showpiece dance for men. There were several dancing manuals entirely dedicated to the galliard, and men would have galliard “dance-offs” where they would take turns showing off their best, most impressive jumps and turns. There’s an example of a galliard dance-off in Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Old Law (1618). It might have looked something like this:


“Capering” is sometimes used to refer to dancing in an energetic manner, in general, but “caper” can also refer to a particular dance step, the sault majeur or capriole, which is the large jump that is the final step in the galliard basic. The caper can be quite athletic and demanding, since one of the goals is to embellish the jump with “beats,” switching the legs back and forth as many times as possible while still in the air.

The Renaissance caper with embellishments has certain similarities to the entrechat of classical ballet:

And also to classical ballet’s cabriole:

Return to the Glossary

Updated March 25, 2020.

2 responses to “Galliard and Caper”

  1. drhmo says :

    This is a great entry! Thanks.

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