Courante literally means running, and in the later Renaissance the courante was danced with fast running and jumping steps, as described by Thoinot Arbeau. These steps are sometimes thought to be broken up by hops between the steps, but this is not necessarily supported by Arbeau's confusing and contradictory instructions, which described each "saut" as resulting in the completion of a new foot placement.
In Der Vollkommene Capellmeister (Hamburg, 1739), Johann Mattheson wrote that, "The motion of a courante is chiefly characterized by the passion or mood of sweet expectation. For there is something heartfelt, something longing and also gratifying, in this melody: clearly music on which hopes are built.
The courante was most commonly used in the baroque period. During this period, there were two types of courante: French and Italian. The French type had many cross-accents and was a moderately fast dance, in contrast to the allemande that preceded it. The Italian courante was faster, more free-flowing and running, however, it is not clear whether this is significantly different from the French Renaissance courante that Arbeau describes. In a Baroque dance suite, an Italian or French courante typically comes between the allemande and the sarabande, making it the second or third movement. The French type is usually notated in 3/2 or 6/4, occasionally alternating between the two meters, and is typically performed at a fairly moderate tempo; the Italian type, on the other hand, is a significantly faster dance. In the Musicalisches Lexicon (Leipzig, 1732), Johann Gottfried Walther wrote that the rhythm of the courante is "absolutely the most serious one can find.