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Thoinot Arbeau

March 17, 1520 - July 23, 1595
born in Dijon, France, composed during the Renaissance period
Today, when men of the cloth are popularly assumed to be hostile to dancing, it may come as a surprise to learn that one of the most important dance treatises of the Renaissance was published by a cleric. Under the anagrammatic pen name Thoinot Arbeau, Jehan Tabourot published his Orchésographie, an almost comprehensive how-to book on popular dance in the sixteenth century. Two editions were published in Langres in 1588 and 1589; by this time, Tabourot was vicar-general of his diocese. His career had begun in Langres in 1542 and he steadily rose through a series of administrative posts, including treasurer, ecclesiastical judge, and inspector of the diocesan schools. Dealing as he did with money, education, and personal conflict, Tabourot understood the real world better than some of his more-sheltered colleagues, and strongly advocated dancing for reasons of health, spouse-hunting, and manly display. Indeed, in his Orchésographie, he argues at some length that dancing is as virile a pursuit as fencing and military marching. The Orchésographie prints a number of dance tunes, but more importantly maps out precisely how each dance was to be performed with a tablature apparently of Tabourot's own invention, correlating the steps to the music and providing information on tempo and style -- matters often taken for granted in other treatises. Although Tabourot/Arbeau was not necessarily an authority on the style of dancing at the French court, he did describe common practices in northern Europe during his lifetime. He ignored complicated dances and favored simple steps (and accompanying music) that required only a modicum of skill. He described 15 forms of the galliard, 25 kinds of branles, the pavane, courante, allemande, and many other dances, including the popular four-person sword dance called Les bouffons. Of special importance to today's musicians, Tabourot/Arbeau, uniquely among Renaissance sources, illustrated tabor rhythms. He also provided detailed information on the use of the fife, recommended instrumental combinations and tempos, and emphasized the importance of improvisation. He even offered advice on dancing etiquette ("spit and blow your nose sparingly"). ~ James Reel, Rovi
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