Proceedings of the Known World Dance Symposium 2007

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Another Look at Fifteenth Century Burgundian Basse Dance

Rick Wallace
(Ýves de Fortanier)


Much of what is known about this style of dance comes from four period sources. Researchers use single word references for them – Nancy, Brussels, Toulouze, and Salisbury. Brussels and Toulouze have both instruction and music. The other two have only scribblings on the steps to a number of dances. So, to learn how to do the steps, we rely on Brussels and Toulouze, which are “virtually identical.”1

Contents of this article

·         The five types of steps and my interpretation of how to do them. Measures.

·         Tabulation for some of the dances for which there is recorded music. Suggestions for the music.

·         Early references of basse dance used as a term.

·         Descriptions of the four primary sources. Images from Brussels and Toulouze.

·         Selected references by modern authors. Selected references by SCA authors.



Jakob Mennel, 1503. Source:

Interpreting the steps

There are five types of steps: double, reprise, reverence, branle, and simple.

Practice walking evenly with small, light steps – and then in sets of three – will lead to forward doubles, and then backward doubles. The backward double leads to the desmarche, or as I prefer, the reprise.2 The sequence of reverence – branle – simple begins a dance (more on that later).

Name with translation of period text3

Yves’ interpretation (with help from Signy)4


The first double step is done with the left foot; one must raise one’s body and go three steps forward lightly, the first with the left foot, the second with the right foot, and the third with the left like the first. The second double step must be done with the right foot and one must raise one’s body similarly, and then go three steps forward…


Walk three small, light steps forward with alternating feet. Odd-numbered doubles all start on the left foot. Even-numbered doubles all start on the right.

To begin: push off from the ball of your right foot to raise the heel maybe an inch, which raises your body, and step forward on the ball of the left foot with your heel just off the ground. Also, straighten your torso and raise your ribs to raise your body even more.

When finishing a set of doubles (more on that later), keep your right foot up to be ready for the next step: a reprise.

At least one dance (La franchoise nouvelle) has what are thought to be doubles done backward. Ladies, take care when stepping backward so that you do not step on the hem of your long, luxurious dress.

Reprise / Desmarche

A single desmarche must be made with the right foot retreating and is called the desmarche because one draws back, and one must lift one’s body, and bring the right foot back, close to the other [left] foot.

The second desmarche must be made with the left foot, lifting the body and turning it a little towards the lady…

The third one must be done with the right foot like the first [desmarche]…

Step straight back on your right foot, placing it so that your right toes are even with your left heel. Then do likewise with your left foot. Do that again with your right foot to make three steps in all. Odd-numbered reprises all start on the right foot. Even-numbered reprises all start on the left.

On the second reprise, Men: face towards the lady with a kind gaze. The degree to which you face her is up to you – your nose, your face, or your shoulders. Women: Acknowledge this as you may.

By default, the next step after a reprise (set) is a branle step: keep the left foot up to be ready for it.


One does reverence to the lady by inclining oneself towards her and this … must be done with the left foot.

All basse dance starts with a desmarche and ends with a branle.

In SCA tradition, a reverence often both begins and closes the dance. Sometimes the music will account for the closing reverence.

Men: Place your left foot straight back so that your left toes are even with your right heel – with your left heel raised and your weight on the ball of your left foot. Face the lady who has honored you by dancing with you and nod and/or bow with respect. Women: Acknowledge this as you may.

If this is the beginning of the dance, the next step will be a branle – which also starts with the left foot, so just leave it where it is. Otherwise, that’s the end of the dance.

Interpreting the steps, continued


The branle must start with the left foot and end with the right foot … one makes it [swaying] on one foot [then] on the other.

Step to your left slightly – say the width of your foot or a little more. Sway to bring your left shoulder over your left foot, then lower your left heel and raise your right heel. Sway back to place: push off with the left foot to bring it back to place, lower your right heel, and raise your left heel to be ready for the next step: a simple.


There are only ever two simple steps together.

The two simple steps are done advancing and the first step is done with the left foot raising the body and making one step forward and the second step is done with the right foot and one must raise the body and step a little forward.

Simple steps are always done in pairs.

Take one small step forward. Step forward with the other foot. Raise your body as you do for a double.

(After a branle step, start with your left foot. After a double, start with your right foot.)

More about the “simple” step

Given that a double has three steps and that all basse dance steps take the same amount of time, we must decide how to put the two steps of the simple into the same time as the three steps of the double. One answer is to step on the first “beat”, pause on the second beat, and step again on the third beat.

Another answer, perhaps controversial, is to divide the note into six counts and step on One and Four rather than step on One, pause on Three, and step again on Five.

I feel that both methods are valid. The dancers should all agree beforehand to use the same method to help avoid confusion and collision.

Do what you can

An athletic dancer can keep their chest high, their torso straight, and never let their heels touch the floor for an entire ball – but we are not all athletes. Consider the instructions above, especially for raising the heels and the body, as a goal rather than a requirement.

Another note on movement from the Brussels manuscript: “when one dances … one goes calmly without thrashing about, as gracefully as possible.”




There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time,
when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.

— Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)






The measure is a set sequence of steps. The basic “formula” for a measure can be described thus:5

[ S  D1,3,5  (S)  R1,3  B ]

In English, this is a simple step, then either one, three, or five doubles, another simple (maybe), then either one or three reprises, and finally a branle. Put a few measures together, add a reverence and branle at the beginning, a reverence at the end, and you have a dance.

Types of measure

There are three broad types based on the number of doubles. There are four subtypes of those based on whether or not a simple step is done after the double(s) and on the number of reprises. Each combination has a specific term. I include them for the sake of completeness and as a service to the reader.6



très parfaite







plus que parfaite














très imparfaite







très parfaite







plus que parfaite














très imparfaite







très parfaite







plus que parfaite














très imparfaite










très parfaite

Very perfect




plus que parfaite










très imparfaite

Very imperfect

Principles of basse dance

Most basse dances conform to the following:

·         The five types of step

·         The types of measure and the measure-step “formula”

·         Each type of step occupies the same amount of time: one note

·         Consecutive measures in a dance are of different lengths (small, medium, large)



A dance is a measured pace, as a verse is a measured speech.

— Francis Bacon, 1605. “The Advancement of Learning”



Yves’ Unusual Tabulations for Some
Fifteenth Century Burgundian Basse Dances


C=Courtesy (Reverence).     B=Branle.     S=Simple.     D=Double.     R=Reprise.

Reverence: Men – Step back L, honor the lady with nod and/or bow. Women: acknowledge as you may.

Branle: Step out slight L, sway L, recover on R.

Simple: Forward two steps. Could start on L or R. Could have pause in between.

Double: Forward three steps. Could start on L or R. Done in sets of one, three, or five.

Reprise: Back three steps. Starts on R after a double. Done in sets of one or three.

Take all steps lightly as you may, as if floating. Each type of step takes the same amount of time.

Below, the slash [/] that divides “measures” is added for clarity.
“D(3)” means to do three doubles.


Toulouze      C B S D(3) R(3) B  /  S D R D R B  /  S D(3) S R(3) B  /  S D R D R B C


Brussels       C B S D R  /  S D(3) S R(3) B  /  S D S R(3) B  /  S D(3) S R(3) B C

Castille la nouvelle7

C B S D(5) R(3) B  /  S D S R(3) B  /  S D(5) R(3) B  /  S D S R(3) B  /  S D(3) R(3) B C

La franchoise nouvelle

Note the lack of reprises. In Toulouze, the backward double is denoted with r 

However, for readability, the convention used here is =D

C  B  S  D(3)  S  =D

          S  D  =D  B

          S  D(3)  =D  D  =D  B

          S  D  =D  B

If you are dancing to the version by the Dragon Scale Consort, dance it FIVE times, starting each with the reverence. At the end of the fifth time, close with a reverence.

Le moys de may

C B S D(3) S R(3) B  /  S D S R(3) B  /  S D(3) S R(3) B  /  S D S R(3) B C



Never give a sword to a man who cannot dance.

— Kŏng Qiū (Confucius), 6th century BC


Suggested Music for Some Fifteenth Century Burgundian Basse Dances


Tape of Dance, Volume 2, Ensemble Rigodon.*

Casulle la nouele / Castille la nouvelle

Tape of Dance, Volume 2, “Falla con misuras” by Pandemonium.*

I use the version by Ensemble Perceval, but this is good too.

Dance de cleves

There are many recordings available. I have not compared them, but others have reviewed them. Read the reviews from the Letter of Dance article on this page –

Danses de la Renaissance
Clemencic Consort. Harmonia Mundi, HM 90610. From PRMS.

Music From the Time of Richard III.
The York Waits. Saydisc CD: CD-SDL 364

SCA Dance Musicke.
The Companions of St. Cecilia.

Sonare et Balare: Dances from 15th c. Italy and France.
The Bedford Waits. Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society, 1990.

To perform Dance de cleves, I refer you to the teachings of the esteemed Master Trahaearn:

La franchoise nouvelle

The Dragon Scale Consort, “A Consort of Dances”, Track 4.

Web site –

Le moys de may

Tape of Dance, Volume 3, Carolingian Guild of Jongleurs.*


* These are available as .MP3 files from the SCA Dance Music MP3 Collection page.



Some early references of the term being used

A troubadour, Raimond de Cornet, makes mention of “cansos e bassas dansas” in 1340.8

The term is mentioned as “baxa dança” in Procés de la Senyora de Valor in 1406 by Francesc de la Via9 who lived in Girona in northeast Catalonia.

The term “la dance basse” is mentioned in the poem Le Livre de quatre dames by Alain Chartier in 1416, which conveys the feelings of four ladies left desolate by the battle of Agincourt:10

Amour compasse

Love disposes

Ses faiz comme la dance basse:

His actions like the Basse Dance:

Puis va avant et puis rappasse,

Now he advances, and then passes back again,

Puis retourne, puis oultrepasse.

Then returns, then passes beyond.

(Translation: Cambridge University Press, 1974)

Primary sources

·         The “Nancy” manuscript: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds français 5699. This is the first known choreography for this style of dance. Notes on seven dances scribbled on the flyleaf of a book (supposedly a copy of Geste des Nobles Francoys by Guillaume Cousinot) by Jean d’Orléans, comte d’Angoulême around June-July of 1445.11 Nancy refers to the capital of Lorraine where Jean attended a marriage celebration with royalty and other nobility in attendance.

·         The “Toulouze” incunabulum: Lart et instruction de bien danser published by Michiel Thoulouze12 in Paris sometime before 1496(?). An incunabulum can be defined as a book that was printed, especially in Europe, before 1501.

The Web site at has both large and small images of each page and a PDF file with all of the pages.

·         The “Brussels” manuscript: Manuscript 9085 aus dem Besitz der Bibliothèque royale Albert Ier, Bruxelles. (Manuscript #9085 at the Royal Library of Albert the First in Brussels, Belgium.) Twenty-five parchment leaves on black paper with gold rules and calligraphic initials in silver listing several pages of instruction and “tenor lines” for 58 dances (of which but 40 are unique; several are repeated to different pieces of music).

Produced sometime before 1501, probably during or after 1497, the front portion contains a brief address or dedication to the Princess of Spain. Margaret of Austria (Marguerite d’Autriche) was the Princess of Spain by marriage during 1497-1501. “On the basis of 15th century musical and literary material it is generally concluded that the dances of both manuscripts [Toulouze and Brussels] are to be situated in the middle of the 15th century”.13

The Web site at has a picture of each page.

·         The “Salisbury” manuscript: The notes for twenty dances scribbled on the first paper flyleaf of the copy of the Catholicon by Johannes Balbus de Janua (printed by Johannes Hamann, Venice 1497) archived in the Salisbury Cathedral Library.14

See the Web site at

Images from the Toulouze incunabulum


Le moys de may steps Toulouze

Le moys de may.

This is an example of a basse dance tenor line. The musicians were expected to improvise parts to accompany the tenor line.15

The steps as written above are:  R b ss ddd ss rrr b ss d ss rrr b ss ddd ss rrr b d ss rrr b

However, that doesn’t fit the formula. There should be a simple step before the last desmarche.

Looking at the calligraphic half-r one can see how it could be mistaken for a z.

Notice that the letters in the step notation do not align with the corresponding musical notes.


CLN steps Toulouze

“Casulle la nouele” … of which Baron Patri said was certainly a misprint for Castille la nouvelle.16


Images from the Brussels manuscript


La franchoise nouvelle.

Above is a reverse grayscale image of the original. The actual pages are parchment dyed black. The music notes and step notation are in silver – the decoration in the capital L and the line with the name of the dance is in gold. This is a rare instance of a basse dance melody line rather than just a tenor line. Unlike with the tenor line, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between a note and a step sequence. Notice the r … which is thought to represent a backwards double.


Barcelonne and Flourentine (?)

Barcelonne has the same steps as Le moys de may and at least one other dance in the Brussels manuscript.

Why is there not more basse dance done?

There is yet a lack of recorded music. It is safe to say that musicians who are able to improvise in a period style, much less a style that suits this style of dance, are a rare treasure at SCA revels.

Selected references by modern authors

Peggy Dixon, “Reflections on Basse Dance Source Material” (Part I)
“Historical Dance”, Volume 2, Number 5. Copyright 1987, Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society.

Peggy Dixon, “Reflections on Basse Dance Source Material” (Part II)
“Historical Dance”, Volume 2, Number 4. Copyright 1985, Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society.

Lieven Baaert and Veerle Fack, “Les Basses Danses de Marguerite d’Autriche”
The Institute of Historical Dance, July 1995

Veerle Fack, “Choreographies in the Salisbury ms.”
The Institute of Historical Dance

Daniel Heartz, with Patricia Rader, “Basse danse”
Copyright 2007, Oxford University Press
Accessed from Grove Music Online on 06 January 2007. (

Carles Mas i Garcia, “Baixa Dansa in the Kingdom of Catalonia and Aragon in the 15th Century”
“Historical Dance”, Volume 3, Number 1. Copyright 1992, Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society.

Kathi Meyer-Baer, “Some Remarks on the Problems of the Basse-Dance”
Tijdschrift der Vereeniging voor Noord-Nederlands Muziekgeschiedenis, D. 17de, 4de Stuk. (1955), pp. 251-277. Accessed from JSTOR.ORG on 29 January 2007.

David R. Wilson, “Theory and Practice in 15th-Century French Basse Dance”
“Historical Dance”, Volume 2, Number 3. Copyright 1983, Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society.

David R. Wilson, “A Further Look at the Nancy Basse Dances”
“Historical Dance”, Volume 3, Number 3. Copyright 1994, Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society.

David R. Wilson, The Early Dance Lecture 2003: “But how do you know how they danced so long ago?”
This is on the Web site for the Early Dance Circle, which is an “umbrella organisation to promote the enjoyment, performance and study of Early Dance in the UK.” The site also has several other articles of interest to SCA dancers.

“Burgundian Dance in the Late Middle Ages”
This U.S. Library of Congress site features color images of the entire Brussels manuscript.

Selected references by SCA authors

“The Brussels Manuscript: Transcription & Translation” (Letter of Dance, Vol. 2)
Daniel of Falling Rocks (Nathan Kronenfeld) and Roselyne de l’Estrangere (Sue Gill)

“Burgundian Basse Dance: A Reconstruction of the Brussels MS” (Letter of Dance, Vol. 2)
Daniel of Falling Rocks, based on a reconstruction by the Carolingian Accademia della Danza

Del’s Dance Book
Delbert von Straßburg (D. Elson), Lochac … or …

SCA Dance Music MP3 Collection
Eric the Peacock (Eric Praetzel), Ealdormere … or …

Dance Instructions for the Hukka Autumn Fair (Oct. 2006)
Gaucelm de Chambonnieres (Samu Virokannas), Drachenwald

The SCA Renaissance Dance Home Page
Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl), Atlantia

Renaissance Dance
Miklós Sándorfia (Andrew Draskóy), Ealdormere

Basse Dance Project
Mustapha al-Muhaddith (Russell Almond), East

Paper on Basse Danse Music
Mustapha al-Muhaddith

“Survey of European Dance Sources, 1400–1700”
Trahearn ap Ieuan and Janelyn of Fenmere (Peter and Janelle Durham), An Tir
A Known World Dance Compendium (Compiled by William Redcape for the first Known World Dance Symposium held in the Barony of Axemoor in AS xxxi)

“Notes on Burgundian Basse Dance”
Wolfgang Adolphus Jäger (Dominic Hunter), Drachenwald



1.       Daniel of Falling Rocks (mka Nathan Kronenfeld) and Roselyne de l’Estrangere (mka Sue Gill), “The Brussels Manuscript: Transcription & Translation”

2.       In both Toulouze and Brussels, the term used is “desmarche.” The author prefers to use reprise to go with the letter [r] that is used for the step notation in the source material.

3.       Adapted from Daniel and Roselyne’s article. Also see Kathi Meyer-Baer’s translation of Toulouze in “Some Remarks on the Problems of the Basse-Dance” pp. 252–255. Thanks to Vyncent for suggesting the side-by-side format.

4.       Signy Dimmridaela, OL (mka Tracie R. Brown)

5.       Thanks to Wolfgang Adolphus Jäger (mka Dominic Hunter) for the formula idea.

6.       Table adapted from Wikipedia.

7.       You might also see this as (Cassule, Casule, or Casulle) + (nouele, novele, or nouvelle).

8.      Daniel Heartz, with Patricia Rader, “Basse danse”.

9.       Carles Mas i Garcia, “Baixa Dansa in the Kingdom of Catalonia and Aragon in the 15th Century”.

10.   David A. Coward, “A History of French Literature”, Blackwell Publishing, p. 27.

11.    David R. Wilson, “A Further Look at the Nancy Basse Dances”.

12.    His name is more often seen as Michel (de) Toulouze/Toulouse.

13.    Lieven Baaert and Veerle Fack, “Les Basses Danses de Marguerite d’Autriche”.

14.    Veerle Fack, “Choreographies in the Salisbury ms.”

15.    Baert and Fack.

16.    Dr. Patri J. Pugliese, “Why Not Dolmetsch?” in Dance Research Journal 13/2 (Spring 1981). In the SCA, he was known as Baron Sir Patri du Chat Gris, OL, OP, with many other awards. He died in February 2007. For now at least, you can visit this page for a poetic tribute —



Hurray, basse dancing!

Seigneur Ýves de Fortanier
(mka Rick Wallace)
Barony of the South Downs, Meridies