In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dance

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Reconstruction and Performance Practice
  • Treatises
  • Teachers and Choreographers
  • Individual Choreographies
  • Music
  • Iconography
  • Other Arts
  • Attitudes to Dance
  • Women

Renaissance and Reformation Dance
Jennifer Nevile
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0075


Dancing was enjoyed and performed by those at all levels of European society for centuries. It was not until the fifteenth century, however, that names of individual dance teachers and choreographers emerged from the historical record, the same time that dance treatises were being written. Dance was part of major state events, theatrical spectacles, religious festivals, and marriage celebrations as well as more intimate, private celebrations as a means of diversion. Many early studies into Renaissance dance from the first three-quarters of the twentieth century were by musicologists, with little insight into the actual dance practices themselves. From the 1970s, however, scholarly research has increasingly focused on the dance and has been combined with reconstructions and performances of documented choreographies. Translations of key treatises opened up the area still further. Dance historians have mostly concentrated on the dance practices of the elite level of society, because this area is from where the overwhelming majority of the documentary source material comes. Contextual studies have expanded our knowledge and understanding of the part dance played in the daily life of society from 1400 to 1650. Such studies often concentrate on a specific court or city, a particular festive event, on how people of the time viewed dancing, or on the intellectual foundations of the theoretical writings on dance. More recently research into the interrelationship between dance and other artistic practices such as painting, literary works, garden design, martial arts, gesture, and the intellectual beliefs of the period has gained prominence. Despite this activity there are still large areas of Renaissance dance practices about which we know very little; for example, specific information on the dance practices from Germanic areas of Europe, biographical information on dance teachers and choreographers, and the dance curriculum and the method of dance instruction at both the humanist schools and in the schools set up to teach dance specifically and often music.

General Overviews

The number of scholarly overviews of Renaissance dance is not large, and most general dance history surveys are superficial or inaccurate when discussing early dance. Kendall 2007, however, provides an excellent introduction to the different dance steps and genres in 15th- and 16th-century Europe. Both Sutton, et al. 2014a (see the section “Middle Ages and Early Renaissance”) and Sutton, et al. 2014b (see the subsection “Before 1630” under “Late Renaissance and Baroque”) concentrate on the social context of the dance practices in their Grove Music Online contributions and are also useful places to start. More recently, Nevile 2008 is a lengthy, more comprehensive overview of European dance practices, and Salmen 2001 concentrates on the earlier part of the period.

  • Kendall, G. Yvonne. “Early Renaissance Dance, 1450–1520.” In Performer’s Guide to Renaissance Music. 2d ed. Edited by Jeffery T. Kite-Powell, 377–398. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

    Provides a summary of the genres and dance steps from 15th-century Italy and France and 16th-century Italy, France, Spain, and England. A few sample choreographies are also provided. Excellent starting point for those with little background in the area.

  • Nevile, Jennifer. “Dance in Europe 1250–1750.” In Dance, Spectacle, and the Body Politick, 1250–1750. Edited by Jennifer Nevile, 7–64. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.

    A comprehensive overview of European dance practices with extensive notes. Covers the different sources that provide information on dance practices, their context, the dance masters and their treatises, the dance notation, dance music and instrumentation, the difference dance genres, the dance performers, and the dance performance spaces.

  • Salmen, Walter. “Dances and Dance Music, c. 1300–1530.” In Music as Concept and Practice in the Late Middle Ages. Edited by Reinhard Strohm and Bonnie J. Blackburn, 162–190. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    This essay is particularly useful for its concentration on information about dancing and the context of dance performances from Germany. Also see Germany and the Low Countries.

  • Sutton, Julia, E. Kerr Borthwick, Ingrid Brainard, et al. “Dance.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane L. Root. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014a.

    Specifically, see the section “Middle Ages and Early Renaissance.” A good introductory summary of dance to 1550, with an extensive bibliography. Revised and rewritten in 2014. First published in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1st ed. Vol. 5, edited by Stanley Sadie (London: Grove, 1980), pp. 180–187. Available online by subscription.

  • Sutton, Julia, E. Kerr Borthwick, Ingrid Brainard, et al. “Dance.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane L. Root. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014b.

    Specifically, see the subsection “Before 1630” under “Late Renaissance and Baroque.” A good introductory summary to the social context of dance and dance music. An extensive bibliography of earlier scholarship but nothing cited after 2014. Some conclusions are debatable, such as hypothesis on the development of symmetry in 16th-century dance. First published in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1st ed. Vol. 5, edited by Stanley Sadie (London: Grove, 1980), pp. 187–190, 194–195. Available online by subscription.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.