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Terms and Abbreviations

These are some of the conventions I've used in translating and describing 16th-century Italian dances.


"Ordinary hands" - man' ordinaria

In renaissance dances the man conventionally stands to the left of the woman (so that she, being placed to his right, is in the position of honour; also so that his sword isn't tangled in her dress). The man usually takes the woman's left hand in his right: this is often referred to as this 'taking ordinary hands' ('man' ordinaria').

In some dances, and the woman stands to the left of the man, taking his left hand in her right. Our sources don't use a specific term for this, but describe it in full, as above. Modern renaissance dancers sometimes call this 'taking improper hands'.


Repeat "on the other side" - per contrario

Many dance manuals call for passages to be repeated 'per contrario', or 'on the other side'. This means that you should dance the passage again, swapping left and right throughout: steps done with the left foot, or moving to the left, are now done with the right foot, or to the right; where you took left hands, you take right; clockwise circles become anti-clockwise circles. Instructions to move forwards or backwards, or to take ordinary hands, are not affected.

Sometimes a passage is done reversing the figures, but not the steps: for example, you might circle clockwise, holding right hands, and starting on the left foot; then circle counterclockwise, holding left hands, but still starting on the right foot.

My intention should be clear in my instructions (though it isn't always clear in the original).


Dance "in a wheel" - in ruota

Stand facing your partner, about a metre apart. Now, imagine that you and your partner are both standing on the rim of an imaginary wheel, with its hub directly between you. Steps danced 'in a wheel' are danced along the rim of the wheel. That is, you and your partner both move to the left or the right (assuming you are both dancing), but you maintain the same distance between you, each tracing a circle (or part therof) on the floor.


"Flankingly" - fiancheggiando

It's clumsy English, but I haven't found a clearer translation of fiancheggiando. It describes oblique movements: steps and sequences that travel somewhat to the left or right, and somewhat forwards or backwards. The angle - mostly forwards, mostly sideways, or about 45 degrees - can be adjusted to suit the needs of a particular passage.

"Along" and "Across" the room

For a processional dance you should begin at one short end of the room, or other dancing-space, and walk towards the other (if the dance is very long, you may need to take a curved path, or turn around, of course). It's useful to distinguish facing your partner "along the room" and "across the room". Some balletti, such as Rustica Amorosa, have sections done in both orientations.

Processional dance

[insert diagram]

Facing, "along the room"

[insert diagram]

Facing, "across the room"

[insert diagram]



Renaissance dance masters don't use any such word, but it's a convenient term when the same sequence of steps occurs at the end of each repeat of the music.


Abbreviations for steps

I tend to use 'L' and 'R' to indicate that a step is done on the left or right foot, and the word written out in full for the direction of travel. So "2 spezzati (LR) turning left" means that you should do two spezzati, the first on the left foot and the second on the right foot, turning around in a circle to the left.

I'm moving away from using abbreviations, but some of these are old reconstructions, so here are some of the conventions I've used:

Rx    riverenza,           mRx meza riverenza

C      continenza

Cad  cadenza

B      seguito battuto al canario

P       passo               :P:    passo puntato

R      ripresa

S      seguiti ordinario    

SP    seguiti spezzato

Sx    scambiata

T      trabuchetto

Tg     trango, or passo trangato