Antonius de Arena was born into a well-off family near Toulouse, France, sometime around 1500. He studied law at Avignon and later joined the French army, participating in the Italian War of 1521-26. Arena was a romantic and something of a ladies’ man who did not enjoy military life; he much preferred writing and teaching. Arena wrote several texts on matters of law, as well as manuals on conduct and etiquette.
In 1529, he penned The Rules of Dancing, a quite thorough account of several examples of basse danse, the slow-moving court dances popular with the French nobility. Arena urged his readers, particularly young men, to take their dancing seriously, for “to dance badly is a great disgrace”. The young person who cannot dance well, he writes, is likely to fall victim to “proud ladies and damsels who gossip away like magpies”. In contrast, the man who can dance well will “kiss many charming ladies and a thousand girls”.
Arena goes on to offer advice on music, movement and choreography – as well as proper deportment while dancing:
“Wear the most elegant clothes when you are dancing and are all set for love… the slovenly dressed man will be ridiculed…”
“Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth. No woman desires a man with rabies…”
“Do not scratch your head in search of lice…”
“When you are dancing do not keep your mouth open, since the flies… could easily fly into your gaping mouth and choke you…”
“Do not eat either leeks or onions because they leave an unpleasant odour in the mouth…”
“Always maintain a smiling aspect when dancing and, I pray you, a pleasant friendly expression. Some people look as if they are weeping and as if they want to shit hard turds…”