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Pavane: Belle qui tiens ma vie

Dance Type: 
Number of dancers: 

The pavane is a simple processional dance for a couple. The man stands on the left, and the woman on the right. They hold hands - the woman's left hand in the man's right - comfortably low, at about hip level.

Renaissance depictions of groups of people dancing suggest that it wasn't uncommon for many couples to dance at once, arranged in a column. In this case, the women should be on the outside if the column needs to circle about a room.

The plain pavane described by Arbeau is very simple: there are only two steps, the simple and the double, and those are quite plain.

Simple: step - close

To do a simple left, step forwards with the left on the first beat; then place the right foot next to the left on the second beat. You are now ready to begin a simple on the right, by moving the right foot forwards.

Double: step - step - step - close

To do a simple left, step forwards with the left foot on the first beat; then with the right on the second beat; then with the left again in the third beat; and in fourth and final beat, place the right foot next to the left. You are now ready to begin a step (whether a simple or double) on the right foot, by moving the right foot forwards.

Step style

Various ornaments are used by early dancers - a rise and fall at the end of each step seems to be very common, for instance. I see no evidence for this in Arbeau's description, and prefer to keep my steps quite plain. Done gracefully and with dignity, perfectly in time to the music, they need nothing more.


Simple left, simple right, double left. Simple right, simple left, double right.

Arbeau says that this can be performed either going always forwards, or advancing with the first set (simple left, simple right, double left) and retreating with the second set (simple right, simple left, double right).

Ornamenting the pavane with divisions


Arbeau discusses the practice of ornamenting the pavane by adding galliard-like divisions to the double, or even to the second simple as well as the double.

Here are some of my favourite simple ornaments. All are based on the principal that instead of counting four slow beats, you count 8 or even 16 faster beats (as Arbeau describes). Counting "1 and 2 and 3 and 4" may help.

  Normal pavane double pieds en l'air - kicks fleurets - faster kicks mix pieds en l'air and fleurets  
1 step left step onto left foot, kicking with right 3 kicks: right, left kick right fleuret: kick right, left
&   step onto right foot, kicking with left right kick left right
2 step right step & kick right 3 kicks: left, right kick right kick left
&   step & kick left left kick left kick right
3 step left step & kick right 3 kicks: right, left fleuret: kick right, left fleuret: kick left, right
&   step & kick left kick right right left
4 close - place right by left small jump, landing on both feet small jump, landing on both feet capriol, landing on both feet capriol, landing on both feet

Whatever the variation, you want to come to rest on both feet at the beginning of the fourth bar, so that you can pause and be ready to take the first step of the simple that follows in good time.

It may seem contrary to begin sequences of kicks with the right foot if you are used to starting on the left, but when you kick the right foot out you are also stepping forwards onto the left foot. 

Many pleasing combinations can be made with just pieds en l'air, taken at twice the speed of normal pavane steps, and fleurets, or groups of three pieds en l'air, taken at four times the normal speed. As pavanes are so slow, this is still not uncomfortably fast.

It's worth some practice so that you can dance these smoothly and gently, matching your pace to that of your partner, so that you can comfortably ornament even while dancing with someone who is doing completely plain steps, or a contrary ornament.


There are many good recordings of Arbeau's pavane,  Belle qui tiens ma vie. There are many other equally suitable pavanes from this period. You need one with a regular beat and regular bar-length: beware those that were dances for the ears, and not the feet (for example, the lovely pavanes by Luis Milan are not suitable for dancing).