Susan and Ken Reed’s Life, Universe and Everything

Tips for Dance Reconstruction

This handout was based on a class given by Dr. Ingrid Brainard, “Dance History Institute Workshop,” June 1987, and created for the Isenfir Dance Event, September 1995

  1. Work from primary sources in the original language. Get a good dictionary and make a vocabulary list of common terms. Find translating help from one who knows the language.
  2. Compare similar sources and take the best. Dance and music found together should be favored over dance instructions alone.
  3. Don’t mix your sources. Don’t make a dance from a piece here and a piece there. Respect the integrity of each author’s unique style and creativity.
  4. Go through the dance, find and list all the steps. Look up step instructions, especially if included in treatise with the dance. Compare your reconstruction with reconstructions by others.
  5. Transcribe music. Get help from a musicologist or musician.
  6. Put choreography to music. Work with musicians on timing and emphasis.
  7. Develop the style of the dance based on the manners, clothes and accessories of the time and place of the dance. Read about how they behaved, what they did, how they thought.
  8. Get the proper costume. Pay attention to fabric weight, corseting, heel height and accessories. Fit and construction should be as accurate as possible since this determines how you move. The period of the clothes and the dance should be the same.
  9. Try to recreate the dance space. Rent or build an appropriate looking hall, or use a period hall if one is available.
  10. Stay flexible and keep an open mind. Read other people’s ideas on dance, but don’t take any one opinion as the whole truth.

Important definitions


Dance instructions, with or without music, but with no discussion on how to dance.


Photocopy, microfilm or an exact reproduction of the original.

Primary source

Original work or facsimile only.


The original text is done in a new typesetting and printed. Although some reprints try to be faithful to the original, the accuracy can vary greatly.

Secondary source

Translations, reprints, interpretations, reconstructions and books about the original work. I also use it to refer to general works on dance and dance collections from no particular source.


The text is rendered into a language other than the original language. The quality of translations vary greatly.


Work discussing how to dance. Will often cover dance and music theory, manners and behavior, and descriptions of how the steps of the dances are done. Usually includes dance instructions, with or without music.