Notes on the Gresley Dance Collection

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What we do not know
Word count

Steps and patterns
Singles and doubles
Trett and retrett
Rak, raks, rakkes or rake
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Complete Dances with music
Prenes on gre (updated Jan 2001)
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Dances with music but no trace described
Ly bens distonys
Prenes a gard
--- Other articles each on their own page---
Discussion on the interpretation of Prenes on Gre.
What is the trace

StudyWeb February 2001. I am not sure why they gave me this award. The page this site will be on has a few links to dance I did not have.

Perhaps I will now get on with looking at the photos of the original and see if I can find out anything more about the dances :).

A zip file of the music in midi and NoteWorthy Composer format, and both formats.


This Web page summarizes the my current interpretations for the Gresley dances. It is split into 5 physical pages because it is getting too large. This part concentrates on the steps and step patterns. I have separated the part on the trace so I could fit in the examples. Two pages deal with the dances themselves. The last page summarises the discussion I lead on interpreting Prenes on gre at the St. Vitus dance weekend in Canberra 1999.

For an introduction on the Gresley Dance Collection see The Gresley Dance Collection in The Letter of Dance.

There are only 8 dances in the Gresley Collection, which have both music and a description of the steps. Of these only 4 (Esperance, Prenes on gre, Temperans and Northumberland) have complete descriptions. The other four are missing the description of their trace.

Interpretations of these dances include their music which has been interpreted by Katrina Hunt. As we interpreted the dances we also interpreted the music. This means that the interpretation has been two ways, sometimes the dance effected the interpretation of the music while at other times the music effects the dance.

You can tell how close to complete an interpretation is by how detailed the diagrams and descriptions are. Some will have a link to notes. These are very rough descriptions of how we came to a particular decision when doing the interpretation. The notes for Prenes on gre are very detailed. They started of as notes for a class at a dance weekend here in Canberra, and contain detailed discussion of the options and decisions which had to be made while working on the dance. Other options which came to mind afterwards have also been explained.

What we do not know

After all the work on these dances we still do not know for certain how the steps were done or the social context in which they were performed.

It is possible that these dances are not social dances but form part of masks or plays. Some seem more like "a bit of business" to keep the audience entertained while a scene changes or as a way of getting actors into the right place for the next bit of the mask or maybe mystery play. Only men are mentioned in the dances. None of the dances have the form that allows for partners.

It is also possible that these are dressage or horse dances. Although I can not figure out how a horse would do a “horn pipe”.

Assumptions There have been a number of assumptions made while interpreting these dances. Some are the “normal” assumptions made when interpreting any piece of music and accompanying dance description. Others are useful only as a starting place when figuring out the forms or patterns made in the dance.

  1. The steps alternate right and left, and dances start on the left foot.
  2. One bar of music equates to one single.
  3. A single is a passi i.e. step on the ball of the foot on first beat then slightly sink on the second beat. You can bring the other foot forward but slightly behind. Do not close the step.
  4. All singles are the same size, for interpretation purposes. This is not a good assumption for the final version of an interpretation but it is a good place to start. Most dancers will change the size of their steps so that they end up where they should.
  5. Sections of the music can be matched to sections of the dance as set out in part one of the dance descriptions. This appears normal for most dances and their music.
  6. Sections of dance descriptions do not go over the ends of repeats of the music.
  7. Music is less ambiguous than trying to describe dances in words. This means that the music is more likely to be “correct” than the description for durations of patterns.
  8. The document can stand alone. That is we can find out everything about the dances from other dances in the manuscript.


Almost all quotes, text in itallic, in this document come from the article by David Fallows. Music was reinterpreted from the photocopies of the manuscript as presented in the same article.

"The Gresley Dance Collection, c.1500" David Fallows,
RMA research chronicle xxix (1996) pp.1-20.

"Dance in early Tudor England: an Italian connection?" Jennifer Nevile,
Early Music, May 1998

W.R. Streitberger, Court revels, 1485-1559

Katrina Hunt (also known as Mistress Matilde, Baroness Politarchopolis) has interpreted the music.

Go to contents

Word count

I felt that it might be helpful to count the occurance of the dance steps and patterns mentioned in the dances. While doing the count I changed from just counting the words to counting the occurances of a step or movement in the dance. The following table is the result.
403 Single 8 Double 16 Flowerdelice
19 Brawle 39 Torne, half turn 5 Meve, move
40 Trett 16 Change places 2 Hertt
54 Retrett 6 Throw 1 Horne pepy
5 Obeysaunce 4 Lepe 22 Rakis

Expanding the patterns we know and converting some of the movements provides a better indication of the occurance of the usual steps. The flourdelice contains 2 doubles and 3 singles. In the dances so far interpreted “turns”, “changing places” and “throws” take two bars so are probably a double. This gives a total number of singles and doubles as bellow.
Single 451 Double 101

Steps, patterns and words

Singles and doubles

Are the singles step and close as in Arbeau or the step and pause, like a passo, in the bassa dances? The dances work with either. The step lift style single suggested for earlier dances and the forerunner to an almain step would also work. Or they could be something more exotic, what about a hop and step or step and hop?

Which is chosen will have an effect on how the trett is interpreted.

At first I assumed that a single was the step close variety. I am beginning to lean towards the step pause or step lift singles now that I have had it explained that the step close single is a much latter development.

Trett and retrett

In Northumberland and Temperans a trett is described as three singles with a stop. Working on Esperans showed that a trett takes three bars.

So a trett is could be

There is not enough music for the first. If the stop at the end is ignored then there is nothing different between a trett and three singles.

If it is 3 passi with a close you have a slow double, i.e. a double in three bars. This would work.

The last, a trett is to 3 singles what a double is to 2, gives a trett of step, step, step, step, step, close. This is the one I prefer. However we need to do some more experimenting with getting the flow of the dances. Currently they do not flow well.

Unfortunately the author of the papers is not consistent with the use of “retrett”. He sometimes uses retrett as a trett done backwards, sometimes a single done backwards and sometimes it is a direction.

In these documents I use retrett to mean a trett going backwards.

Rak, raks, rakkes, rake

Appears to be a sideways movement of indeterminate length (see #16 Aras and #26 Northumberland). Perhaps the Negri represa where the feet "zigzag"? While #19 (Roye) suggests a forward movement. One dance (#21 Hawthorne) calls for 3 raks with a stop, does this imply they are open steps?

Oxford English Dictionary - has one description from 1530 - a horse's pace where both feet move on the same side. This is like the single step we do in Del's interpretation of the bassadanse Rositiboli. When doing singles the foot and shoulder on the same side move together.

It could be a set, as in Inns of Court and ECD. It can be moving forward if you turn 45 degrees before the first step and 90 degrees thereafter.

Rak, rakis, raks and rakkes do not appear in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

Rake also refers to a garden implement, a path or way and angle to the perpendicular (eg vein of oar, mast). The way a hawk flies after game. To run with nose to ground like a hound on scent.

Currently We are treating this as a sort of contenenza. You take a step to the side and rake the floor when you bring the other foot up to the first.


The pattern of the flourdelice seems to represent the hereldic fleur-de-lys, with 3 people dancing it starting side by side. The only full description of it comes from Temperans where it takes 8 bars.

Flourdelice for 3
Flourdelice for 3
from AC Fox-Davies,
Complete Guide to Heraldry
Flowerdelice over Fleur-de-lys
Flowerdelice over Fleur-de-lys

The first double forms the bar as first casts out and the other two change places.

In the 3 singles and jump (passo, passo, passo, cadence) the middle person goes straight forward forming the inner part while the two outside people go forward for the first passi and turn out and half way round on the second and third passi. The cadence is on the spot and is not part of the turn.

Then the outside people cast out again on the last double to make the outside parts of the fleur-de-lys.

A flourdelice from Temperans
Flowerdelice first two bars Person 1 casts left for a double while the other two change places
Flowerdelice next four bars All forward 3 singles (SR, SL, SR) with first and second (ie the outside couple) turning outward and ending facing the way they came. All leap in one bar (LL).
Ie 3 passi with a cadence.
Flowerdelice last two bars

Then the outside men cast out with a double so all end facing the same way side by side. DR

If the fleur-de-lys is for two, depending on how they are placed at the start, they can cast or change places to make the bar and then do the outside parts of the three person version.

If there are three in a small triangle the first double could be used to get into line by making the bit below the bar. Then do the rest the same.

If there are three doing it one after the other maybe they do the individual parts.

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