Step Descriptions


I will begin by describing the steps used in the Italian Basse Danze. More step descriptions for the 15th C Italian Balli will be given later on in this chapter.

The Italian Basse Danze contain many of the steps of the French and Burgundian basse danses, however, they were done slightly differently.


SL -- Single (sempio1)

The sempio (single) step is just a single step forwards on the left foot, as shown in the picture. A sempio right is a single step forwards on the right foot.

Sempi are not closed.

There is some ornamentation in a sempio, basically I prefer to do the campeggiare (shoulder and hip movement) without the ondeggiare that is found in a doppio. So, the sempio looks just like the first step of a doppio.

Two sempi can be done in one bar of bassadanza, which means that they take three beats each, or slightly slower than the first step of a doppio (which would be done in two beats).


DL -- Double (doppio)

An Italian double (doppio) was done to a rising and falling movement, with the dancers rising onto their toes during the steps, and falling back to the flat of the feet at the end of the beat. This step takes 1 measure.

A doppio left in bassadanza time looks like this:

  • Step forwards on the left foot (as shown above for the sempio).

  • Step forwards on the right foot, bringing the right foot either level with, slightly in front of, or slightly behind the left foot.

  • Step forwards again on the left foot.

Note that there is no close at the end of the step. Remember to start the next step with the right foot.

Since there are six beats in a bar of bassadanza time, each of the above actions will take two beats.

Remember to use lots of maniera (campeggiare and ondeggiare) while walking through the step: Bring your hip and shoulder forwards gracefully while making the first step, rise up to your toes on the second step (as shown in the picture), and lower on the third step. Be graceful about raising and lowering, try to rise and lower slowly rather than falling back on your heels like a sack of potatoes.



Contrapassi are doubles that are done consecutively on the same foot . The first double is step left-right-left as a normal doppio, and then do a quick shift of weight onto the right foot.

The next contrapasso will also begin on the left foot, so two or more contrapassi in a row will be done left, left, left, not like sempii or dopii which would be done left, right, left.

The last contrapasso in a sequence is abbreviated, so that instead of finishing with a movement back on to the right foot, it simply omits the final step onto the left. So, two contrapassi in a row would be done as step left, step right, step left & back, step left, step right; still finishing with the left foot ready to lead the next step. Three of them would be done step left, step right, step left & back, step left, step right, step left & back, step left, step right.

Contrapassi can also be done on the right foot, which are the same as described above but changing “left” for “right” throughout.

Note that two of these steps are done in 1½ bars of music, and so the last movement back onto the left foot is done rather quickly, and the timing of the steps must be arranged carefully to match the music.

Diana Cruickshank examines this contrapasso step in detail in an article in Historical Dance, 1992.



The Ripresa, the Italian equivalent of the French Reprise was done quite differently. Basically it looks like two singles, and takes 1 measure.


RpB -- Ripresa Backwards

Step backwards with the right foot, bending the knee slightly. Then join feet, stepping backwards with the left foot and rising onto the toes. Then repeat the same movements, stepping backwards onto the flat of the right foot, and then step backwards with the left foot, rising onto the toes again.2


RpF -- Ripresa Forwards

This step can be done forwards on the left or the right foot. It is similar to the riprese backwards, listed above, but done moving forwards.


RpL -- Ripresa Left

Step to the left with the left foot, bending at the knees very sightly and remaining on the flat of the feet. Then join feet, stepping left with the right foot, and rising onto the toes. Repeat the movement, stepping with the left foot and dipping, and then stepping with the right foot and rising. This riprese can also be done with the right foot, moving to the right.3


RpT -- Ripresa Turning

Place the left foot in front of the right foot, heel to toe, and bend at the knees. Then, rising on the toes, swivel in place through 180° over the right shoulder. The left foot will now be behind the right foot. Repeat the movement, placing the left foot in front of the right foot while bending at the knees, then rise and swivel again.


RvL -- Riverenza L

The riverenza done in bassadanza time is done in a single bar, or six beats. Here is now to do a riverenza beginning on the left foot, in six beats:

  • Push the left foot forwards, somewhat ahead of the right.

  • Pause

  • Bring the left foot backwards, to somewhere behind where it started.

  • Bend both knees, keeping the body straight up and down, keeping the head upright and facing forwards, as shown in the picture.

  • Begin rising off your knees, starting to straighten your knees and start coming back into place.

  • Return to the upright position with the feet back where they started, straightening both knees and rising back into place.

A Riverenza on the right foot is done in the same way, except using the right foot.


CnL -- Continenza Left

CnR -- Continenza Right

This pair of steps is done in the same way as a stepping branle, done in the Burgundian Basse Danses. To do these as a pair of steps, the dancers take a single step to the left, join feet together, and then step back towards the right, joining feet together again. The steps are done in an Italian manner, with the same sort of rising and falling movements seen in the Italian Reprise. Each step takes the same time as a single step. Occasionally they are done right then left, although almost never singly.


CbL -- Cambiamento Left

Simply, change weight onto the Left foot. A Cambiamento Right is a change of weight onto the Right foot. This step takes no time -- it should be done as part of the previous step. For example, a Single Left followed by a Cambiamento Right is done by stepping forwards on the left foot, closing feet with the right foot, then quickly shifting weight so that your weight is on the right foot.


MvL -- Meza Volta Left

A quick half turn, to the left, ending up facing in the opposite direction to the one you started. A Meza Volta Right is simply the same thing done turning to the Right.


VtL -- Volta tonda Left

This is a full turn, to the Left, ending up facing the way you started. A volta tonda Right is the same thing done turning to the right.


1Literally, “simple” or “simple step”. Look for the quadernaria section in “Laltria Fia Guelmina” for an example of where this description does not apply.

2The riprese in the 16th C Italian dances was done as a single movement, in much faster time (half the time of a single continenza), and always done sideways, never backwards or forwards. Many reconstructors have used the 16th C step as a rationale for insisting that the 15th C step of the same name was also a single step. I reject this on the basis of the steps in Pietosa -- two riprese forwards cover the same distance as two doubles (dopii) forwards, and hence fit better if they are two steps. Cornazano provides another clue here -- he states that the length of a riprese should be varied, and also makes a statement that could be interpreted that the step can be done in two movements.

3I make the assumption that the sideways ripresa is done in the same number of movements as the forwards or backwards ripresa. There is possibly less justification for this. The steps should be much smaller than the forwards or backwards riprese (see my previous comment about Cornazano), especially in dances like La Spagna, Reale, and Pietosa, where the dancers are moving apart while holding hands.