"Branle des chevaux", a Dance Called Horse.

This article started out as a discussion on the formation used in branle des chevaux, or Horses. However it grew to include various tabulations of the dance and some ideas on the steps themselves.

Horses is one of the Mixed Branles described in the Lochac Dance manual. (They are called Mimed Branles in Arbeau's Orchesography) I have split the description of how to dance it into three parts formation, the tabulations, and variations on the stepping.

The music can be found on the "Lochac Dance Tape", the CDs "Orchesographie" by the New York Renaissance Band, Sally Logan as director, Arabesque Recordings Z6514 and "Dances Populaires francais & Anglaises du XVIc Siecle" by The Broadside band, Jeremy Barlow as director, harmonia mundi france HMC 901152.

On the formation of the dance.

The formation of a dance is the placement of the dancers on the floor at the begin the dance. In Lochac the four (or five) mimed branles are done in a circle as a set.

In "Orchesography" Arbeau describes the dance starting with an explanation of how the dancers stand. He states "... the young man held the damsel by both hands.", and then gives the tabulation for the dance. From this description we can infer that Horses may not be a ring dance. Unfortunately Arbeau gives no more clues to how the dancers should form up for the dance.

Reading this reminded me of an article by Leah di Estera in "The Letter of Dance", issue 10, which had arrived a few days before. The article was on a 14th - 15th century poem, which has in its 26th sonnet,

"On the third evening they danced two by two,
First the ranfo and then in horse style; ..."

This suggests that the Horses Branle is done in separate couples, perhaps as a processional.

Maybe there are several ways to dance Horses. Some are described below.

The tabulations.

Here are some tabulations from various sources and some discussion on them..

Double a gaul. (DL)
Double a droit. (DR)
Double a gaul.
Double a droit.
Double a gaulche (DL)
Double a droit.
Double a gaul.
Double a droit.
Two tappements droits by the man (the woman does not move) (i.e. men tap with the right foot twice)

Pied largi droit ) These two steps make a simple a droite (SR)
Pieds joints )
Pied largi gauche ) During these four steps the man
Pied droit approche ) makes a turn to the left
Pied largi gauche )
Pieds joints )

Two tappements droits by the woman (the man does not move) (i.e. women tap with the right foot twice)
Pied largi droit ) These two steps make a simple a droite (SR)
Pieds joints )
Pied largi gauche ) During these four steps the woman
Pied droit approche ) makes a turn to the left
Pied largi gauche )
Pieds joints )

"Lochac Dance Manual"
In this manual Horses forms one of the dances called the "Mixed Branles".

DL DR DL DR this completes the introduction

STAMP R twice, SR men start this sequence first
KR KL KR KL ending in a posture and turning over the right shoulder
Ladies Repeat all the above except the introduction."

A common variation to this dance in the SCA is for each dancer to do a double moving one place to the right around your partner instead of the kicks.

"The Renaissance Dance Book"
"Partners face each other, taking both hands.

A Both turn slightly to the left, so that they can walk forward on a circular track without dropping hands.
1-2 double (LF) forwards; the couple turn clockwise
3-4 double (RF) forwards, turning slightly to the right; the couple turn anti-clockwise.
5-6 repeat 1-2
7-8 repeat 3-4
9-16 repeat bars 1-8

B Letting go hands:
Man only:
1 stamp RF, stamp LF
2 simple (RF) to the right
3-4 double (LF), turning on the spot to the left.
Woman only:
5-8 The woman repeats the man's steps in bars 1-4

A repeat A
B repeat B
A repeat A

This pattern fits the tape which can be bought with the book. The book also contains the printed music.

"A Country Dance Companion"
"(holding hands in a circle) Double to left, to right, to left, to right
(holding partners hs) turn cw with 4 doubles
Both stamp l.f. x 2, single left, turn with 4 steps over r.sh./ both stamp r.f. x 2, single right, turn with 4 steps over l.sh. while passing ptner to progressed place."

This dance is a progressive dance with the men moving anti-clockwise around the circle and the women moving clockwise.

A Processional
The steps would be the same as for the Lochac tabulation except they would mostly be forward. For example the first four doubles could be forward, the next in a circle while holding both of your partners hands, and the last part could be done on the spot.

This variation may not fit in with doing Horses as one of a set of branles.


One point I have noticed at SCA events, there is almost no miming done while doing the Mimed Branles. This seems strange since the idea appears to have been to have fun and cause amusement for the other dancers. Perhaps these dances were the equivalent of our Challenge Branles with the idea being to get the others to miss step through mirth?

There are many ways of miming, other than the usual horsy noises as you change places or kick.

One is in the way the step is done. Rather than doing flat doubles you can make them more horse like. At Saint Aldhelm's they prance the doubles as if they were those Spanish dancing horses. Helga Hill suggests that the doubles might be done as "stamp, step, step, hop" or what we call an almane double starting with a stamp on the first step. You may think of other steps or ways of amusing your fellow dancers.


The whole idea of these Mimed Branles is to enjoy yourself and perhaps cause your fellow dancers to miss their step due to your appropriate antics.

Yours in Service to Dance,
Lord Hoskuld Atlason of Iceland OLM, ORL, OIS, OSR

Written this All Saints Day
The first day of November
Anno Societatus XXVI