Antonius de Arena was a 16th-century soldier, judge, historian, poet, and dance theorist who wrote Leges Dansandi, or The Rules of Dancing. According to the journal Dance Research, the work is vital to understanding the evolution of dance: "The dance recipes and stylistic descriptions of basse dance [a popular 15th- and 16th-century court dance] in the Leges Dansandi contain important material for comparison with the extensive and more complex 15th-century repertoires preserved in treatises and dancemasters' manuals."
Fair enough. But beyond its elegant descriptions, the book is also full of surprisingly blunt advice about dance floor hygiene and etiquette. Just check out some of Arena's pointers.
1. Be honest: You're just there to pick up girls.
During the Renaissance, dance was a formal courtship ritual and a socially acceptable form of flirting. "To dance badly is a great disgrace ..." Arena said. "You who desire to caress the girls and kiss them long and sweetly, must learn the correct way to dance: a thousand joys flow from the dance."
2. Check your breath.
Contrary to the popular image of Renaissance people plagued by rotting teeth, the lack of sugar in people's diet meant that tooth decay was not common. Most people washed away any stink with a vinegar- or wine-based mixture of herbs and spices (like mint, cinnamon, and cloves). Arena recommends: “Do not eat either leeks or onions because they leave an unpleasant odor in the mouth.”
3. Close your mouth ...
"When you are dancing do not keep your mouth open; since the flies have a habit of flying about they could easily fly into your gaping mouth and choke you. Take care then, oh my gay friend!"
4. ... And remove your gloves.
Different dance etiquette guides have varying recommendations regarding gloves. Some recommend gloves to avoid wiping sweat all over the lady’s dress. Others, like Arena, suggest that removing the gloves is a sign of greater intimacy: "You must hold the damsel with ungloved hands when dancing; if you wear gloves you will very soon find yourself all alone."
5. Quit spitting.
In general, bodily fluids flowed a little more freely during the Renaissance. Spitting in public and at meals was relatively common—though most people recommended you hock those mealtime loogies under a table. Arena, however, advised otherwise: “[R]efrain from spitting before the maidens, because that makes one sick and even revolts the stomach.”
6. Wipe your nose ...
Snot, likewise, was never an appropriate fluid for public display. “Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth. No woman desires a man with rabies.”
7. ... But not with your hands!
“If you split or blow your nose or sneeze, remember to turn your head away after the spasm, and remember not to wipe your nose with your fingers: Do it properly with a white handkerchief.”
8. Double-check your groin's hardware.
In 1463, the parliament of Edward IV made it mandatory for a man to cover “his privy Members and Buttokes.” The codpiece soon became a fancy way to both cover—and flaunt—a man’s nether-regions. According to Arena, wardrobe malfunctions could be a bit, well, revealing: “You must always be garbed to perfection and your codpiece must be well-tied. We sometimes see codpieces slip to the ground during the basse dance, so you must tie them well.”
9. Mid-dance is not the time to tell her you might have head lice.
Head lice were universal in the 16th century. In fact, many hair combs served a purpose beyond cosmetic beauty and were primarily used as de-lousing tools. Arena would prefer it if you kept that a secret, though: "[K]eep your visage composed. Do not scratch your head in search of lice; surely you do not want to scratch yourself for black lice just then."
10. Get loose!
When it comes time to actually bust a move, "do not let your arms dangle too loosely or too stiffly when you are dancing. Some folk look as if they were without bones."
11. But not so loose that you fart.
Control is key. “Never fart when you are dancing: grit your teeth and compel your arse to hold back the fart.” (According to the 16th century writer Desiderius Erasmus, this was difficult advice to follow: People farted rather openly at the time, partly out of the belief that holding in gas could cause an illness. He advised people to “Hide the fart with a cough.”)
12. Don't dance too hard.
The galliard was a lively dance that involved athletic leaps, jumps, leg thrusts, and vigorous skipping. (It was basically a Renaissance dance-off.) But Arena wanted readers to tread carefully: "If you wish to do the gagliarda do not be too foolhardy, please, my good companion. Your very good mother no longer produces children; be, therefore, careful of your body."
13. Give her those old doe-eyes.
"Always gaze tenderly in your lady's face when you make the reverence at the end of the dance."
14. But stop doing that weird thing with your face.
"Some folk make a thousand grimaces, twisting up their mouths in an unbecoming way. Do not alter your natural countenance."
15. Seriously, do everything in your power to hold back that fart.
"[T]ake great care, my friend, not to break wind when you are dancing since if you do so you will be a real pig."