Additional Dance Types

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Additional Dance Types


The nota is an instrumental dance that is neither discussed in any detail nor identified by name in any musical source. It receives a passing reference in Grocheio's treatise, where he points out that it has formal elements of both the carol and the estampie. Jean Maillart, in his Le Roman du Comte d'Anjou of 1316, briefly mentions it in a manner that makes it clear that the nota is a distinct dance type: "Some sang pastourelles about Robichon and Amelot, others played on vielles chansons royal and estampies, dances and notas." Four instrumental dances have been tentatively identified as possible notas on the basis of their formal construction; all are in English sources, but nothing at all is known about their formation or steps.


Although no description survives of the saltarello as an independent dance, the name (from the Italian saltare, to jump) indicates a very lively dance step, a fact confirmed by the way the saltarello step is described in the later bassadanza dance manuals. Only four examples of the medieval saltarello are known; all are instrumental and are found in a single Italian manuscript where they are labeled "salterello." The melodies are lively, with repeated phrases, and the fact that their phrases are of different lengths suggests that the saltarello step was relatively simple, something that could be repeated over and over until the music stopped.


The name moresca usually refers to a special dance in which the dancers all blackened their faces in imitation of Moors, and dressed in what were thought to be "Moorish" costumes with bells attached to their legs. (The term Moors originally referred to the people of Morocco, but Europeans often used the word to mean anyone from North Africa.) The dance sometimes depicts a fight between Moors and Christians, a reference to recent Spanish history, and sometimes includes a fool as part of the cast of characters. A moresca is recorded as one of the dances performed in 1465 in Siena in honor of the dancer Ippolita Sforza. The cast on that occasion included twelve men and women dressed in "Moorish" costumes and one woman dressed as a nun, all dancing to a song with the text "I don't want to be a nun." Morescas were often danced during large celebrations such as carnival processions, and by the late fifteenth century they were transformed into theater pieces and inserted into banquets and plays for light relief. The later English "morris dance" is related to the moresca. The word moresca also had the more general meaning of any unchoreographed or unsophisticated dance.


Rigoletto is best known as the name of the jester in Giuseppe Verdi's 1851 opera by that name, which begins at a ball in sixteenth-century Mantua. In Prodenzani's description, the dance includes forward and backward jumps and some type of "waving" motion. Another bit of information about this dance comes from the text of a mid-fifteenth century lauda (sacred song) with the title "Chi vuol ballare a righoletto": "Whoever wants to dance the rigoletto, move with the step to the organetto; make your steps to the sweet sound, executing the changes and matching your foot to the tune … Anyone who has weak legs or arms, do not embarrass yourself to enter in, since it changes briskly from leaps to level steps." The term rigoletto also was used in a looser context where it carried the meaning "wasting time," as for example, the early fifteenth-century criticism leveled at the executives of the Florentine government who were "dancing the rigoletto" instead of getting down to business. That is, they engaged in much motion but did not get anywhere. Although there is no more detailed description of the rigoletto dance steps, from these vague statements, as well as its use as a political criticism, we could speculate that the forward and backward jumps may not have progressed from the original position, thereby giving the impression of motion that accomplishes little.


One theory is that the tarantella dance receives its name from the tarantula spider, a reference to the rapid leg motion the spider makes in order to mesmerize its victim before killing it. Another possibility is that the name of the dance comes from its place of origin, the city of Taranto in southern Italy. From all accounts it would seem to involve rapid foot and leg motion while the dancer remains in one spot.

When mentioned in accounts during the late Middle Ages it is usually set in southern Italy, and it is sometimes associated with hysterical dancing.

Dance Pairs.

There are a number of references to dances in pairs, generally referred to as dance and after-dance, although few details are ever given. Three musical examples exist, all from late fourteenth-century Italy. In each pair, the first dance has a fanciful name, while the after-dance is given a label: "Lamento di Tristano"/ "La Rotta;" "La Manfredina"/"La Rotta della Manfredina;" and "Dança Amorosa"/"Trotto." Tristan (Tristano) and Manfred are characters in medieval romances, and Amorous Dance (Dança Amorosa) probably also would be recognized at the time as a literary reference. The melodic phrases of these dances resemble those in an estampie, and so it is possible to relate these dances to both the Italian estampie and the later bassadanza repertory that also featured fanciful names (see The Bassadanza below). Since the word rotta refers to something that moves very quickly and trotto means "to trot," it is likely that both words refer to the fact that the after-dance is quick and lively. All of this agrees with literary and theoretical descriptions that speak of pairs as consisting of a slow, sedate dance followed by a quick one. In all of the Italian examples the melodies of the paired dances are closely related, which associates the idea itself with the most popular Renaissance dance pairs, known as "pavan and galliard," in which a sedate processional dance is paired with a leaping dance, both based on the same melody. The concept of organizing dances in sets of contrasting tempos and movements became standardized as dance suites in the late Renaissance, and remained the basic organization of most instrumental music until well into the nineteenth century.

Other Dance Names and Music.

There are many more names of dances found in literary sources, such as espringale, reien, hovetantz, tresche, piva, and farandole. Some of these names appear as particular steps in later dance choreographies (see Origins of Ballet below), but outside of that nothing else is known of their steps, formations, or music. At the same time, there are also a few musical compositions that are identified as dances or thought to be dances, but which do not fit easily into the known descriptions. Some are possibly tenors (basic melodies for choreographed dances) but others simply defy all efforts to identify their types.


Timothy J. McGee, "Medieval Dances: Matching the Repertory with Grocheio's Descriptions," Journal of Musicology 7 (1989): 489–517.