Cesare Negri's Salti del Fiocco

by Nathan Kronenfeld (Daniele di Padola)

On pages 62-72 of Le Gratie d'Amore, Cesare Negri gives a series of fifteen jumps he calls "Salti del Fiocco." They range in difficulty from the merely challenging to the nearly impossible, but most of them provide an interesting challenge to any dancer with a desire to try the upper range of the virtuosity present in dance in the Cinquecento. As this is a practical guide, and not a theoretical paper, however, I will caution the reader that these steps absolutely require the dancer to be properly warmed up and to have stretched out, especially in the ankles and shins, as well as possible.

Before getting to the jumps themselves, I would like to say a quick word on posture, much as Negri himself does. He quite clearly specifies a great deal about the posture of the dancer for these jumps [p. 66]. Toes and legs should be slightly separated. The back should be straight, with the head high. Arms should be straight, and hands should be closed in a fist. The mouth should be closed, and the eyes should be modestly downcast. Negri enumerates a rather interesting laundry list of possible ugly, or rude, bodily postures that one avoids by adhering to these rules. Lastly, though Negri does not specifically state this, his pictures in this section show a man without his sword. I think it not untoward to recommend to the reader that he does take off his sword to do these jumps.

In my time learning dance in the SCA, whenever I've heard about these jumps, two assumptions have been made about the context in which they were done. The first is that the immediate goal of each dancer was to kick as high as possible. The second is that the context in which this would be done was a sort of contest between several of the young men present.

Taking these in reverse order, I must point out that I see no evidence whatsoever for these being done as a contest between dancers. No one to whom I've spoken can point out any such evidence. If you have evidence of this, I would very much appreciate it if you would contact me with it. I am not saying that this wasn't done; it seems a natural sort of context to the modern mind, and may also be to the Cinquecento mind. And Negri does not give us any alternatives. As far as I can tell, we simply do not know the social context in which these jumps were danced. The idea of doing it in a contest between dancers is as good as any, but we should realize it is a modern invention.

For two main reasons, the idea that the main goal of these jumps was height is simply wrong. The first is that only minor changes are necessary to some of these jumps to make them kick considerably higher. For instance, the very first of the thirteen jumps involves jumping off of the right foot, kicking with the right foot, and landing on the right foot. Done this way, Negri expects one to kick to about chest level, with practice. However, taking the simple expedient of landing on the left foot, this jump can be done easily, kicking above one's head. There are several examples of this sort of simple change throughout the kicks. Secondly, one finds, when performing the first of the two standard kicks, that though one kicks the tassel with the right foot, one often kicks a little higher with the left than the right while doing the step. If height were the main goal, Negri would have told us to kick with the higher of the two feet. This is not to say that height is not a goal. Negri clearly instructs us that with practice, we can kick higher, implying rather clearly that kicking higher is desirable. However, it is clear that the virtuosity inherent in being able to do these steps at all is the main goal.

The structure of Negri's presentation of these jumps is somewhat unclear, but, when understood, is very useful. I have echoed this same structure in this reconstruction. Negri lists thirteen special jumps of the tassel, but proceeds to give instructions on how to do fifteen. His first two are the basic building blocks upon which nearly all the others are built. From their grammatical context ("From these two jumps all the others of this tassel are learned..." [p. 62]), they do seem to be steps in their own right, and I have therefore reconstructed them as such, with the proper length. Interestingly enough, Caroso's one jump of the tassel [p. 119] seems to be describing the first of Negri's two building-block jumps, though Caroso thinks one can kick higher with it than Negri does.

There are a textual conventions I have found in Negri's text. First of all (and most obvious) is that whenever he tells one to "rise with the body with the left [or right] foot" he means to jump in the air, using said foot to provide the force (the other foot is usually in mid-air at the time). Secondly, he uses the phrase "riding the right leg over the left" several times; What he means by this is, as Sutton's translation of Caroso goes, "crossing your right leg over your left" [p. 119]. Lastly, I take it as a default in Negri's descriptions that one is turning when he says to kick, or jump (and always counterclockwise), unless he says otherwise. The way he says to do otherwise is by saying to do something "in a straight line."

I would like to thank my wife Sue for her great help with editing, and in reconstructing these dances. Without her help translating, and her assurances that, though difficult, these steps really were reasonable, there is no way I would have finished these.

The first building-block jump, from Rule 19

The following are the pieces of data gleaned from the description which we must fulfill to do this jump correctly:

What makes this jump so hard is that one jumps off of, kicks with, and lands on the right foot. At first, I thought that one of these conditions must be a mistake. However, every reconstruction I devised assuming this had the kick actually kicking considerably higher. Finally, remembering a gagliarda step I had stolen some time ago from Baron Patri du Chat Gris which fulfilled all the requirements save being able to kick a full arm's length from the ground, I was able to come up with a reconstruction that fit all these conditions.

Start with the left foot forward (essentially, in a pied en l'air). On beat 1, rise onto the toe of the right foot, leaving the left foot where it is (or, perhaps, raising it a little). On beat 2, sink down by bending the right knee, meanwhile bending the left leg somewhat (bring the foot into line with the body, with the knee in front), and raising the right arm. Beat 3 is the crucial one. Start by swinging the left leg forwards again so as to provide some lift. When the left leg is swinging upwards (perhaps, for maximum lift, at the top of its swing), jump as high as you can with the right leg, at the same time imparting a little counter-clockwise rotation. You nearly touch the tassel with the left foot, but don't. When the left foot is about to touch the tassel, kick it downward, hard, lifting the right leg as much as possible, and touching the tassel with the right foot. Meanwhile, this whole time, you are continuing your counter-clockwise rotation fairly smoothly. You land on or slightly after beat 4 on the right foot, with the left foot tucked in behind it, and with your back to the tassel. You then have the rest of the measure to prove you have stuck the landing perfectly.

Alternatively, if you use beats 1 and 2 for the initial rise, beat 3 to sink, and beats 4-6 for the jump itself, the timing might work out a little better.

The rise and sink in beats 1 and 2 are a bit of a stretch from the original. They are meant to encompass the description of rising a little on the ball of the foot, then bending the knee. However, they do not make sense in conjunction with the description of using the right arm for lift at this point, as you need no lift until you leave the ground. However, unless one takes a very liberal reading of "raising the body a little" as starting the jump immediately (on beat 1), the description of using the right arm comes too early for pretty much any interpretation of these two sentences. Also, the jump itself is relatively quick. As later jumps do describe motions after the kick itself to fill out the measure, one must assume that this jump fills out the whole measure with no such additions. Finally, the very next jump describes a similar wind-up. Given all these considerations, I am very much inclined to include these initial motions.

It is interesting to note that Caroso's salto del fiocco matches this jump in everything except its initial orientation. Caroso has us start with the tassel to our side, leading either to a 270°, rather than a 180° turn, or to ending with the side, rather than the back, to the tassel.

The second building-block jump, from Rules 19 and 20

The second jump of the tassel is interesting, in that it seems to be described twice: once at the end of rule 19, and once in rule 20. It is the last time Negri describes the various upper-body motions one needs to do these steps properly. Rule 19 seems to be largely redundant. The following can be gleaned from the description in rule 20:

Start with the back to the tassel, with the left foot a little ahead, and the feet spread about a foot apart from one another. On beats 1 and 2, rise up onto the toes of the left foot, swinging the body a little to the left (a sort of pre-windup). On beat 3, bring the right toe in to the left heel, and sink down onto it, swinging the body back to the right, to its original position. Do not put your weight on the right foot - you are about to jump off of the left. On beat 4, leap up off of the left foot, spinning fairly hard counter-clockwise, and kicking the tassel with the right foot. Around beat 6, you land on the right foot, having turned a full 360° around so your back is once again to the tassel. You land on only the one foot, and the left is tucked in behind it.

Rule 21: Jump 1

With regard to the third jump, these data points can be gleaned from the text:

With one small conundrum, this jump is actually pretty self-explanatory. Start about four paces from the tassel, with the right foot behind the left. Beat 1: Stick out the right foot. Beats 2 and 3: run forward with three steps (right - left - right). While taking the third step, you must at the same time swinging the left foot forwards, fairly high. On beat 4, jump as high as you can, pushing down hard with the left foot, and hitting the tassel with the right. You must now land on the right foot.

The only part about this step that was unclear was the height to which it could reach. It is easy to ready the text as saying that one can, with this step, kick as high as one can reach, well above the head. Indeed, with one small but crucial modification, this is indeed possible (that being to land on the left foot, rather than the right). However, when one limits oneself to exactly what Negri says and shows, one finds that this kick can only reach to around a little lower than waist height - just about where Negri's pictures show his courtiers' hands resting.

Rule 22: Jump 2

The following data points can be gathered on the fourth jump:

(This is the last time I will give such a list, since for the jumps following this one, any accurate list would be simply a restatement of Negri's text.)

This is a fairly simple jump, but one that requires a fair bit of practice. Start with the back to the tassel. Directly to the tassel, that is. Touching, in fact. Also, start with the left foot a little behind the right (It says to. I don't see any way this actually influences the step, though). On beat 1, hop forwards. On beat 2, step forwards with the left, tucking the right foot in behind, and also raising the right arm. It is also key, in this beat, to check your forward momentum, so that you end this beat with no forward momentum. Lastly, you start your (counterclockwise) turn in this beat. Though you do not actually stop twisting, at the end of this beat, you should be turned so that you are about 45° to 90° from face-on to the tassel at the moment of the end of this beat. On beat 3, jump strong off of the left foot, pushing down with the right arm, spinning and hitting the tassel with the right foot. Continue spinning, so that you land on the right foot, with the left tucked in behind.

You will note that this is, in fact, very much like the second jump, with a different setup.

Rule 23: Jump 3

This jump is mostly like the last one. Start an arm's length from the tassel, with the right side turned towards it. Take a slow step forwards with the left on beats 1 and 2. On beat 3, tuck the right foot in behind, start turning (again, counterclockwise), and raise the right arm. On beat 4, jump, spinning full circle (touching the tassel in the middle of the jump), and landing on the right (the foot with which you just kicked the tassel), tucking the left foot in behind it.

Rule 24: Jump 4

This step is interesting, as it is the first one that specifies something to do after you kick the tassel, other than land. I have taken this to mean that each of these jumps of the tassel should take a full measure of gagliarda.

In nearly every way, this jump is just like the previous two. Start just as you did in the previous jump (jump 5) - with the right side to the tassel, an arm's length from it, but this time, the left foot is in the air. On beat 1, spring forward onto the left foot, tucking the right foot in behind, and starting your turn, and raising the right arm. In one beat, you have now gotten as far as, in the last jump, took you three beats. On beats 2 and 3, jump, spinning full circle, touching the tassel with the right foot, and landing on the right, tucking the left foot in behind, much like in the last two jumps and the second jump. On beat 4, hop, putting the left foot in front. On beats 5 and 6, step forwards on the left foot.

Rule 25: Jump 5

Though the landing is, as usual, fairly difficult, this step is, as a whole, a remarkably easy jump. Start this step about two short steps from the tassel, with the left foot behind. On beat 1, step forward with the left. On beat 2, jump off of the left foot, turning 180° to the left, and landing on both feet. This is a quick hop, and one swings the right foot over the left in order to impart the turning motion. On beat 3, you now have your back to the tassel, with your weight on both feet. Jump off of both feet, turning in the standard (counter-clockwise) direction, kicking the tassel with the right foot, and landing (perhaps once again with your back to the tassel) on both feet.

It will be noted, upon reading Negri, that this reconstruction involves a good bit more turning than Negri specifies. Perhaps it is easier still: on beat 1, step left towards the tassel. On beat 2, hop forwards a bit more, executing a full (360°) turn counter-clockwise in mid-air, landing on both feet. On beat 3, jump up, and kick the tassel with the right. Land on both feet whenever they hit the ground. The determining factor as to which of these is correct depends on whether one takes the default motion when kicking to be turning, or kicking straight. Given the predominance of turning kicks, I am inclined to the first of these two interpretations.

Rule 26: Jump 6

This jump is much like the last, only with a shorter introduction. Start with "the left side turned to the tassel." As I stated in the introduction, there is some question as to what this means, but for the purposes of this jump, either interpretation works fine. On beat 1, hop, turning counter-clockwise so that the back is turned to the tassel, landing on both feet. On beat 2, jump off of both feet, turning and kicking the tassel with the right foot. Land some time in beat 3 or 4 on both feet again, and with the back once again turned to the tassel. Lastly, Negri says to end this jump with a step left, so that it takes a full measure.

Rule 27: Jump 7

There is a slight problem with Kendall's translation for this step. She translates "avicinandosi al fiocco" as " snatching the tassel", where a more correct translation would be "approaching the tassel." This is unfortunate, as her translation makes a really neat jump, wherein you pulls the tassel to you with the left, and then kick it with the right.

Start this jump an arm's length from the tassel, with the right side turned to it, and the left foot a little ahead. On beat 1, start turning around to the left, taking a step left, and going towards the tassel a little. As your right side was towards the tassel, you will notice that unless you turn a fair amount, this step will take you away from the tassel. I take this is an indication that you turn a fair amount. On beat 2, do a sottopiede with the right foot, kicking the left out ahead, ending the beat facing the tassel. On beat 3, jump up off of the right, kick the tassel with the right, and land on the right, with the back to the tassel.

Rule 28: Jump 8

Start this jump three arms' lengths from the tassel, with the right side to the tassel. On beat 1, to a sottopiede with the right, kicking out the left foot, and turning left to face the tassel. On beat 2, do a quick version of the first tassel jump (the one from rule 19), ending on the right foot, with the back to the tassel. On the upbeat for beat 3, step left, turning around some more towards the tassel. On beat 3, do another sottopiede, ending once again with the left foot up, facing the tassel. On beat 4, do another quick tassel jump, from rule 19, so that your back is to the tassel, and a small step left, with the back still to the tassel. You have now, as Negri specifies, done two full turns approaching the tassel. On beats 5 and 6, do the tassel jump from rule 20, this time actually hitting the tassel.

Rule 29: Jump 9

Start this jump with the back to the tassel, the left foot ahead, and a reasonable distance from the tassel for with to kick it. On beat 1, do a sottopiede with the right foot, turning 360°, ending (of course) on the right foot. On beat 3, do another sottopiede, this time with the left foot, turning another 360°, ending with the back to the tassel, and the weight on the left foot. On beat 5, do the standard tassel jump from rule 20, ending with the weight on the right and the back to the tassel.

Rule 30: Jump 10

Negri considers the rest of the jumps difficult. This one is a combination of the two standard jumps from rules 19 and 20. Start with your back to the tassel, with the left foot in front, and the right foot tucked in behind. Do the second standard jump (from rule 20), ending with the right foot on the ground. Then, just do the first one, from rule 19. This sounds relatively easy, until one realizes that the jump from rule 20 ends with ones back to the tassel, and the jump from rule 19 usually starts facing the tassel. It is possible to do it starting with the back to the tassel, but it is, of course, much harder.

Rule 31: Jump 11

This jump is relatively easy to reconstruct, but I can't say how hard it is to execute, as I can't do it. Start with your right side to the tassel, and your weight on both feet. Do a small hop, with a capriol, turning half way around so that your left side is now to the tassel, landing on the left foot. You now jump in much the same manner as the jump from rule 20, jumping off the left, kicking the tassel with the right, and landing on the right with the back to the tassel. The catch: this time, you are suppose to turn, not once, but one and a half times. And, you should note, you get to do this with a one footed take-off!

Rule 32: Jump 12

This jump is especially difficult because it requires enormous leg strength in the left leg in order to do it without injuring oneself. Start with your back to the tassel, with the right foot forward, and the weight on the left. On beat 1, swing the right foot backwards (as in a bell-step gagliarda, but bigger). On beat 2, drop to the ground. Negri specifically specifies that you should land on your right knee, not letting your foot touch the ground. This is obviously dangerous. I would theorize that with incredible strength in the left leg, this might be done safely, but I wouldn't recommend it. On beat 3, one rises (and note, of course, that you have only the strength of the left leg with which to do so) into standard position to do the jump from rule 20: back still to the tassel, weight on the left foot, with the right foot tucked in behind. On beats 4-6, do the standard jump from rule 20: spring up spinning left off of the left foot, touching the tassel with the right foot and landing on the right foot with the back once more to the tassel.

Rule 33: Jump 13

This jump starts with the back to the tassel, with the left leg raised and in back. On beat 1, jump with the right foot, kicking backwards with the right (Negri says you should get the foot two arms' length from the ground) and, as usual, landing on the right on beat 2. On beat 3, step minimally forward onto the left foot, tucking the right foot in behind. On beats 4-6, do the standard jump from rule 20, jumping off of the left, turning to the left, hitting the tassel with the right, and landing on the right with your back once more to the tassel.

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