Proceedings of the Known World Dance Symposium 2007

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15th to 16th C Basse Dance

(the long way around)

Sara Bonneville
(Sara de Bonneville)

This purpose of this class is to explore possible different step reconstructions for the Basse Dance “Jouissance vous Donnerai”, from Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchesographie, published in 1589.  This is one of the most easily accessible period dances, both because Arbeau’s book is easily available and widely used, and because the music is so lovely that there are dozens of recordings to be found.

Arbeau claimed that this was a dance “as done in [his] youth.”  That would still place this dance in the middle of the 16th century, so it may not reasonable to expect it to be very similar to 15th century Burgundian Basse Dance.  The change in dress alone would dictate a vastly different style of movement.  My problem with the reconstructions I have seen for this dance is that I have always found it awkward (for me), and no where near a match for the music.  I started considering the changes from the 15th to the 16th C dance in Italy, and the reasons why those steps might have changed, as a way to come up with a rational case for a different step reconstruction for Arbeau’s basse.

So our task is to trace the steps from the Burgundian Basse Dance of the 15th Century thru the dances of 15th C Italy, then to compare those steps with those of 16th C Italian Dance by looking at three dances, one from each of those repertoires and finally to reconstruct (again) Arbeau’s “Jouissance vous Donnerai.”

French/Burgundian Basse Dance

Primary sources

·         “Brussels Manuscript”, Le manuscrit dit des basses, est. 1490’s; facsimile transcribed and edited by Ernest Closson, Le Manuscrit Dit Des Basses Danses De La Bibliotheque De Bourgogne, Brussels: 1912; reprinted Geneve: Minkoff, 1976).

·         Toulouze, Michel (pub.), L’Art et Instruction de Bien Dancer, c. 1488-1496; Dossier Basses-Dances, Genève: Minkoff, 1985.  Facsimile transcribed/edited by Richard Rastall, translation by A.E. Lequet, L'art Et Instruction De Bien Dancer, New York: Dance Horizons, 1971.

·         “Salisbury Manuscript”,  Fly-leaf on Joh. De Janua, Catholicon (Venice, Io. Hamman, 1497).   Copy in the library of the Salisbury cathedral.

·         Moderne, Jacques (publisher), S'ensuyvent Plusiers Basses Dances, Tant Communes Que Incommunes,Comme on Pourra Veoyr Cy Dedans, Lyon: Jacques Moderne, c. 1532-1533; Dossier Basses-Dances, Genève: Minkoff, 1985.

·         Arena, Antonius de, Ad Suos Compagniones Studiantes, Avignon: c. 1520; available and in print as "A ses compagnons etudiant"... Antonius Arena, ed. L'Atelier de danse populaire, 4 rue Laterale, 94000 Creteil, France (ISBN: 2-907567-02-0)

First to consider are the French or Burgundian basse or “low” dances (as opposed to “haut” dances) from sources from the late 15th to very early 16th centuries.  I have to assume that movement style was influenced by the manner of dress (think houppelands, pourpoints, and the burgundian dress, hennins and headdresses, shoes with pointed toes for everybody).  The clothing was soft thru the body, but with weight to it.  You had large “things” balanced on your head.  So I posit a gliding style of movement.  Up/down movement is gentle, lateral movement is fluid.  The best execution of these dances I have ever seen looked like a flowing river.

The step reconstructions that I use for this class are based on the work of Dr. Ingrid Brainard.  Subsequent researchers have re-interpreted those reconstructions and the differences in interpretation of how the steps are done is material for a very interesting separate class (I have been referred to the material by Daniel of Falling Rocks at; unfortunately, I cannot access this site).

For we non-musical types, there are 3 beats to each measure, more accurately counted as six (“one, two, three, FOUR, five, six”).  Basse dance generally uses five basic steps, each step (or pair of steps for singles) takes one measure.  The very basic steps are:

                                (R) Reverence

                                (b) Branle – step sideways, shift weight, then back & close.          

                                (s)  Single – single step, done in pairs, two singles = one 3 beat measure.

                                (d)  Double – three steps, done in one 3 beat measure.

                                (r) Desmarche (or reprise) – step back, rock forward, then back again.

In tabulations, underlined steps are generally done traveling backwards (e.g.:  “d” would be a double traveling backwards).  Doubles are done with a rising and falling motion (rising as you take the first step, continuing on the balls of the feet with the second, and sinking down flat with the third step), and slightly syncopated, (i.e. not done two counts for each step).  The Desmarche rocks not only forward and back, but up and down; swinging the leg around to the back for the first step clears the way of long robes with trains, but the second “step” should rise up thru the arches of your feet onto both toes (without moving the feet) and lowering the weight onto the front foot, then rising thru your feet again to settle the weight onto the back foot, rather like a gondola riding a gentle sea.

The elegance and style with which these dances are performed is to a large extent internal.  The five elements of dance mentioned in the writings of the early Italian dancing masters certainly apply here: Misura (measure – matching dance steps to music), Memoria (memory – remembering the dances!), Partiere di Terreno (partitioning the ground – how you use the dance floor), Aiere (air – lightness, lift), and Mayniera (manner – adornment, shading).  (1)

Basse La Dame 

per Salisbury Ms., (20 bars)

                                R  b        ss  ddd  rrr  b                     

                                                ss  d  r  b                 

                                                ss  ddd  r  b            


(bonus: just because it’s so pretty)

Basse La Francois Nouvelle 

per Brussels Ms., (12 x 2  +  R)

reconstrution: Dr. Ingrid Brainard

                                R  b        ss  ddd  ss  d                      

                                                ss  d d  b

                                                ss  ddd d d d  b

                                                ss  d d  b  (R)      

(1) from  De Practica seu Arte Tripudii (On the Practice or Art of Dancing), by Guglielmo Ebreo de Pesaro, as translated and edited by Barbara Sparti Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.


15th Century Italian Bassadanza

Primary sources

·         Guglielmo Ebreo/Giovanni Ambroso, various ms. (c. 1460-1510);

·         Antonio Cornazano, Libro dell’arte del danzare, (1455-1465); 

·         Domenico da Piacenza, De arte saltandi & choreas ducendi, (c. 1450);

Remarkably well documented (when considering the documentation of dance for the rest of the Medieval and Renaissance) Italian dance of the 15th century included a variety of “low” dances called Bassadanza.  You can recognize the analogs of the French basse dances in the similar five steps used in the Italian dances.  The basic steps are:

                Sempio – ‘single’ (S), step forward (two sempii to each measure).

                Doppio – ‘double’ (D), three steps (one doppii for each measure).

                Ripresa – single or double step to the side (as in ballet “pas de bouree”).  Ripresa left: (1a) step to left, rising onto toes, (1b) close w/ R, staying up on toes, (2a) step to left again, (2b) lower to flat (weight is on left, R foot is free).

                Continenza – ‘arching’ step to the side, usually done in pairs (two continenze to ea measure).  Continenze left: rise up on toes, small step to left, sinking flat as right foot closes.             

                Riverenza/Reverenza – ‘Reverence’, ‘honor’, bow or curtsey.

Just how these steps are done in comparison with the Burgundian basse’s of the same general era is much a matter of which reconstruction(s) you choose to use.  In general though, they each have an analog in the other repertoire.  The sempio and doppio are obviously related to the basse dance single and double.  The ripresa seems to serve the same purpose as a demarche, while the continenza functions as the branle.


Lorenzo di Piero di Cosimo de'Medici

15th D Italian bassa danza for two; per reconstruction from Dr. Ingrid Brainard

using music “La Spagna” (46 bars)

note: tabulation shows # of measures (either 3 or 6 beats per measure)

                                                                A                             1              -6            ss  dL  dR  - R(everance); (2) Ripressa L, R;

                                                                B                             1              -4            ss  dL  - Ripresa R, Continenza L & R;

                                                                C                             1              -2            (take R hands) ss  dL  - palm R as circle to L w/partner;

                                                                                                3              -4            (change hands) ss  dR -  palm L, circle to right; (face up);

                                                                                                5              -6            Ripresa L, Ripresa R; 

                                                                D                             1              -4            ss  dL  dR  dL

                                                                                                5              -7            Volta de Gioso, ending w/ Ripresa right;  Reverence;

                                                                                Repeat the dance, reversing genders.

Note: there is a slightly different reconstruction which I like better that uses the music using music “Lauro” (from a recording called “Forse Che Si, Forse Che No”); unfortunately, I have been unable to secure that piece of music, and so am not able to use that reconstruction.


16th Century Italian Dance

Primary sources

·         Caroso, M. Fabrito, Il Ballarino (Venice, 1581); Nobilta di Dame, c 1600;

·         Negri, Cesare, Le Gratie D’Amore.

There is a transition in the fashion, technology, social and political philosophies, and economics between the 15th and 16th centuries, so why not dance as well?  Due to fashion alone, the body movement in dances must have changed immensely.  No more weighty trains and huge complicated head dresses and hats!  No longer long pointy-toed slippers, but shoes with blunt toes and higher heels! 

Movement for 16th C Italian dance is more “up-down”, since jumping is easier (shorter skirts, no big head-gear), but bending is more difficult (corsets, bumroles and padded doublets).  Lateral movement (side-to-side) tends to move the body as a unit, like a chess piece, rather than to sway or bend.  The most basic steps for this 16th C Italian dance are:

                Continenza – Step to one side (about 4 inches), closing heel of the other foot to instep of the first, lowering the body a little as you step, rising up ("peacocking") and back flat.

                Passo –  Traveling step in one temp; a simple step or pace forward, usually.

                Ripresa – Sideways step in one tempo, rising up as you step to the side, close  up on toes with the other foot, and then lower flat (“arching” steps).

                Spezzato or Seguito spezzato – In two beats, (1) step forward flat; (2-a) rising onto toes, bring second foot behind heel of the first; (2b) lower first heel, leaving other raised.


16th C Italian Balletto, Caroso, 1581          

based on class taught by per Mistress Urraca Yriarte de Gamboa & Lady Adele Desfontaines (KWDS 2001 & 2003), and as modified by Trahaearn ap Ieun (Peter Durham), 2005-2007

                Begin holding partners hand.

                I                                              A                             1              -8            Riverenza,  Continenza left & right;

                                                                B                             1              -4            (2) Seguito ordinario left & right (progressing fwd);

                                                                                                5              -8            Continenza left,  (2) Riprese R;


                II                                             A                             1              -4            Passo left & right,  Seguito ordinario L;

                                                                                                5              -8            Passo right & left,  Seguito ordinario R;

                                                                B                             1              -8            (holding ordinary hanbs) Continenza L, (2) Riprese R; Riverenza.          


                III                                           A                             1              -4            (man passes in front of lady) Passo L&R, Ordinario L;

                                                                                                5              -8            (continuing around to her R) Passo R&L, Ordinario R;

                                                                B                             1              -8            -- same as II B, above;


                IV                                           A                             1              -8            (as in (A1) above, lady passing in front of man)

                                                                B                             1              -8            -- same as II B, above;


                V                                             A                             1              -2            (progressing, holding ordinary hands) Passo L&R; 

                                                                                                3              -4            (casting off, to reverse direction) Ordinario L;

                                                                                                5              -8            (holding improper hands) Passo R&L, (casting off) Ordinario R;

                                                                B                             1              -8            -- same as II B, above;


                VI                                           A                             1              -2            (take R hands) Sequito spezzato L&R (changing places);

                                                                                                3              -4            Seguito spezzato L&R (turning over L shoulder);

                                                                                                5              -6            (take L hands) Sequito spezzato L&R (changing places);

                                                                                                7              -8            Seguito spezzato L&R (turning over R shoulder);

                                                                B                             1              -8            -- same as II B, above;

16th Century Basse Dance, per Arbeau’s Orchesographie from 1589

Primary source

·         Thoinot Arbeau, Orchesographie, 1589, reprint of 1948 translation by Mary Stewart Evans,  notes and introduction by Julia Sutton, New York: Dover 1967; reprint of 1925 translation by Cyril W. Beaumont, New York: Dance Horizons, 1968

Arbeau begins his description of this dance by stating: “[T]the basse dance has been out of date some forty or fifty years, but I foresee that wise and dignified matrons will restore it to fashion as being a type of dance full of virtue and decorum.” 

The character of the music and Arbeau’s descriptions of the steps are NOT similar to the basse dances of the 15th century.  For those, one follows a 6/8 (?) rhythm and count “one, two, three, FOUR, five, six”.  Arbeau describes the basse dance as being “played in triple time,” and describes his steps as being done to four bars.  Thus each step of this dance is “counted” as “one-tow-three, two-two-three, three-two-three, four-two-three.”  The character of the dance becomes almost four-square, balanced and even, where the 15th century dances was fluid and syncopated.

Arbeau lists the steps to his basse dance as a reverence (R), branle (b), simples (ss), double (d), and reprise (r).  They are described thus:

                Reverance – “… occupies four tabor rhythms accompanied by four bars of the tune…”, and “it should be done with the right foot.”

                Branle – “…keeping the heels together and turning the body gently to the left for the first bar; then to the right, glancing modestly the while at the spectators, for the second bar; then again to the left for the third, and for the fourth bar, to the right again with a discreetly tender sidelong glance at the damsel.”

                (Two) Simples – “…one step forward with the left foot for the first bar, then bring the right foot up beside the left for the second bar, then you will advance with the right foot for the third bar.  And at the fourth bar … bring the left foot up beside the right with the heels together… .”

                Double – “In the first bar one must advance a step with the left foot, in the second bar a step with the right foot,while in the third one must advance with the left foot again.  And in the fourth bar, the right foot must be placed beside the left with the heels together.”

                Reprise – “moving the knees gently from side to side, or the feet, or the toes only, as if your feet were trembling. …on the first bar with the toes of the right foot, then again the toes of the said right foot on the second bar, then the toes of the left foot on the third bar, and the toes of the said right foot on the fourth bar.”

The Reverence, simples and doubles are reasonable easy to interpret, based on what Arbeau has written and what is being done in other 16th C dances.  For the branle and reprise he is a bit vague as to what you are actually doing.  I have chosen to diverge from what I have seen traditionally taught for these two steps.

For the branle, I do not believe a twisting motion elegant when dressed in 16th C clothing (corsets, stiff doublets, etc.), so I do not support the “twist from side to side” version of this step.  Instead, I believe that one should merely sway to the side, and if it is more comfortable to move you move your foot bit, do so (no more than the width of your fingers) to help you to balance.  Push your weight to the left, right, left, and right again keeping the movement lateral (no twisting). 

For the reprise, I interpret this as doing a step like the 16th C Italian ripressa, doing two to the right, one left, and a final one to the right.  Done correctly, you truly are only moving the feet and toes, so this fits Arbeau’s description.

Arbeau also describes a Conge (Sutton translates this as “leave”), “which you must take of the damsel”, and a Retour (return).  The Conge is commonly done as another reverence.  The Retour is a briefly returns to the steps of the main dance, and is a final postscript or addendum to the dance.


Jouyssance Vous Donnerai

Basse Dance per Arbeau for couples (can be done in a processional line)

                42 +2 bars            R b                         ss  d  r-  d  r-  b

                                                                                ss  ddd r-  d  r-  b

                                                                                ss  d  r-  b  



                (Retour)               20 bars                 b  d  r  ss  ddd  r  b 



                Tabulation (long version)

                                                Reverence, Bransle

                                                Single left, Single right, Double left, Reprise set (2 reprise left, 1 right, 1 left),

                                                                                Double left, Reprise (as described above), Bransle;

                                                Single left, Single right, 3 Doubles (left, right, left), Reprise (as above),                  

                                                                                Double left, Reprise (as above), Bransle;

                                                Single left, Single right, Double left, Reprise (as above), Bransle; Conge.


                                                Retour: Bransle, Double left, Reprise, Single left, Single right,

                                                                                                3 Doubles (left, right, left), Reprise, Bransle, Conge.



In the SCA, Sara de Bonneville is an aficionado of dance, a student of Master Trahaearn, and a sometime Exchequer.  In the modern world, Sara L. Bonneville is Budget Manager for a school district in Washington State who spent her college years (long ago!)  studying ballet and jazz, teaching the same, and doing a little stage choreography.