16th Century

Significant dances

An illustrative sample of 16th century dance is the Nido d’Amore; it teaches the techniques for all the Italian dance suites of the era. It illustrates the social and technical intricacy of a renaissance dance suite. Italian dance master Marco Fabrizio Caroso recorded it in 1600, in his book, Nobilta’ di Dame. The Nido d’Amore (Love Nest) tells a couple’s dramatic love story. The Opening shows early flirtation between the two; the Galliard explodes with male virtuoso display, as the man executes a multitude of jumps for the woman; the Saltarello culminates in a moment of mutual ecstasy; and the Canary shows the eventual emergence of individualism and discord with a stamping match. Not only a technically significant dance suite, the piece remains poignant as it mirrors the episodic changes of courtship. 

The So Ben Mi Chi Ha Bon Tempo was written by Italian dance master Cesare Negri in 1602 in his book, Le Gratie d’Amore. Typical of Italian dance suites of the era, it shows a multilevel nuanced flirtation between a Renaissance man and his lady. 

In the Gagliarda (Galliard) a man exhibits his physical prowess with grand jumps and turns. Written for athletic male dancers, it can be used as a flashy, dramatic showpiece.

The Buffins was created in France and recorded by Thoinot Arbeau in his book, Orchesography, in 1589. A mock sword fight, it showcases both swordsmanship and dance expertise. It is emblematic of the period because both disciplines were part of a courtier’s education. In this dance, the male dancers perform martial gestures in couples and as a group in time with a lively dance rhythm. Its roots are from Pyrrhic dance.

The Volta, a unique couple’s turning dance, originated in Italy and became popular in France and England. Initially considered scandalous, the man lifts the lady by her corset, exposing her underskirts; he also places one hand under the edge of the bust bone of the corset, and with a knee under her seat, lifts her in the air as she skips and they both turn. Eventually, it became Queen Elizabeth’s favorite dance.

The Canari (Canary) was introduced to Italy from the Canary Islands. This couple’s dance form has a compound triple dotted rhythm, and was often shown as a spirited dance between the sexes: the man advances his rhythmic variation, and the woman responds. The friendly “I can do anything better than you” rivalry grows in intensity during the dance.

Historical context

  • The Medicis rule Rome.
  • Ivan the terrible is the Czar of Russia.
  • Elizabeth I is the Queen of England.
  • Mary Queen of Scots is executed.
  • Henry IV marries Maria de’ Medici.
  • Francis Drake circumnavigates the globe, as a result, is knighted by Elizabeth I.
  • In America, Sir Walter Raleigh discovers Virginia, and the first British colony is formed in 1585; American plantation farming begins with tobacco as its first crop; democratic government, concept of individual freedom, and hard work are common values.


  • Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Sir Francis Bacon, Miguel de Cervantes, Montaigne, and Spenser produce important works of early modern literature.


  • Girolamo Frescobaldi and Claudio Monteverdi are influential composers from Italy.
  • The traditional English folk song “Greensleeves” first appears.
  • The “Ballet Comique de la Reyne” is performed in France; it is considered to be the first ballet.

Visual arts:

  • El Greco, Caravaggio, and Paolo Veronese, and Peter Paul Rubens paint with intense realism.


  • Galileo Galilei fathers the modern study of Physics.

Daily life:

  • Italian cooking is predominant in Europe.
  • The Black Death plague kills 15,000 in London.
  • High heels first appear in 1595.

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

HOW TO DANCE THROUGH TIME, Volume III: The Majesty of Renaissance Dance: Nido d’Amore

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume I: 15th-19th Centuries: So Ben Mi Chi Ha Bon Tempo, Buffins, Volta, Canari

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