Introduction to Period Dance for the Terpsichorially Challenged

Terpsichore: In Greek Mythology, the muse associated with dance. Often invoked in prayer, as in: "Sweet Terpsichore, please don't let me trip over my own feet!"
There are hundreds of dances that have come down to us, of varying degrees of difficulty. Generally, dances are divided into Court and Country Dances. The two groups are in fact very similar, often using the same steps, with some minor variation. The biggest difference between the two is that Court dances generally start out on the left foot, while Country dances start out on the right.

It is difficult, to say the least, to learn to dance from a web-page. There are a couple of pages that make a noble effort, but even the best page is ultimately restricted by the limitations of text. So why bother putting up another one? Most of the pages I've seen are written for dancers, people who already know how to move. I don't know about anyone else, but I have a hard time figuring out what they're talking about. For that matter, I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what's going on even with a live teacher! This section contains instructions that make sense even to me. Accordingly, you won't find the niceties of Most Elegant Dancing here. I've tried to keep it all as simple as possible, just to get us through the basics. Once you know the basic steps and sequences, then you can add flourishes and character touches.


One of the things that makes Renaissance dance accessible for those of us with multiple left feet is that there are a few steps that appear in many dances. Even beter, those steps are really pretty simple. If you can master these steps, you already know about half of most dances. What follows is a brief description of these basic steps. I've tried to avoid dance jargon wherever possible, and included simple diagrams where I felt the text insufficient. The main description is for Country Dance. I have noted some variations for Court Dance, as well.


The reverance is not so much a step, as a bookend for the dance. The man bows to the woman, and the woman curtseys to the man. This is done at the beginning and end of each dance.

Turn Single

This is essentially walking around in a small circle.
  1. Lift your left arm in front of you. You can get it into the right position if you first lift up your arm as though you are waving, and then turn your hand around so that your palm faces toward you.
  2. Follow your arm around in a circle, turning on your right foot. I always imagine that there is a very short rope (just a couple of inches) tied to my right ankle and staked into the ground, and that I'm walking a circle around the pivot of that stake.


Begin: 1. Face your partner.
to 2. Take four steps forward, ending up side-by-side with your partner, right shoulders almost touching.*
to 3. Take four steps back, ending up where you started in step 1. This is called Siding Right, because the right shoulders come together.
to 4. Now do it again, this time ending up side-by-side on the left.
to 5. Take four steps back to the original position. This is called Siding Left, because the left shoulders come together.
*Court Dance: Instead of ending side-by-side, court dancers tend to end up a half-step past their partner, looking back over their shoulder.


1. Face your partner.
2. Extend your right arm to your partner, cupping your fingers around your partner's elbow.*
3. Partners now walk around in a circle, leading with the left shoulder, until they return to the position they started from. This is called Arming Right, because the right arms are clasped.
4. Now clasp left elbows, and circle to the right. This is called Arming Left, because the left arms are clasped.
*Court Dance: Instead of clasping elbows, court dancers hold their hands up at about face-level, palms almost, but not quite, touching.


1. Stand side-by-side with your partner.
2. Join hands.
3. Take one step in toward your joined hands.
4. Take one step back out to where you started.
Note: This step is also often done facing your partner, instead of side-by-side. In that case, you would normally join right hands.


Now that you are familiar with the basic dance steps, let's look at how some of them combine in a dance.
Gathering Peascods