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Barriera, Nobilta, for A&S competition

Katherine Davies
Summer 2002

This was my first piece of serious dance reconstruction, for the Trimaris Summer Arts and Sciences Faire, in Florida, in 2002. My Italian was still very poor, so I relied heavily on Sutton's translation of Nobilta di Dame, and I was too new to the genre to realise that I could have picked a much easier dance (one with fewer sciolte, for a start).

Nevertheless, both reconstruction and performance went reasonably well, though of course neither were as I would do them now.

The two most important things I learned were: A) I can do this: without a teacher, just figure it out yourself, from scratch (and be very nice to the husband who dances with you, though he's not at all keen on the style), and B) don't submit a 23-page document (plus photocopies of supporting material!) with a 4-minute performance, and expect that anyone will have time to read it, absorb it, and give you useful feedback on the spot.



A most elegant Balletto,

composed by the illustrious


in the Year of our Lord 1600,

reconstructed by Katharine Parry,

and performed by Lord Ludwig von Regensburg and the said Lady,

to music provided by the generosity and prowess of

Lord Octavio de Flores and Baron Romas the Mapmaker,

in the thirty-seventh Year of our Society,

being 402 years after the composition of this gracious Balletto.



  1. Intentions and background
  2. ‘Barriera’ as a dance type.
  3. Etiquette and Style. Greetings, ornaments, arm position etc.
  4. Terms for note duration.
  5. The steps: Facsimiles, transcriptions and translation of Caroso’s rules for the steps used in this Barriera. Discussion of how we have interpreted them for this dance. Steps for which Caroso doesn’t give adequate rules.
  6. The music: Facsimile of Caroso’s music. The music we have used. Discussion of repeat structure and tempo.
  7. The choreography: Transcription and translation of Caroso’s choreography for this dance. My choreography, with discussions of ambiguities in Caroso’s text. My choreography, written under the music.
  8. Images from Nobiltà di Dame: Show positions used in the dance.
  9. Our performance as a masque: Why we’re not in Italian costume of 1600.
  10. Bibliography
  11. Supplementary material: text of Caroso’s previous choreography for Barriera, etc. [these were supplied as annotated photocopies - not included on this website]

Intentions and Background

Fabritio Caroso, said to be from Sermoneta, was a dancing master who worked in Italy, especially Rome, in the late 16th Century. He published a dancing manual called “Il Ballarino” in 1581. A much revised edition was published in 1600 as “Nobiltà di Dame”. The Barriera we will perform is from this latter book. Caroso was dancing master to a number of Italian nobles (Nobiltà di Dame is dedicated the Duke and Duchess of Parma and Piacenza). His dances are intended for people with the time and money for daily practice, and probably a dancing master.

Barriera was a very exciting project for me as Caroso’s dances are some of the most intricate from our period, and Barriera was not a dance I had seen performed. The reconstruction was a great challenge, as even most of the steps were unfamiliar to me. The reconstruction, as much as our performance, is what I would like comments on.


‘Barriera’ as a dance type


‘Barriera’ should perhaps be considered a genre of dance rather than a specific choreography (much like a Furiosa, say). Caroso gives four choreographies: a ‘Barriera’ and a ‘Barriera Nuova’ in Il Ballarino and dances with the same names but revised choreographies in Nobiltà di Dame. All use the same music. The two ‘Barriera’s are both for a couple. Some passages are very similar, some quite different. The “striking sequence” in the Saltarello is present in both. The dances called ‘Barriera Nuova’ are for three couples arranged in a circle. The “striking sequence” here is described by Caroso as a “folla”, which Sutton translates in this context as a “meleè” (Sutton, p218). Negri also choreographed a dance called ‘Barriera’ (Sutton, p24), but I have not studied the choreography. These dances have in common some section in which a tournament between the sexes is mimed (as the title “At the Barriers” suggests). We have tried to bring out the competitive element of the dance.


Appropriate etiquette and style


Nobiltà di Dame also contains 24 “Notes on Conduct” describing how men and women should sit, stand, walk, be groomed, greet persons of various ranks, and much more. More information about etiquette in dancing is given in the rules for steps. A brief summary of those points we will use is given below.

Greetings and invitations to dance:

Both men and women make a riverenza in greeting, whether dancing or not. This is accompanied by pretending to kiss one’s own right hand. Riverenze should be made separately to one’s partner and to anyone else to be acknowledged. When a gentlemen asks a lady to dance he should remove his hat (without letting her see inside it) with his right hand, transfer it to his left, and then make a riverenza, kissing his right hand. Only then does he offer her his hand. Caroso makes no mention of kissing other people’s hands. Ladies may ask gentlemen to dance in the same way (without removing their hats).


The arms are rarely mentioned in the choreographies of 16th century dances. Pictures of dancers usually show the arms at the sides, slightly curved, and hands held low. Caroso’s and Negri’s pictures show dancers with their arms held a long way back – the hands seem to be behind the side seam (see “Images from Nobiltà di Dame”). This is a fairly unnatural position which perhaps reflects the control dancers where expected to display over all elements of their movement. We will try to show a similar control in using only small, definite arm movements, except when “strikes” are required in the “jousting” section.

Other elements of style in dancing:

Caroso constantly emphasises the importance of tiny steps (often less than four fingerbreadths). “Strutting” or “Peacocking” with the hips and body seems to be as important an ornament as rising and falling.


Terms for note duration


I have included both Caroso’s terms and the modern American terms for note duration. A table of equivalent terms is given below. Note that one whole note is equal to two half notes only when the music is in duple time. In triple time it is equivalent to one-and-a-half or three half notes.

Italian American
Grave Six whole notes
Lunga Four whole notes
Semigrave Three whole notes
Breve Two whole notes
Semibreve Whole note
Minima Half note
Semiminima Quarter note



In Nobiltà di Dame music for Barriera is provided immediately after the choreography and in both mensural notation and Italian lute tablature. A facsimile appears at the end. The musicians will play from the modern transcription of the mensural notation given by F. Marian Walker with Sutton’s translation. This is also provided at the end. The music is scored for an alto and a bass instrument.

The dance has an unnamed initial section of 16 measures played seven times. Then there are three sciolta (afterdances) with variations of the music in triple time. The first is the Grave Sciolta, then the Sciolta in Saltarello (both also 16 measures), and finally the Gagliarda (24 measures). Between each of these sections are 8 duple measures without steps. Neither Caroso nor Sutton gives an explanation. I assume that the dancers pause and compose themselves for the next section.


Julia Sutton suggests that for the dances in Nobiltà a relatively fixed beat/tempo, “tactus”, usually in the semibreve (whole note).

“It is recommended that t = MM. 60-70, but that the tactus should remain flexible, and be adjusted to the needs of the dance” (Sutton, p59).

We will use something more like MM. 50.


A lute would be an obvious choice to play the music for this dance, as lute tablature is given (and only lute tablature is given for many of the pieces). At a ball a larger group of strings or wind instruments would be appropriate, and supported by contemporary pictures of “dance bands”. For this performance, Lord Octavio De Flores will play the upper line on an alto recorder, and Baron Romas the Mapmaker will (if he is able to make it) play the lower line on a bass recorder. Many thanks to them both.




There are 68 rules (regole) for steps in Nobiltà di Dame. Fourteen of these steps are mentioned in Barriera. Two steps are required for which Caroso gives no rule (mezza riverenza and riprese). These are discussed below.

For each step I have included:

  • Julia Sutton’s translation of Caroso’s rule, with relevant sections underlined. [photocopies - not included on this website]
  • My transcription from the original for those sections
  • My comments on the step
  • A portion of the rule for the Riverenza Grave is included in facsimile

A number of steps have several rules for the same step at several speeds. Usually one rule has a much more complete description than the others. In these cases I have included relevant sections from both the most complete rule and the rule used in Barriera. As in Nobiltà all steps are described for the left foot. All except the riverenza can also be performed with the right foot.

Steps are described in the order in which their rules appear in Nobiltà di Dame, except that the spezzato puntato is immediately after the spezzato and the doppio is last. There is a list of steps the steps in alphabetical order below.

List of Steps:

  • Continenza
  • Corinto and Saffice
  • Doppio alla Francese
  • Passo
  • Passo Puntato
  • Passo Trango
  • Riverenza and Mezza riverenza
  • Seguito Finto
  • Seguito Ordinario
  • Seguito Scorso
  • Seguito Spezzato
  • Seguito Spezzato puntato
  • Sottopiede
  • Trabuchetto
Riverenza (reverence)

The riverenze in this dance are riverenze lunge, that is, they take four whole notes. I have included the instructions also for the riverenza grave (six whole notes) as they are more complete.

from p13-14 rule II – Riverenza grave.

. . . si fà nel tempo di sei battute, tenendo ben distesala vita, & le gambe, con la metà dal piè sinistro più innanzi del destro, tanto che la punta del detto piè destro sia al diritto paro del vano del piè sinistro, lontano l’vn piè dall’altro quattro dita in circa; auertendo, che le punte de’ piedi stieno ben diritte, & volte in prospettiua alla Dama, od à qualunque altra persona, che la farai, sia ballando, ò fuor de balli; . . .

. . . nel principio delle sonate loro tu alzi vn poco la punta del piè sinistro, che trouerai hauer innanzi, e poi lo tiri per dritta liea in dietro, al tempo di due battute di Musica; dopo auerti, che nel tirare in dietro il piè sinistro, sia la punta sua al paro del calcagno del destro, tenendolo spianato in terra, e noc punto eleuato dalla parte del calcagno; & che non la facci con la punta del piè, nè meo lo tiri troppo indietro, nè l’allarghi, come sogliono fare certi, i quali con allargar troppo le ginocchia, paoin che vogliono orinare, nè men bisogna incrocechiar il predetto piè dietro al destro . . .

Poi ciò fatto, piegherai vn poco le ginocchia gratiosamente, & tirarai vn poco indietro la vita, allargando alquatro le ginocchia, & nel piegarle con la testa sempre alta; & à questo bisogna vi corrano altre due battute di Musica. Nel terzo, & vltimo tu dei alzarti à tempo d’altre due battute, tornando pure il piè sinistro con la punta al vano del piè destro, acciò possa egli succedere à fare il moto delle due Continenze;

from p15, rule III, Riverenza lunga

Volendola poi fare bai da tenere il medisimo modo; & il medisimo ordine, che s’è tenuto nel far la Riuerenza grave; nel primo tempo della battutatu alzerai vn poco il piè sinistro; alla seconda battuta lo tirerai indietro; alla terza piegherai gratiosamente un poco ginocchia, alla quarta battuta tornerai il piè sinistro con la punta verso il vano del piè destro, alzando con la gratia la vita:

from page 75, etiquette note X, Lady’s riverenza

Primieramente elle imparerà à fare la Riuerenza graue in questo modo, cioè stando co i piedi pari, ella hà da tirare tre, ò quattro dita il piè sinistro in dietro, spiniato affatto detto piede; poi si hà da chinare giù, & auanti che piega le ginocchia, hà da piegare vn poco il corpo, & dritta la testa, & subito piegato s’alzer à piano sù, vnendo il piè al suo luogo;

The woman’s riverenza is very like the man’s. Men doff their hats; both men and women pretend to kiss their own hands. These extra courtesies need only be included when the riverenza is used as a salutation as much as a dance step. There is not time to perform these gestures gracefully with a mezza riverenza.

For a Riverenza lunga (four whole notes) the sequence is:

1 - Push left foot straight forward a little.

2 – Draw it straight back.

3 – Sink a little, bending knees.

4 – Rise and close left foot to right.

Mezza riverenza (half reverence)

Caroso does not provide a separate rule. Many notes in the texts of several dances imply that it is a short reverence without all the extra courtesies. At times, as at the end of a seguito scorso, it is no more than a bob.

Continenza (continence)

Caroso gives rules for continenze of various lengths. I have included the continenza grave (the most complete description) and the continenza breve (used in this dance).

from p16-17, rule X, Continenza grave

Però auanti, che tu la vogli cominciare à fare, bisogna che tu alzi vn poco il piè sinistro, & l’allarghial lato sinistro, discoctando l’vn piè dall’altro quattro, ò cinque dita; & prima che il muoui, hai da piegare vn poco il fianco sinistro, ponendo ben mente di tener la testa diritta, & che non cali giù la spalla sinistra, ma solo gli dij vn cenno di gratia;

. . .allargato che baurai il piè sinistro, si come di sopra hò detto, con far quella gratia, innanzi che vnirai il piè destro al pari del sinistro, te intertenerai cinque battute, & alla sesta vnirai il destro, &nell’vnirlo dei in giù con la persona alquanto piegarti, alzandoti poi gratoisamente, pauaniggiandoti vn poco verso quella parte alla qual’ ella si fà; il qual’ effetto si suol fare con alzarsi alquanto con le calcagna, & subito calarle al tempo del suono; cosi si finisce la Continenza;

from p18, rule VII, Continenze breve

. . . che la Breve si dee fare con quelle gratie, & modì, si come t’hò nell’altre detto; ma questa hà d’esser fatta à tempo di due battute di Musica perfette, ch’è vna Breve, la qual và fatta alla maggior parte de i Balletti; . . .


A closed step to the side, always in pairs. Very like an English ‘set’.

We have tried to include as much as possible of swagger (lit. peacocking) that Caroso describes, by dropping the hip and turning the body slightly. Caroso says that both lady and gentleman should ‘contain themselves’ (se contiene) in this step. That is, they should be visibly trying to restrain themselves (not exploding with lust, but only just).

Passo puntato (stopped step)

Included are instructions for the passo puntato grave, as the most complete, and for the passo puntato breve, as it is used in this dance.

from p19-20, rule VIII, Passo puntato semigrave

. . . ma se farà in questo modo, come ti mosto, che dopò che haurà fatto co’l piè sinistro vn passo, bisogna che aggiunga al suo pari il destro;

. . . & prima che si muoua il piè sinistro, faccia il mouimanto del fianco, pauoneggiandosi alquanto; (si come hò detto nel far la Continenza) fatto poi questo gratioso mouimento del fianco, farà vn passo innanzi col medesimo piede, spingendolo però tanto innanzi, che passi col suo calcagno alquanto la punta del piede destro, & larghezza sia distante quattro, ò cinque dita dal medesimo piede, & poi fermandosi alquantro, cioè, comesarabbe vn sospiro, il che si dee fare nella prima battuta, e poi mouerà il piè destro pauoneggiandosi, & il coniungerà al piè sinistro, chinandosi vn pochetto con la persona, & poi alzandosi con gratia, come si hà nella Regola di far la Continenza.

from p21, rule IX, Passo puntato breve

. . . in prima alzarai vn poco il piè sinistro, & farai vn passo à tempo d’vna battuta di Musica, dopò mouerai il piè destro, & il metterai al vano del sinistro, calandoti vn poco col mettere che’l farai, & poi subito alzarai le calcagna vn poco; & questo moto sia fatto à tempo d’vn’altra battuta, & al fin in quell’instante gratiosamnente lo calerai.


A closed step, like an English single, but this step has all the swaggering hip movement of the continenza.


Passo (step)

The rule Caroso gives is for passi naturali but in the choreographies he refers only to passi. The rule immediately below the passi naturali is for passi minimi, which are merely fast naturali. Thus an unqualified ‘passo’ is short for ‘passo naturale’. The rule for passi minimi is also given as it contains the more complete description.

from p22, rule X, Passo naturale

. . . onde il primo moto che farà, f/sarà d’alzare il piede, & poi da sel’appianeràin terra; & questo si chiamo vn passo. Dopò con l’altro piede, che haurà indietro, farà il medisimo caminando innanzi, . . .

Et però questo moto si può chiamare legittimanente Passo Naturale, & da quì è derivato.

. . . & anco fuora del Ballo al Paeggiare.

from p23, rule XI, Passo minimo

. . . in prima alzarai il piè sinistro à tempo d’vna Minima, che è mezza battuta, & poi lo spingerai innanzi, come appunto s’è detto della PuntataSemibrev, auertando di non farlo troppo sforzato; poi succederà il destro, che sarà in dietro, & lo sporgerai innanzi, si come hai fatto col sinistro, & sempre pauoneggiandoti con gratia, & con veghezza, acconpagnandoli alquantro con la persona; auertando d’alzar la puntadel piè, quando farai quel moto dell’alzare, attesoche ci dà più gratia, perche si stende più il ginocchio di quel piè, e fà bellissima vista;& anco di portar le punte de i piedi diritte . . .

Passi are unclosed walking steps. There is a swagger, but the movement is not a emphatic as in the passi puntati.

Seguito ordinario (ordinary sequence)

from p26, rule XVI, Seguito ordinario

M. Questo Seguito Ordinario, ò Breve, lo farai con due Passi Minimi, cioè presti, & con vn Semibreve, al fin del quale, gratiosamente alzarai il calcagno del piè sussequente insieme con la vita;

. . . prima hai d’alzare la punta del piè sinistro, stendendo ben’il ginocchio, & il calerai subito in terra; auertendo à non spianarlo, & vi ballerai vn poco à modo d’vn saltetto: poi farai vn’altro passeto col destro piede, tanto che il vano di questo piede sia al pari della punta del sinistro; l’vltima passo, che sarà Semibreue, spingerai innanzi, ma non che fia sforzato, ma che sia spiniato;

Like an English double. (Caroso’s doppii are quite different).

Rise onto the toes on the final step-and-close, but don’t fall until the beginning of the next step. The aim is to appear suspended, ready to fall into movement again in a manner reminiscent of Domenico’s ‘swooping like a falcon’.

Passo trango (pulled step)

(Alternative step only - not used in this performance)

from p48-9, rule XLIIII, Passo trango

M. Il trango si fà mouendo il piè sinistro, & spingendolo quasi per dritta linea vn palmo più innanzi al destro, però fiancheggiando; & nel posare il piede sinistro, s’hà nello stesso tempo da chinar ambe le ginocchia, con allargarle alquanto; & nel finirlo si hà d’alzare alquanto il calcagno destro, nello spatio d’vna battuta Semibreue di Musica, & questo và fatto alla Barriera; si dee poi subito alzando il piè destro, con quello leuare il calcagno sinistro, calandolo giù nel spatio medesimo: il che fatto col sinistro, spingendo il piè destro nel medesimo modo hà da seguitare à far quanto hà fatto con l’altro piede:

A very small closed step, bending on the first beat and rising on the second. He explains in the rule for the seguito trangato (pulled sequence) that the rising movement should be as if you prick your foot and pull it away from the ground. Difficult to do with grace.


Seguito finto (feigned sequence)

from p29-30, rule XX, Seguito finto

. . . che questo moto và fatto nel tempo di due battute, si come s’è detto nella Regola del Seguito Breue; ma però bisogna alzare il piè sinistro, & tirarlo in dietro, ponendo la punta di esso in terra, & piegando vn poco il corpo in dietro con gratia;& questo si farà à tempod’vna battuta Minima; il medesimo farai col destro, à tempo d’vn’altra Minima battuta; l’vltimo passo, che ti trouerai hauere in aria, il calerai spianato in terra, à tempo d’vna battuta Semiberue, in quel medesimo luogo oue era prima;

. . . finge d’andare in dietro, & ritorna nel medesimo luodo il piè doue staua prima;

In one breve (two whole notes). In the first minima (half note) step back onto the toes of the left foot, turning body a little to the left. In the second minima (half note) turn body to right and sway back a little, drawing back right foot without touching the ground. In the third minima (half note), return right foot to original position, feet flat, body straight on.


Seguito spezzato (broken sequence)

Caroso also gives a rule for a spezzato grave, but it contains little extra information

from p30-1, rule XXI, Seguito spezzato

Hora questo si spezza, & và fatto à tempo di due battute triple, ch’è vna Semibreue; & per questo si chiama Seguito Spezzato.

. . .in prima hai da fare vn passo colpiè sinistro, spingendolo mezzo passo innanzi, ma però spiniato, & due dita distante dal destro; poi col destro bisogna porre la punta di dietro al calcagno del sinistro, e questo và fatto ad vna battuta tripla; & non porla al pari, come altri fanno, perche à questo modo facendo, farebbe faslo . . .

. . . & in quello stante far come vn sottopiè del piè che cauasti, & alzando il sinistro con gratia, con la gamba distessa, & la persona dritta, lo calarai à piombo; & in questo alzare, & calare và fatto ad vn’altra battuta come di sopra;

In this dance a spezzato always takes one semibreve (whole note). In the first minima (half note) step forward with the left then bring the right up behind it. In the second, lift the left off the ground and immediately replace it. This is a flourish not another travelling step. The choreography also calls for spezzati going backwards. Caroso doesn’t provide a rule for this and the step does not reverse easily. We will perform backwards spezzati by stepping backwards with the left in the first minima, joining the right to it in the second, and stamping with the left in the third.

Seguito spezzato puntato (stopped broken sequence)

from p57, rule LX, Seguito spezzato puntato

Questo si farà nel medesimo modo, si come t’hò mostrato nella Regola di far lo Spezzato, altro non resta solo, che se lo farai col sinistro, vnirai al findi detto Spezzato il piè destro;

A spezzato with an extra beat to close the back foot to the front foot. This takes the time of a breve (two whole notes). In this dance it concludes with a mezza riverenza, making the sequence (in half notes): 1. step with left, bring right under left; 2. flourish with left; 3. close right; 4. sink and rise in a mezza riverenza.

Seguito scorso (scurrying or running sequence)

from page 57, rule XXII, Seguito scorso

Questo moto si fà con dieci passettini minuti, e presti, fatti à tempo d’vna Breue, sel seguente modo. Tu dei cominciar alzar il piè sinistro, & fare vn mezzo passo innanzi con gli altri sussequenti, sempre agilmente, & in punta di piedi;

. . . & non passi con la punta del piè sinistro le metà del destro, portandoli distanti se non due dita l’vn dall’altro;

Caroso does not define these passetti or passettini. ‘Small steps’ seems sufficient. He specifies ten steps in a breve (two whole notes). In Barriera he seems to require two sets of two scorsi in only four semibrevi (whole notes, in this case worth three half notes each). Possible solutions are: to halve the number of passetti as the time is halved and so to dance four sets of five small steps; to double the speed of the steps to ten passetti in a semibreve (whole note), which is too fast for me to do elegantly; or to perform only two scorsi, each in a breve (two whole notes). We will take the last option.


Trabuchetto (falling jump)

Caroso gives a rule called ‘trabuchetti brevi’ in which he describes trabuchetti semibrevi, and a rule for trabuchetti minimi. Both are used in Barriera, and both rules are given below.

from p36, rule XXIX, Trabuchetto semibreve

trouandoti tu à piè pari, ò spari, secomdo accaderà, . . .

. . .hai d’alzarequel piede, che ti trouerai hauere vnito, ouereo che ti trouerai hauere in dietro, per fianco in modo di saltetto, cioè il piè sinistro lontano dal destro; & mel tempo medisimo, che il piè sinistro si posa in terra, s’hà da leuare il destro in aria, vnendolo intorno à due dita vicino al sinistro;ma auertidi non posarlo in terra, & questo farai leggiermente in punta di piede, tenendo amendue le gambe ben distese; & in fare il saltetto, & vnire il destro nel modo detto, nel principiare ìl detto Trabuchetto hai da piegare il fianco sinistro, & ilo destro alzare, acciò gli si dia più gratia; poi ritornando il piè destro al luogo, doue si ritrouaua, si hà da ritornare col sinistro à far l’effetto, c’haurai fatto col destro; auertendodi pauoneggiarti alquanto co’fianchi ad ogni Trabuchetto, & si dee fare con agilita, & con destrezza della vita:

from p37, rule XXX, Trabuchetto minimo

. . . che il medesimo modo hai da tenere nel fare il Trabuchetto Minimo, si come s’è tenuto nel Trabuchetto Breue, che è d’vna battuta; & questo và fattoper la metà:


A small jump sideways onto the toes, with the graces Caroso describes above. It is surprisingly difficult to balance on the toes of one foot when the other foot is required to stay so close to it. This seems, from Caroso’s list of ways to mess up a trabuchetto, to be the primary skill displayed in the step.

Sottopiede (foot under)

from p50, rule XLVII, Sottopiede

. . .prima si fà vn passo ouero vn Trabuchetto al lato sinistro pur col piè sinistro, & nel calarlo so alza il destro, che stà in dietro; ilquale ponendosi nel luogo, doue si trouerà il sinistro con la sua punta, & il calcagno alzato, nel medesimo tempo il sinistro s’alza in aria, & con esso di nuouo si segue à farne de gl’altri;

There are no freestanding sottopiede in Barriera, but we will use them in Saffici and Corinti (described below).

Saffice (Sapphic) and Corinto (Corinthian)

These steps, along with the dattile, spondeo, and destice, did not appear in Il Ballarino, but they are much used in Nobiltà di Dame. The saffice and corinto are discussed together because the are closely related and pose the same problems.

from p61, rule LXVI, Saffice

. . . auerti che volendofar questo Saffice, ti bisogna far col piè sinistro, vna Ripresa sottopiede al lato sinistro, & vn Trabuchetto con l’istesso piede, il medesimo farai col piede destro, . . .

from p64, rule VXVIII, Corinto

. . .& à voler far questo Corinto, bisogna col piè sinistro facci tre Riprese, & vn Trabuchetto fiancheggiato, il medesimo farai col destro.

Of all the steps used in this dance these are the most difficult to reconstruct.

A saffice is a ripresa sottopiede followed by a trabuchetto, both to the left. A corinto is three riprese followed by a trabuchetto, all to the left. Caroso does not describe riprese or riprese sottopiede. There is no contemporary source that I know of that provides a clear solution (the ‘riprese’ in 15thC Italian sources and the ‘reprise’ described Arbeau are quite different). [Note from the future: deeper acquaintance with other sources, especially Il Ballarino, removed these problems entirely.] I use sottopiede alone in place of the various riprese, for the following reasons:

  1. From an article from “Letter of Dance”:

    “In this article I would like to introduce another new step, this one called the sottopiede, or `foot under'. Both Caroso and Negri give descriptions of this step, and they are almost identical. It should be noted that Negri calls his step a "Riprese in Sottopiede",(11) but both authors give almost the same description, and in their choreographies both seem to use each term interchangeably. Caroso and Negri each offer a variety of ripreses, but when they give choreographies they seldom specify, leaving the dancer free to choose his or her favorite riprese. It seems that this sottopiede is one possible choice, but there are other places (usually in galliard phrases) where the sottopiede is specifically called for, and in those places I restrict myself to this step.” (11 Negri p. 111, Kendall p. 202)

  2. It is a known step, even if the sequence produced is not quite as Caroso intended.

  3. I assume that the ‘ripresa sottopiede’ in the saffice, and the ‘riprese’ in the corinto are the same step as the sequences are so closely related. (Between the rules for these two is the rule for the destice, which calls for two ‘riprese sottopiede’ and a trabuchetto). Therefore the riprese required at least are related to sottopiede.
  4. It is very close to a known sequence: the first portion of the first chorus in Negri’s ‘Lo Spagnoletto’ (Le Gratie d’Amore) is three sottopiede left, followed by a trabuchetto right.
Doppio alla Francese (double ‘in the French style’)

from p35, rule XXVIII, Doppio alla Francese

. . . ritrouandoti i piedi vniti, col piè sinistro farai un Trabuchetto in dietro, & vn col destro al fianco destro; poi caminerai innanzi, & farai tre passi, & all’vltimo, che faranno quattro, vnirai il piede destro al sinistro;& in quel che tu vnisci, calerai vn poco, & alzerai le calcagna, & di nuouo le calerai, come s’è detto nel far la Continenza;

This almost certainly does not represent the French style, but is rather a pretty variation of Caroso’s invention. It is possible that the rise and fall as the step closes is influenced by French styles – Arbeau mentions something like this for the Alman double – but I think it unlikely as a rise and fall is hardly unusual in Italian steps. The step description is clear. Caroso doesn’t explicitly describe a backwards trabuchetto but it is easy to extrapolate from the sideways trabuchetto described above.



For each playing of the first part and each sciolta I have given Julia Sutton’s translation, with the actual instructions are underlined [photocopies, not present on this website]. The Italian text (my transcription) is given only for the underlined sections (the complete text is at the back, under ‘supplementary material’). Next are my comments and a bar by bar reconstruction. Finally, the steps are written out under the music [photocopies, with steps added by hand, not present on this website].

The count is in semibrevi (whole) notes. In the first section one semibreve (whole note) is worth two minimi (half notes). In the Grave Sciolta and the Gagliarda a semibreve (whole note) is worth three minimi (half notes). In the Saltarello a semibreve (whole note) is worth one-and-a-half minimi (half notes), that is to say three semiminimi (quarter notes).

(L) means that a step should be performed with the left foot.

(R) means that a step should be performed with the right foot.

(LR) means that a step should be performed first with the left, then with the right foot, and so on.


First part: 16 measures played 7 times, in duple time

A: First Playing

Questa Barriera, si principierà à stando le persone all’incontro senza pigliar mano, come si hà nelle Figure di Noua Regina do Francia, con la Riuerenza lunga di quattro battute di Musica, & due Continenze breui di due battute l’vna; poi faranno due Corinti fiancheggiati per dentro: & auertano,che adogni Corinti si fanno tre Riprese, & vn Trabuchetto, si come v’hò detto nella Regola del Corinto; & fatto c’haranno i detti Corinti, piglierannosi per la man ordinaria, & facendo le solite creanze Caualeresche faranno di nuoua la Riverenza nella medesima maniera a come la prima.

Facing each other but open a little to the audience, not holding hands.

1-4: Riverenza lunga (L)

5-8: 2 Continenze brevi (LR)

9-12: 2 Corinti fiancheggiati (LR) – I interpret this “flanking” as continuing to face each other and remain at equal distance while moving sideways. That is, we trace a portion of a circle on the floor.

Take customary hands. (Gentleman holds lady’s left hand in his right – Caroso, rule 1, Sutton’s tr, p96).

13-16: Riverenza

B: Second playing

Nel secondo tempo, passeggiando insieme, faranno due Passi Puntati breui di due battute l’vno, quattro Passi semibrevi d’vna battuta per passo, vn Seguito ordinario di due battute, principiando gli detti Moti con il piè sinistro; poi faranno due Saffici d’vna battuta per vno, & al fine due Continenze di due battute per Continenza, principiando detti Saffici, & Continenze col piè destro.

Progress together, holding hands. It seems superfluous to take hands only for the riverenza, and there is no instruction to drop hands. Note that ‘Progress together’ does not imply that we hold customary hands: the Grave Sciolta begins with ‘progress together’ but an instruction to take hands comes after several steps.

1-4: 2 Passi puntati brevi (LR)

5-8: 4 Passi semibrevi (LRLR)

9-10: Seguito ordinario (L)

11-12: 2 Saffici (RL)

13-16: 2 Continenze brevi (RL)


C: Third Playing

Nel terzo tempo, faranno il medesimo Passegio per contrario, Principiando col piè destro.

Progress as in B, reversing left and right throughout.


D: Fourth Playing

Nel quarto tempo, pigliando la man destra, faranno vn Passo Puntato con il piè sinistro, & vn Seguito finto col destro, chinando un poca le ginocchia à modo di mezza Riuerenza; poi lasciandola, faranno quattro Passi d’vna battuta l’vno, volti alla sinistra, cambiando luogo, & pigliando dal campo assai, faranno vn Seguito, come di sopra, al lato sinistro, principiando col sinistro; poi faranno due Saffici, & due Continenze, principiando col destro.

Take right hands. Face each other and change places through this playing.

1-2: Passo puntato breve (L) – coming till shoulders are nearly level

3-4: Seguito finto (R) ending in mezza riverenza

Drop hands.

5-8: 4 Passi semibrevi (LRLR) changing places with a rather wide loop. End facing.

9-10: Seguito Finto (L). This is the only ‘sequence as above’ to which Caroso can reasonably refer.

11-12: 2 Saffici (RL)

13-16: 2 Continenze brevi (RL)

E: Fifth Playing

Nel quinto tempo, pigliando la man sinistra faranno le medesime Attioni, & Moti, principiando col destro per contrario, ritornando però ogn’vno al suo luogo: però auertino, che in luogo delle Continenze, faranno la Riuerenza.

As for D, reversing left and right throughout. The two continenze are replaced by one riverenza.


F: Sixth Playing

Nel sesto tempo, il Caualiere solo farà quattro Passi semibreui d’vna battuta l’vno fiancheggiati innanzi

. . . dopò il quale voltandosi in prospettiua alla sinistra, farà vn Spezzato puntato col sinistro, & mezza Riuerenza col destro; il medisimo farà voltando la persona in prospettiva alla destra, però per contrario:

. . . Però farà quattro Passi Trangati, ouero quattro Spezzati fiancheggiati in dietro; dopò insieme faranno la Riuerenza à tempo di quattro battute di Musica come si sopra.

Facing, not holding hands, as at the end of E. Only the gentleman dances.

1-4: 4 Passi semibrevi fiancheggiati (LRLR) with R edge of cape under R arm. Ludwig is not wearing a cape. ‘Flanking’ could mean that he moves in a straight line but not directly towards his partner, or that he moves toward his partner in a zig-zag, or that he moves in a straight line toward his partner with his body turned away from her.

5-6: turn L. Seguito spezzato puntato (L) ending in a mezza riverenza

7-8: turn R. Seguito spezzato puntato (R) ending in a mezza riverenza. Note that Caroso requires in Nobilta di Dame that all riverenze be on the left, and in contradiction that steps on the left and right feet must always alternate. I have chosen to keep all riverenze on the left.

9-12: 4 Seguiti spezzati or 4 passi trangi flankingly backward. We will use spezzati.

13-16: Riverenza together.


G: Seventh Playing

Nel settimo tempo, la Dama sola farà il medesimo che harà sat

to il Caualiere.

As in B, reversing the roles of lady and gentleman throughout. Lady starts on left as gentlemen did.



Grave Sciolta: 16 measures played twice, in triple time

A: First Playing

La sciolta graue della Sonata si farà due volta.

Passeggiando insieme, faranno due doppi alla Francese, vno alla sinistra, & l’altro alla destra: dopò ciò faranno due Passi puntati fiancheggiati in dietro, poi scorrendo due Seguiti, si pigleranno le mani, nel fine de’ quail piegaranno vn poco le ginnocchia à modo di mezza Riuerenza, aggiungendo però quel piè sinistro al pari, & con quello torneranno à fare gli predetti Passi, ò Spezzati come meglio gli piacerà di fare; poi faranno vn Seguito ordinario, principiando i detti Moti col sinistro; dapoi faranno due Saffici, vno col destro, e l’altro col sinistro peide.

Progress together not holding hands

1-4: 2 Doppii alla Francese (LR)

5-8: 2 Passi puntati fiancheggiati in dietro (flankingly backwards). We will move backwards and away from each other with the first passo then backwards and towards each other with the second passo.

Take hands.

9-10: Seguito scorso (L) ending in a mezza riverenza. Caroso calls for 2 scorsi, giving only a semibreve (whole note) for each scorso, not the breve (two whole notes) he calls for in the rule. Possible solutions include: half size scorsi, using only 5 passettini; incredibly quick scorsi, fitting 10 passetini into a semibreve; or that Caroso meant two scorsi in total, not two before and two after the mezza riverenza, giving each scorso the breve it requires. This last is the interpretation that we use.

11-12: Seguito scorso (R) as above, or 2 spezzati (LR). We will use another scorso.

13: Seguito ordinario (L). There is not a beat to close the sequence (see next instruction below). This makes it equivalent to three passi minimi.

14-15: 2 Saffici (LR)

16: As the music is written this is not a full bar of 3. I think it reasonable in performance to make this bar the same length as the others, at least between repeats. If this bar was used for dancing two bars could be used for the seguito ordinario, giving time to close but making it unpleasantly slow. I use this bar for a moment to compose myself before retuning to the doppii alla Francese.


B: Second Playing

Questo medisimo Passèggio tornerenno à far vn’altra volta, principiando col piè destro

As in A, reversing left and right throughout.




Sciolta as a Saltarello: 16 measures played once

At last, the jousting!

La sciolta della Sonata in Saltarello si farà vna volta sola.

Faranno insieme quattro Spezzati innanzi fiancheggiati; poi fingendo la Dama di baciarsi le mani, darà vna battuta sù le mani dal Caualiere, & il medesimo dapoi farà esso; poi faranno insieme vn Trabuchetto alla sinistra, dandosi vna botta alla man destra; vn’altro Trabuchetto alla destra, dando vn’altra battuta alla sinistra; dopò ciò si piglieranno le mani, facendo due Continenze, vna col sinistro, l’altra col destro; & al fine del tempo della Sonata la Riuerenza.

Progress without holding hands then face one another.

1-4: 4 Seguiti spezzati fiancheggiati

5: Lady pretends to kiss her hand and instead strikes hand of gentleman.

6: Gentleman does as lady did in the 5th measure.

7: Both perform a trabuchetto L striking R hands.

8: As in 7th measure reversing L and R.

9-12: 2 Continenze (LR)

13-16: Riverenza


Sciolta as a Gagliarda (galliard): 24 measures played once

A Galliard by virtue of the music, not the steps.

Alla sciolta della Sonata in Gagliarda.

Lasciandosi faranno quattro Seguiti ordinarij fiancheggiati in dietro; poi faranno due Passi volti alla sinistra, & vn Seguito ne faranno innanzi, principiando col sinistro; il medisimo faranno per contrario. Finalmente faranno due Pai puntati fiancheggiati innanzi, al fin de’quali so piglieranno per la man ordinaria, & conchiuderanno detto Ballo, con far gentilmente la Riuerenza di quattre battute à tempo del suono.


1-8: 4 Seguiti ordinarii fiancheggiati in dietro (flankingly backward) (LRLR)

9-10: 2 Passi semibrevi (LR) turning L

11-12: Seguito ordinario forward (L)

13-14: 2 Passi semibrevi (RL) turning R. I have taken these instructions to turn L, R to be for the man. The woman may either follow the man around or turn first R then L, so that couple turn away from one another. I prefer the latter option.

15-16: Seguito ordinario forward (R)

17-20: 2 Passi puntati fiancheggiati forward (LR)

21-24: Riverenza, with all courtesies appropriate to the end of the balletto.


Our performance as an intermedio or masque:

Why we’re not in Italian costume of 1600.

This would be a more accurate performance were we wearing late 16th C Italian courtly clothing. For practical reasons we have chosen not to do this (we want appropriate clothes for our 15th C song, and I was already working on those).

If you like, imagine that we are Roman courtiers in 1600, and that for your amusement we have decided to complement our performance of “Barriera” by dressing in the fantastic fashion of our ancestors, whom we know to have been delighted by such jousts and tourneys . . .

Correct costume has some effect on dancing. Ludwig and I are both in soft-soled shoes. This would be fine for him in 1600, but in Italy I would probably be trying to dance in pianelles. Caroso’s references to a woman ‘dancing as easily as if she were wearing pianelles only three fingers high’ (note XI, on how a lady should walk) suggests that inch-and-a-half platforms would be considered very modest. Not all women danced in platforms – there is a painting of Queen Elizabeth galliarding in which she is clearly wearing only soft-soled shoes, but that was in England. The stiffness of formal costume through the body and arms for both men and women, along with the increasing rarity of trains, perhaps explains the emphasis on footwork. Women’s feet can’t be seen very clearly under a skirt, but I have discovered through experience that the movement of a woman’s feet and hips can be very clearly reflected in the movement of her farthingale. Caroso says that men should always wear a sword, cape and hat to dance. I would love to see someone carry this off!

Images from Nobilta di Dame


Caroso provides a full-page picture of the starting position to most of his dances. (See photocopy of Sutton’s notes on Caroso’s figure’s for more information).

The beginning of the text to Barriera in Nobiltà di Dame says that the figure given is for the earlier form of the dance published in Il Ballarino (which begins with the couple holding hands) and he refers the reader to the figure for Nuova Regina for the new position. However the figure for Nuova Regina shows the old version with the couple holding hands. The figure given before the text seems to be the correct one, with the couple facing but not holding hands.

I have included figures from other dances that illustrate positions used elsewhere in the dance.

[photocopies not included on this website]


Other Material:


Facsimile of the text for Barriera from Nobiltà di Dame.

Transcription of the text for Barriera from Il Ballarino.

Transcription of the mensural notation and lute tablature.



Major sources:


Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta, Nobiltà di Dame, Venice,1600

facsimile available online at (search under author for Caroso. Both his works, and that of Negri are available here)

This is the source of my transcriptions.

Julia Sutton (editor and translator), Courtly Dance of the Renaissance; A New Translation and Edition of the “Nobiltà di Dame” (1600), 1995, Dover (first published in 1986 by OUP)


Other sources:


Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta, Il Ballarino, Venice, 1581

facsimile and transcription available online at

Cesare Negri, Le Gratie d’Amore, Milan, 1602

facsimile available online at (search under author for Negri)

Geoffrey Mathias, "Mutanza: A Series of Articles on Galliard Variations", article 5, volume 2, Letter of Dance, SCA publication

article available on line at

Carlo Graziano, Italian Verbs and Essentials of Grammar, Passport Books, Chicago, 1987

Thoinot Arbeau, tr. Mary Stewart Evans, Orchesography, Dover, 1697

Janelle and Peter Durham, "Western Dance 1450-1650", The Compleat Anachronist #101, SCA publication, 1999