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Gender balance in 15thC Italian dances

There are a good few text indications that a common assumption in 15th century Italy was that there would be more men dancing than women (though there are also descriptions of groups of women dancing together). 

Today, I decided to skim the choreographies with different numbers of men and women, or odd numbers of dancers but unspecified gender, and look at the gender balance. My current impression (before checking) is that there are often more men called for than women; but that it varies. However, there are often more women than men in my dance classes, so we dance many things with the genders swapped: maybe men always outnumbered women?


There are 44 dances on my list.

  • men definitely outnumber women in 29 dances (66%)
  • women definitely outnumber men in 5 dances (11%)
  • the gender of dancers, or gender-balance, is unspecified in 10 (23%)

Breaking it down further, 9 of those dances (89%) are for 3 people, being:

  • 25 for 2 men and 1 woman (64% of three-person dances, 57% of the whole set)
  • 5 for 1 man and 2 women (13% of three-person dances, 11% of the whole set)
  • 9 for three dancers with unspecified genders (23% of three-person dances, 20% of the whole set)

The remaining 5 dances are for various numbers of people. Men definitely out number women in four. In Raia, which is danced by two or three people, one woman is mentioned but the gender of the other dancer(s) is left unspecified.


  1. Dances where men outnumber women are common. Dances for two men and one woman are very common indeed. 
  2. Dances where women outnumber men are rare.
  3. I found no indication that genders were swapped on occasion for convenience. Some 16th century Italian choreographies call for "two gentlemen and one lady, or two ladies and one gentleman" but I don't see positive evidence for that in the 15th century. (We do it in class, though).
  4. No dances explicitly call for single-gender groups, i.e. all men or all women, though the practice is referred to in some texts. But ...
  5. Sometimes gender is never specified in a choreography.
  6. I don't see a connection between the genre of the dance (i.e. bassadanza or ballo) and the likely gender-balance.
Dance Type

Dances for three - two men and one woman (25) 7 bassadanze, 12 balli, 5 balletti, 1 genre-unspecified
Ays bassadanza
Corona Gentile bassadanza
Damnes bassadanza
Diamante bassadanza
Duchessa bassadanza
Gioia bassadanza
Meschina bassadanza
Belfiore ballo
Belreguardo novo ballo
Danza di Re ballo
Duchesco ballo
Gioioso in tre ballo
Giove ballo
Humana ballo
Ingrata ballo
Iupiter ballo
Lioncello novo ballo
Moza di Bischare ballo
Se no dormi dona alscholtta ballo
Bialre di Chastiglia balletto
La Fortuna balletto
La Graziosa balletto
Rossina balletto
Vita di Cholino balletto
Mastri di Tromboni unspecified genre
Dances for three: two women and one man (5) 2 bassadanze, 3 balli
Febus bassadanza
Pellegrina bassadanza
Santomera ballo
Spero ballo
Voltati in ca Rosina ballo
Dances for three: unspecified genders (9) 5 bassadanze, 4 balli
Caterva bassadanza
La Crudele bassadanza
Mignotta in tre bassadanza
Nobile bassadanza
Venus bassadanza
Amoroso tre ballo
Angiola ballo
Petit Rinense ballo
Principessa tre balllo
Other dances (5) 4 balli, 1 balletto
Mercantia (for 4: a male-female couple and two extra men: 1 woman and 3 men) ballo
Sobria (for 6: a male-female couple and four extra men: 1 woman and 5 men) ballo
Tesara (for 10: four male-female couples and two extra men: 4 women and 6 men) ballo
Verceppe (for 5: 2 women and 3 men) ballo
Raia (for 2 or 3: 1 woman and 2 others of unspecified gender) balletto

[This table comes with a thankyou to William A. Smith, for making this so easy to do. I love a good concordance!]