Thoinot Arbeau, Canon of Langres, was born at Dijon in 1519. He belonged to that honourable line of scholarly churchmen in the Roman tradition who combined spiritual with wordly wisdom to the advantage of both. His family was an old and distinguished one in the region, and the name by which he is best known is an anagram of Jehan Tabourot, his baptismal and family names.
Orchesography, first published in Langres in 1588, is the most detailed and authentic record of fifteenth and sixteenth century dances that has come down to us. It deals with what we should call today the ballroom dances of the period, considered by both Arbeau and his pupil, Capriol, to be an essential part of the education of every well-bred young man. But Arbeau was no ordinary dancing master, compiling a, manual for his fashionable patrons, and his interest in the art went far beyond the confines of its aspect as a passport to social success. Ancient legend and contemporary geography alike are gleaned in the exposition of his topic and Arbeau has the true Frenchman's attachment to the soil, which colours his perception of the rustic disporting himself in country dances with his wench. He continually stresses the valuable function of dancing in the life of the community, ranging, so he says, from a spur to action in battle to a precautionary measure prior to the selection of a husband or wife.
Arbeau's Orchesography is without literary pretensions. Had he foreseen its publication he would almost certainly have given it a final polish. But, for all its simplicity, it is far from being a work hastily conceived, and it has the cardinal virtue that it achieves precisely what it sets out to do. No pains were spared to make the directions detailed and practical and it abounds in touches which show the author's genuine affection for his subject. The music examples are reproduced in the original 16th century notation.