Comparing Italian Renaissance Dance Steps

Only a mere fifteen sources are available to us today about Italian dance in the Age of the Galliard (a period of dance from about the 1490s to early 1700s). Within these sources, there are just barely more than 200 choreographed dances, 175 of which come from only three sources by two different authors. Yet even more limited than the choreographies are the explanations of how to execute the many steps. Five sources include sections in which many of the individual steps are explained: Caroso’s Il Ballarino (1581) and Nobiltà di Dame (1600); Negri’s Le Gratie d’Amore (1602); Lupi’s Libro di Gagliarda, Tordiglione, Passo e Mezzo, Canari e Passeggi (1607); and Santucci’s Mastro da Ballo (1614). However, Lupi’s work explains only twenty steps, most of which are not used in the choreographed dances, but may be used in the Gagliarda, Tordiglione, Passo e Mezzo, and Canari sequences which follow the two choreographed dances. In addition to these five sources, two steps are defined within the choreographies of the Chigi manuscripts: the Cambio and the Seguito of the Tordiglione. Within these scant sources, most of the step executions remain similar, yet some small changes can be seen across the period. One of the steps that clearly demonstrates these changes is the Ripresa.

The Ripresa appears only in Il Ballarino, Le Gratie d’Amore, and Mastro da Ballo, being omitted by Caroso in Nobiltà di Dame. Caroso begins by a small step to the side which is then closed with the other foot, ornamented, like so many other steps, with a rising as it progresses and a lowering at the end. Yet he then presents a strange alternative for the quickened Ripresa, wherein the dancer moves both heels to one side, followed by his toes. On the other hand, Negri executes the slow Ripresa in the same manner as Caroso, and then goes on present a Ripresa in sottopiede (Ripresa under foot). In this new type of Ripresa, the dancer leaps onto the first foot in place of second, raising the second behind, and then putting the toes of the second foot down under the heel of the first. Finally, Santucci abandons the original execution of the Ripresa, presenting a step closer to Negri’s Ripresa in sottopiede. His step has the dancer to make a small leap forward onto the first foot, and then slides the second in place of the first, raising the first forward. While the Ripresa began as gentle, ornamented side step and close,  the step transformed over nearly forty years into a more ornate step, leaping from one foot to the other.

Ripresa grave Ripresa mimina Sottopiede Ripresa grave Ripresa mimina Ripresa minuta for Ladies Ripresa in sottopiede Ripresa forward or to side Ripresa behind
Il Ballarino Il Ballarino Il Ballarino Le Gratie d’Amore Le Gratie d’Amore Le Gratie d’Amore Le Gratie d’Amore Mastro da Ballo Mastro da Ballo
1581 1581 1581 1602 1602 1602 1602 1614 1614
Begin with the heels together and toes apart Thrust the left foot forward
Move to the left Move both heels to the left Small leap to the left, raising the right behind the left Move the left foot to the left Move both heels to the left Move the heels apart and toes together Hop onto the left in place of the right, raising the right behind Leap (forward or to the side) onto the left foot Jump backward, landing on the left toes and raising the right behind
Raise both heels Raise both heels Move the toes apart and heels together
Step onto the right toes next to the left Move both toes to the left Slide the right foot forward in place of the left while raising the left foot Step onto the right toes next to the left Move both toes to the left Move the heels apart and toes together Hop onto the right, on the toes, in place of the left heel, raising the left foot Hop onto the right foot in place of the left, raising the left forward Hop onto the right toes in place of the left, raising the left to the side
Lower the heels Lower the heels Move the toes apart and heels together
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