AD - Re: Rostiboli

Russell russmax at
Sun Apr 25 23:31:52 PDT 1999

"John F. Hirling" wrote:
> Greetings all:
> I'm striving to teach Rostiboli to a local SCA dance guild using tabulature
> and notes by HL Rosario di Palermo "from the reconstruction of Messer Sion
> Andreas o Wynedd, OL."  The tabulature calls for a [c]ontinenza . . .
> similar to the country dance bransle step" but I have also seen the dance
> taught with a step-cut-step to the left, step-cut-step to the right.  Also,
> the tabulature calls for the saltarelli to be executed with a "hop and a
> spetzatto" where the spezatto is a "classical ballet 'shuffle-ball-change'"
> which I take to be (and have seen) danced like a Scottish skip-change.   One
> of our local dance guild principles is a top notch researcher whose opinion
> I highly value.  Her research supports a simple bransle-like continenza and
> does not reveal any spetzatti in 15th century dance.
> I'd like to first teach the dance as closely to how it would have been
> danced originally.  Does anyone have any additional information or does
> anyone know how the aberrant steps became included?
> --ihon


   I have here in front of me A. William Smith's
_Fifteenth_Century_Dance_and_Music_, Vol. 1: a transcription and
translation of 15th century Italian treatises by Domenico, Cornazano,
Ambrosio (aka Ebreo), and several smaller anonymous sources. I don't
have Vol. 2, [!*#@%&!, out of print!] which gives Smith's summaries of
the choreographies and steps given in Vol. 1. If anyone out there has a
copy they would be willing to part with, I would be happy to buy it from you.

   Ambrosio gives Rostiboli as follows (I'm summarizing):
* 2 riprese, left then right.
* Man alone, 2 sempi and 2 doppi, beginning on the left.
* Both do 2 riprese, left then right.
* Man alone, 2 sempi and 2 doppi.
* 2 riprese, left then right [both or man alone?].
* Woman alone does as the man did.
* Join hands, 2 riprese, left then right.
* 2 sempi and 3 doppi, beginning on the left.
* Voltatonde with 2 sempi, beginning on the right.
* Right riprese.
* Perform all of this [?] another time.

* 16 tempi of salterello.

* Man performs a scosso.
* Woman responds.
* Man goes forward a doppio, starting on the left.
* Woman performs a scosso.
* Man responds.
* Woman joins man with a doppio, starting on the left.
* Repeat the scossi and doppi as before.

[Smith, Vol. 1, pp 161-162]

   This brings up several questions. How is the riprese done? (your 1st
question) How are sempi and doppi done? How is the voltatonde done? How
much is repeated after the Voltatonde? How are the salterelli done?
(your 2nd question) What is a scosso? And the big question: How does all
of this fit the music? Answering the last question answers most of the
other questions, somewhat. I'll leave most of that alone, though, and
only address your specific questions.

   Your 1st specific question regards the "riprese", which you say HL
Rosario calls a "continenza". Ambrosio doesn't seem to describe how to
do any of the steps. He talks a lot about "misura" and "memoria" working
together, so that the dancer makes the steps fit the music in the proper
order. Also the physical constraints of the dance floor (partire del
terreno), the proper rising & falling of the body (Aire or ondegiarre),
the proper sideward turnings of the body while stepping (maniera or
campegieare), and athletic grace (movimento corporeo) are all qualities
that that the dancer must embody. [A. William Smith, Vol. 1, pp
129-133.] Sorry, I digress. 
   Domenico says that a ripresa, like the doppio and riverenza, takes
one tempo or measure of music. The sempio, continenza, mezavolta,
movimento, and salto [?] take a half tempo or measure of music. [Smith,
Vol. 1. p 15.] Thus the ripresa and continenza are quite different, the
ripresa being twice as long. Therefore, specifying a continenza for the
sideward movements in the dance might be incorrect. It's hard to say,
since Domenico really doesn't describe how one actually does the
specific steps. (That would be too easy, eh?)

   Cornazano, is a bit more helpful. He does describe some of the steps,
namely the doppio--step flat, the left side moving forward with the left
foot (campeggiare), rise up on the 2nd step (ondeggiare), and lower on
the 3rd. [Smith, Vol. 1, p 85]. He also describes the the piva--a doppio
done in half a tempo or measure [p 89]. Cornazaon agrees that 1 doppio
equals 1 riprese equals 2 continenza equals one tempo (measure) [p 90].
Cornazano still doesn't describe how to do a riprese. A reasonable guess
is that a ripresa is done like a doppio, but to the side, since it has
the same tempo, and "ripresa" has the meaning of "move sideward" in
Italian Ren. dance.

   Thus, the reconstruction of "step-cut-step" for the ripresa is very
reasonable. Be sure to add the proper campeggiare and ondeggiare
accents. Note, however, that nothing in the sources says you can't
simply do a single step gracefully to the left and then to the right.
Neither is wrong, so long as the tempo and mood of the music is matched. 

   Another consideration is that in Rostiboli you have six beats of
music for this step (one measure in 6/4 in modern notation), so 3 steps,
with appropriate siding, rising, and falling motions would use up the
measure better. As a final note, Cornazano says that "diversita di cose"
is very important, meaning that it is important to have many different
styles or ways of doing each of the steps, depending on the dance and
the music [Smith, Vol. 1, pp 85-86]. That implies that it's not really a
question of which is correct, but that a good dancer would use either,
interchangeably, depending on the mood of the dance, the music, the beat
and rhythm. A riprese is going to be done differently in 6/4 than in 4/4.

   That leads to my best guess as to how the "riprese" would be done in
Rostiboli. It's in 6/4 so we have to use up six beats. This step
description matches my sense of the "misura" (ie rhythm & mood) of the
recording on the Mesura Et Arte Del Danzare (Ducale CDL 002), and the
sheet music in Master Avatar's Early Period & Popular Dance Music. A
left riprese is described. To go right, reverse everything.

1  A small step to the left, on the flat of the left foot.
2  Pause.
3  Rise on the balls of the feet and put the right foot just behind the left.
4  A small step to the left, on the flat of the left foot.
5  Put the right behind the left, also on the flat.
6  Pause.

   The saltarello is a similar problem. Without re-citing all of the
sources, many of the same arguments apply, especially the one about
diversity of step styles. Domenico, as an aside, says, "Remember that
the movement of the saltarello is a doppio with a salteto..." [Smith,
Vol. 1, p 25]. The Venezia Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana source, cited
by Smith as Vnm, gives the saltarello thus: "The saltarello [is] a
doppio [in which] the salto [follows] on the foot on the same side." [p
207] So, the the saltarello would seem to be 3 steps, with a rise on the
2nd step, and a hop at the end off of the beginning foot.

   Many of the pieces we dance the step called "saltarello" to are in
4/4 (e.g. Anello), so it is simple to fit this sequence to the tempo:
Step on the 1st beat, step & rise on the 2nd beat, step flat on the 3rd
beat, and hop with the same foot on the 4th beat. However, the
saltarello section in Rostiboli is in 6/8, with a saltarello done in six
very quick beats, approximately double the tempo of the 6/4 measures.
That means these saltarelli are going to be done rather differently than
in Anello, if Cornazano is to be believed.

   When I listen to Rostiboli on the music sources cited above, with the
saltarello in 6/8, I get the impression that the step should be done as
follows (it's a really jaunty piece of music):

1  Step on the flat of the left foot.
2  Pause (not really a pause, the music is too quick)
3  Hop lightly onto the ball of the right foot, just behind the left,
   while kicking the front foot out slightly.
4  Put the left foot back down, on the flat, while bringing the right
knee up.
5  Using the momentum of the right knee, hop off of the left foot. (Leap!)
6  Land.

   Beats 1-4 (minus the knee lift) are similar to the way a "piva" or
"fioretto spezzato" is often done in the SCA: Step-pause, step-kick,
step-pause. So the way I usually teach my students is "Piva...knee
lift!" I'm not claiming this is the definitive way to do this step, but
that's how I hear those pieces of music. A more sedate or stately
interpretation of the music should be danced differently, and toned down
somewhat. Also, women, in any case, should not leap high, as it's
definitely not considered lady-like, proper, or feminine by the
standards of the day. The men peacock; the ladies are more moderate.
Plus, they don't want their dresses flying up. Men in long, flowing garb
should also not leap so much. Please bear in mind that I usually dance
in tights and a close fitting doublet or jerkin, so you may need to
adjust my description to fit your personal style. Putting the hop before
the piva would be a valid and interesting variation, and I think Dom.
Corn. and Ambr. would approve.

   I left quite a few of the questions I brought up above unanswered.
Most of them work themselves out as you fit the dance to music. You may
not have the one true & correct choreography, in the end (as if there is
such a thing), but you will have an arguably valid reconstruction. If
the SCA source you're using works, I say go with it. Why reinvent the
wheel? Unless that sort of thing is fun for you.

   There's lots more that could be said about this dance. The original
authors seem to say that the dances soon become boring if you don't
spice them up a little, so some flexibility and playing with the steps
and choreography is expected. Just remember if it doesn't say to do such
& such, it usually doesn't say you can't either. So it's fair game, I say.

   If you have other questions about it, contact me. This was a fun
exercise for me.

Guillaume de Troyes
Mooneschadowe, Ansteorra

P.S. I owe a debt of gratitude to Messr. Guisseppe di Borgia of
Trimaris, who introduced me to Rostiboli and 15th c. Italian balli in
general. However, any error in what I'm saying is mine, not his.
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