Proceedings of the Known World Dance Symposium 2007

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Beginning 15th century Italian Dances

for Day of Dance

Carey Cates
(Isabel D Triana)

The Steps

The descriptions of how to do the steps are not commonly given in the 15th century Italian manuscripts, and those available are open to more than one interpretation.  Thus the steps as well as the figures will vary somewhat depending on who reconstructed them.  Given that, here are quick descriptions of the steps that I use. Unless specified otherwise, steps begin with the left foot.  (Words in italics are the Italian words found as in the manuscripts.)

contrapssso        three steps forward, alternating feet, then bring the second foot under the heel of the first foot for a fourth step.  Done in half the time of a double.

doppio                  double, three steps forward, alternating feet.  The double can be done with a slight undulation, by rising a little onto the ball of the foot during the step and sinking at the end of the step.

mezovolta            half turn, the steps vary from dance to dance; see the individual dance descriptions

movimento          an improvised movement, such as rise on toes of both feet and then lower again.

piva                       three steps: step on the specified foot, bring the other foot  beside the first, and take another step with the first foot. 

ripresa                  a step to the side, then bringing the other foot beside the first, then step again to the side with the first foot.

riverenza             (called a ‘reverence’ in French)  Step slightly back with the specified foot and bend the knees, as if to kneel part way down, while keeping torso vertical.

saltarello             three steps and a hop: step onto the specified foot, step with the other foot, step with the first foot, and a hop onto the first foot.

sempio                  single, a step forward on the specified foot.

voltatonda           full turn (volta = ‘turn’), the steps vary from dance to dance; see the individual dance descriptions

Suggested Sources for More Information

These are the books that I find the most useful of the books that I have seen:

Smith, A. William, Fifteenth-Century Dance and Music  Twelve Transcribed Italian Treatises and Collections in the Tradition of Domenico da Piacenza, 2 vols., Pendragon Press, Stuyvesant, NY, c.1995. (ISBN 0-945193-25-4 vol.1 and 0-945193-57-2 vol.2)

Sparti, Barbara, trans. and ed. De Practica Seu Arte Tripudii   On the Practice or Art of Dancing, Guglielmo Ebreo of Pesaro, original author, Oxford University Press, New York, c. 1993. (ISBN 0-19-816233-2)

Stephens, Vivian and Monica Cellio, Joy and Jealousy A Manual of 15th-Century Italian Balli, Real Soon Now Press, Pittsburgh PA, 1997. (Also available on the web, see site below.)
I highly recommend this book, and accompanying CD, as an introductory resource.

Wilson, D. R., The Steps Used in Court Dancing in Fifteenth-Century Italy, Victoire Press Ltd, Bar Hill, Cambs, UK, c.2004 (ISBN 0-9519307-3-7)

Lots more information on many aspects of dance can be found from the many links on the SCA Dance Web Page,

Copyright 2007 by Carey Cates as “Isabel D Triana”
Permission given to reproduce for nonprofit, educational purposes, provided this notice is included.


15th century Italian, no author given.

A dance for one couple, facing forwards


Bar                 Action

(4 bars of quadernaria (4/4) repeated 3 times)

1-12                12 Pive steps, starting on the left foot.

(3.5 bars of quadernaria (4/4) repeated twice)

13-16.5          Man leaves woman with “Pattern A”: 2 steps (starting left), 1 piva, 3 steps (ending on a half-bar).

16.5-19          Woman does same “Pattern A” to catch up.

(3.5 bars of quadernaria (4/4) repeated twice)

20-23.5         Man leaves woman with “Pattern B”: 3 pive (starting left), step (ending on a half-bar).

23.5-26         Woman does same “Pattern B” to catch up.

(8.5 bars of quadernaria (4/4) repeated twice)

27-29             Man leaves woman with “Pattern A” 2 steps (starting left), 1 piva, 2 of the 3 steps

30                   Man continues with last step, and then has half a bar of music to turn to face the woman

31                    Both reverenza left, (note that the dance phrasing does not match the music phrasing)

32-35.5         Man returns with “Pattern B” 3 pive (starting left), step (ending on a half-bar).

35.5-43         Woman leaves and returns with same “Pattern A”, turn, both reverenza, and “Pattern B”.

The entire dance then repeats, with the woman doing everything first.


Note, some recordings of the music have only two repeats of the initial musical phrase for only 8 initial pive.  Also, some recordings hold the half-bars for a full bar, in which time the last step can be held or followed by a pause in the motion.


2003, by Carey Cates as “Isabel D Triana”.  Adapted from work of Greg Lindahl as “Gregory Blount” and Vivian Stephens as “Rosina del Bosco Chiaro”


Rostiboli Gioioso

by Domenico da Piacenza, 15th century Italy

A dance for one couple


Bar                 Action

1-2                  Ripresa left and ripresa right

3-5                  Lord goes forward away from partner with a single left, single right, double left, and double right, ending the last double with a half turn (a pivot on the right foot) to face the Lady.    

6-7                  Both do a ripresa left and ripresa right

8-10               Lord approaches Lady with the same steps as in bars 3-5, ending beside Lady, facing               same direction

11-20             Do same steps as bars 1-10, but with the Lady leaving and approaching her partner

21-22             Ripresa left and ripresa right

23-26             Single left, single right, three doubles (left, right, left)

27-28             Volta Gioioso, a full turn using a single right, single left and a ripresa right

29-36             Repeat the steps of bars 21-28

37-52*           16 saltarelli, starting on the left foot

53-54*           Lord does a movimento and Lady responds with a movimento

55-56*           Lord leaves partner with a double left

57-58*           Lady does a movimento and Lord responds with a movimento

59-60*           Lady catches up to her partner with a double left

61-68*           Repeat the steps of bars 53-60, but with opposite feet.

The dance then repeats, with the Lady doing each action first.


* These bars are in a tempo that is twice as fast as the first part of the dance.  Thus, the movimenti, and doubles done in bars 53-68 are done at the same speed as in the first part; only the saltarello steps are really executed faster.


Copyright 1997 by Carey Cates as “Isabel D Triana”
Permission given to reproduce for nonprofit, educational purposes, provided this notice is included.