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Collection An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490 to 1920

Transition from Renaissance Dance to Baroque

Although Fabritio Caroso's Italian Renaissance dance treatise Nobiltà di dame (1600; 1605) was translated into Spanish and reissued as late as1630, a new dance style had emerged by the early 1600s. F[rancois] de Lauze's Apologie de la danse, published in France in 1623, noted changes that included turnout from the hip, a description of five feet positions, and exercises to enhance bending (plié) and rising (élevé)--two key components of Baroque dance technique. Similar in scope to the manual of de Lauze was Juan de Esquivel Navarro's Discvrsos sobre el arte del dançado, published in Madrid in 1640 (reprinted by Asociacíon de Liberos y Amigos del Libro, Madrid, 1947). Neither manual included music nor any complete choreographies, and although both were important links in the transition between the worlds of Renaissance and Baroque dance, the step and dance descriptions were not comprehensive enough for reconstruction.

The dancing master; or, Directions for dancing country dances. Published 1698.
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English Country Dance. While no technical manuals were published during the last half of the seventeenth century, social dancers in France and England witnessed a proliferation of manuals on English country dance (known also as anglaise or angloise), including works by John Playford (from 1651) and André Lorin (c.1685 and 1688). The first of those manuals was compiled, written, and produced by the English publisher, John Playford (born 1623, died 1687). He entitled it The English Dancing Master: or, Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the tune to each Dance, was published in London in 1651. Dedicated to the gentlemen of the Inns of Court, the first edition is a collection of 105 dances with accompanying tunes. Under a modified title, The dancing-master, this work of purely social dances went through seventeen editions, first compiled by Playford, later by his nephew Henry. After 1706, the works were issued by the London publisher Henry Young. This online collection includes the following two editions: 1) The dancing-master; or, Directions for dancing (1698) with more than two hundred dances; 2) The dancing-master; or, Directions for dancing (1728) with more than 350 dances.

While the first edition included dances for couples standing in a circle or for two or four couples facing each other in a square, the majority of the dances were longways sets of three or four couples, or "as many as will." English country dances emphasized spatial patterns over elaborate footwork and were performed by columns of couples facing each other. The dancers performed set patterns of figures as they moved down and up the column. In all editions, the dances were described with a rudimentary dance notation, and a tune was provided for each dance.

Recüeil de contredances. Raoul-Auger Feuillet. Published 1706.
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By the end of the seventeenth century, the English country dance was popular in French ballrooms. Known as the contredance or contredanse, André Lorin's Livre de contredance presenté au Roy, published c.1697-1698, was the first to provide diagrams that aid in understanding of the figures of the dances. A similar method was adopted by famed dancing master Raoul-Auger Feuillet (born 1659 or 1660, died 1710) in his 1706 Recüeil de contredances. In describing ten dances, Feuillet elaborated on the motions for the feet and arms, the way the dances corresponded to the music, and the rules for performance. Although Playford had advocated the use of walking steps in dancing the country dances, Feuillet indicated that a range of Baroque dance steps were appropriate. In 1710, Feuillet's manual was translated by English dancer, dancing master, and writer John Essex (born c.1680, died 1744) as For the further improvement of dancing. (For further reading on the transition from Renaissance dance to Baroque dance, see the bibliography.)