The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: One Dancer or More?

In my last post about the pas de Zephyr, I suggested that there were four contenders for the professional male dancer who may have originated the step or the enchainement from which the social dance step took its name – André Deshayes, Louis Duport, Charles-Louis Didelot and Monsieur Albert. As I also said, there are a number of issues to consider as I try to answer the question of who was responsible, if the pas de Zephyr can indeed be traced to a single dancer.

There are at least six descriptions of the step in social dance manuals. Three of these are English – Payne (1818), Strathy (1822) and Mason (1827). Two are French – Gourdoux-Daux (1823) and Albert (1834). One is Italian – Costa (1831). It is interesting that there are a number of English treatises, although it seems likely that the earliest description of the pas de Zephyr is in fact French. It could have appeared in either the first treatise by Gourdoux Daux, Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse published in 1804, or its second edition published in 1811, neither of which I have yet been able to consult. However, might the inclusion of the step in English treatises suggest that the dancer (whoever he was) also appeared as Zephyr on the London stage?

All the treatises are, of course, for amateurs and dancing in the ballroom. Apart from the fact that the stage version of the pas de Zephyr would have had to be simplified for performance by amateur dancers, there is also the question of appropriate style. Strathy devotes much space to the variations appropriate for what he calls ‘Balancer, or to Set to your Partner’ (for which his recommended steps include the pas de Zephyr). Before he does so, he emphasises the importance of a ‘gliding smoothness of execution’, however difficult the steps. Strathy also refers to ‘that easy, dignified and engaging manner, which never fails to distinguish a polite person’ and ‘the importance of a genteel and prepossessing deportment of the person’. In the early 19th-century ballroom, style was as important as technique and the latter should never undermine the former.

So, there are at least three issues to consider in identifying the dancer responsible for inspiring the addition of the pas de Zephyr to those steps deemed suitable for the ballroom. The first is the period during which each dancer appeared as Zephyr, which must allow time for the stage step to be seen, admired, transformed and adopted in the ballroom before it was recorded in treatises. The second is whether the dancer appeared in both London and Paris. The third is the dancer’s performance style and how it interacted with their virtuosity (all four dancers were highly technically accomplished).

At this point, I think it is possible to discount Didelot, at least as a performer. Although he spent much of his earlier career in London, he appeared relatively little in Paris. He was the eldest of the four dancers by some years, and so is perhaps less likely to have influenced dancing masters around 1800. In any case, his style (that of a demi-caractère dancer) would not have recommended itself to teachers of social dancing. On the other hand, he did create Zéphire et Flore – the most famous of the Zephyr ballets – which may have been a work within which the pas de Zephyr drew particular attention.

Monsieur Albert almost certainly appeared too late to be the originator of the pas de Zephyr, since he was only engaged at the Paris Opéra from 1808 and did not dance in London until the 1820s. His style was undoubtedly worth emulating, so perhaps he contributed to the continued popularity of the pas de Zephyr in the ballroom.

It seems to me that the two dancers most likely to have caught the imagination of audiences with their versions of the pas de Zephyr are André Deshayes and Louis Duport. Both were closely identified with the role of Zephyr and both appeared in London as well as Paris. Deshayes spent more time in London, whereas Duport was more famous in Paris. Deshayes was as famed for his style as his virtuosity, which made him a model for aspirant ballroom dancers. Duport allowed his legendary skill to run away with him on many occasions, which must have made his tours de force hard to forget. So, could they each have contributed towards the adoption of this step in their different ways? The watercolour in which both dancers have been separately identified underlines the difficulty of choosing between them.

Zephyr Deshayes or Duport

Scene from Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire? Undated watercolour by an anonymous artist.

If I have to choose, I would settle on Deshayes – for his style as much as for his fame as Zephyr. However, perhaps what really mattered were the various Zephyr ballets, irrespective of who danced the title role. The vocabulary deployed by all four men, and indeed other dancers who played Zephyr, probably made use of a similar range of steps intended to make the danseur noble appear to fly. Who would not want to feel as if they were as elegantly airborne when dancing as one of the ballet’s great stars, even within the confines of the ballroom?


The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: Dancers

In my search for the source of the social dance step the pas de Zephyr, I looked briefly at the ballets featuring the character Zephyr from the 1640s to the 1810s. As the step apparently first appears in early 19th-century dance manuals, it makes most sense to focus on ballets from the 1790s to the early 1800s. Who among the leading male dancers of that time might have performed the step or enchainement that inspired the pas de Zephyr?

There are just a handful of candidates. In Gardel’s Psyché (Paris, 1790), Zephyr was created by Louis Laborie but danced in later revivals by André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport and Monsieur Albert. Deshayes may have danced as Zephyr in Gardel’s Le Jugement de Paris (Paris, 1793). He certainly took the title role in Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire (Paris, 1802). In 1806, Duport created his own divertissement L’Hymen de Zéphire, ou Le Volage fixé giving himself the title role. Didelot danced Zephyr in his own Zéphire et Flore (London, 1796). When the ballet was finally given in Paris in 1815, Albert appeared as Zephyr. So, there are four main contenders – André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport, Charles-Louis Didelot and Monsieur Albert, for all of whom Zephyr was a significant role.

A watercolour of the early 1800s is widely agreed to depict a male dancer as Zephyr, although he has been variously identified as Deshayes and Duport.

Zephyr Deshayes or Duport

Scene from Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire? Undated watercolour by an anonymous artist.

André Deshayes (1777-1846) trained as a dancer at the Paris Opéra school, joining the company in 1794 and becoming a principal dancer in 1795. Deshayes danced in London in 1800 and again from 1804 to 1811. His success in Gardel’s Psyché was such that the choreographer created the one-act divertissement Le Retour de Zéphire specially for him. The piece was intended to celebrate the return of Deshayes to the stage following a long absence due to injury. His dancing was described in the review accorded Gardel’s ballet in the Mercure de France for 3 March 1802:

‘And let us not forget Zephyr himself, the god of the festivity, whose slender figure, interesting features and graceful movements delight the audience, and who, through the elegance of his attitudes and smoothness of his dancing, seems to make up for what he lacks perhaps in strength.’ (Translation by Ivor Guest in his Ballet under Napoleon).

Deshayes returned to London again in 1821, as a choreographer as well as a dancer, staying there until his retirement in 1842.

Louis Duport (1781 or 1783-1853) made his debut at the Paris Opéra in 1797, quickly becoming one of the company’s leading dancers. He did not come to London until 1819, making just the one visit before he retired from the stage in 1820. Duport seems to have made a speciality of the role of Zephyr. Apart from his appearances in Gardel’s Psyché and his own L’Hymen de Zéphire, he also danced the role in Gardel’s Le Retour de Zéphire in Paris in 1803 as well as in Didelot’s Zéphire et Flore when that ballet was given in St. Petersburg in 1808. In the context of this post, ‘Le Pas de Zéphir, de M. Duport’ advertised, apparently as a solo, as part of a performance given in 1816 by the Casorti family, is of particular interest.

Pas de Zephyr Poster

The poster is reproduced in Marian Hannah Winter, The Pre-Romantic Ballet

Duport’s dancing as Zephyr was hailed by one critic as ‘the Zephyr depicted by the poets, barely touching the ground in his rapid flight’. The writer went on to praise:

‘The suppleness of his movements, his precision in the most difficult steps, the unbelievable boldness of his pirouettes, in which Duport has perhaps no equal for the perfection and finish of their execution …’ (Translation by Ivor Guest in his Ballet under Napoleon)

Duport was famed for taking virtuosity to new extremes.

Charles-Louis Didelot (1767-1837) belonged to an earlier generation. Born in Stockholm, where he received his earliest training, by 1776 he was studying in Paris with leading teachers. Although he began dancing at the Paris Opéra as early as 1783, Didelot did not make his official debut there until 1791. Before then, he had danced in Stockholm, London and Bordeaux. He returned to London, as both choreographer and dancer, from 1796 to 1801 and again from 1811 to 1816. He had spent the intervening years in St Petersburg, returning there in 1816 and remaining for the rest of his career. Didelot was a demi-caractère rather than a serious dancer, lacking the elegant physique required of the latter, although the role he created in his own Zéphire et Flore would become a vehicle for leading danseurs nobles.

Monsieur Albert (François Decombe, 1787-1865) was engaged to dance at the Paris Opéra from 1808, dancing Zephyr in Didelot’s Flore et Zéphire when the ballet was first given in Paris in 1815. During the 1820s he danced at London’s King’s Theatre, where his first major work Cendrillon was given in 1822. Albert danced as the prince, a role he repeated when the ballet was given at the Paris Opéra the following year. He was also a teacher, with a reputation for improving the training of those destined to be professional dancers as technical demands changed. Albert taught amateurs as well as professionals – his L’art de la danse à la ville et à la cour was published in Paris in 1834. He included the pas de Zephyr among the steps he suggested for the quadrille, in a version very different from all the others. Albert’s pas de Zephyr is an enchainement not a single step and he does not include the beat around the ankle which is a feature of some other versions. Albert’s dancing was described by his much younger contemporary Auguste Bournonville:

‘The word “gentlemanlike” fully decribes Albert’s demeanour as a dancer: noble, vigorous, gallant, modest, ardent, friendly, gay, but seldom inspired. He won the applause of the connoisseurs but failed to move the masses …’ (Translation by Patricia MacAndrew in her edition of Bournonville’s My Theatre Life)

Monsieur Albert Alcides

Print after F. Waldek. Monsieur Albert in the role of Alcide (London, 1821)

So, which of these male stars of the dance created the pas de Zephyr – if indeed any of them did? The answer to this question raises a few more issues, which I will explore in my next post as I weigh up the evidence.

The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: Ballets

Last year, I wrote two posts about the pas de Zephyr, a step found in at least six different manuals of social dancing (in English, French and Italian) published between 1818 and 1834. It may have been described as early as 1804, in the first edition of J. H. Gourdoux-Daux’s treatise Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse published that year (I have not been able to access a copy to check). I suggested that the social dance step might have been derived from a more demanding pas composé, or even an enchainement, performed onstage by a celebrated male dancer. The name of the step obviously links it to the character Zephyr, who appears in a number of ballets.

In classical mythology, Zephyrus was the personification of the West Wind. In Latin literature, Ovid recounted the story of Zephyrus and Flora in his Fasti, providing inspiration for artists from the Renaissance onwards. Zephyr appeared in numerous ballets between the mid-17th and early-19th century (the period I am interested in). Here is chronological list of these. It is probably not complete and I have included one or two productions in which Zephyr was a sung rather than a danced role.

1648, Paris. Ballet du déreglement des passions, Part 2, 5th entrée. Zephyr chases away two Satyrs who are pursuing Olimpe and dances with her. In this ballet de cour, Olimpe was danced by the Duc de Roennets and Zephyr by Monsieur de Bragelonne.

1656, Paris. Ballet de Psyché. In this ballet de cour,  Zephyr and Flore were sung, not danced, roles.

1681, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 19th entrée. In this version of Zephyr et Flore, at court Zephyr was danced by Monseigneur (Louis XIV’s son). No cast was recorded when the ballet moved into the public theatre later the same year.

1688, Paris. Zephire et Flore (by Louis and Jean-Louis Lully). In this opera, Zephyr was a singing role.

1705, Paris. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 3rd divertissement. In this revival of the ballet, Zephyr was danced by Claude Ballon with Mlle Subligny as Flore.

1735, Paris. The ‘Ballet des Fleurs’ in Rameau’s opera-Ballet Les Indes Galantes, 3rd entrée scene 8. This ballet shows a garden of flowers, amongst whom the Rose (originally danced by Marie Sallé) is Queen. Boreas, the North Wind, threatens them, but Zephyr arrives and revives them then pays homage to the Rose. David Dumoulin danced Zephyr. Rameau also wrote a one-act ballet, Zéphyre, at an unknown date which was never performed.

1759, Vienna. Zéphire et Flore (also titled Les Amours de Flore et Zéphire), a ballet with music by Gluck and choreography by Gasparo Angiolini. The action resembles that in Rameau’s ‘Ballet des Fleurs’. Did Angiolini himself dance as Zephyr? We don’t know.

Artists almost always depicted Zephyr with Flora, as in this fresco by Tiepolo.

Tiepolo Zephyr

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The Triumph of Zephyr and Flora, 1734-1735.

I don’t have details of any other new productions with Zephyr as a dancing character during the middle decades of the 18th century. If the character was indeed absent during that period, he certainly returned to the stage in the 1790s. These were the productions, and the dancers, that may have led to the adoption of the pas de Zephyr as a social dance step.

1790, Paris. Psyché, ballet by Pierre Gardel. Zephyr is Cupid’s attendant. He opens the ballet with a solo and in act 2 has a pas de deux with Flore. The role was intended for Auguste Vestris, but he insisted on dancing the more important role of Cupid, so a younger dancer, Louis Laborie, created the role of Zephyr. Gardel’s ballet stayed in the repertoire until 1829 and among the dancers who later appeared as Zephyr were André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport and Albert.

1793, Paris. Le Jugement de Paris, ballet by Pierre Gardel. This has a pas de trois by Flore, Pomone and Zephyr in act 2. Zephyr was danced by ‘Deshayes’, who was perhaps André Deshayes then aged sixteen.

1796, London. Flore et Zéphire, ballet by Didelot. He and Mme Didelot danced the title roles.

1802, Paris. Le Retour de Zéphire, a one-act divertissement by Pierre Gardel. André Deshayes danced Zephyr. His appearance marked his return to the stage after an 18-month absence because of injury. He was soon succeeded by Louis Duport.

1806, Paris. L’Hymen de Zéphire, ou Le Volage fixé, divertissement by Louis Duport, in which he danced the title role. The ballet culminates in the marriage of Zephyr to the nymph Chloris, who thereby becomes the goddess Flora.

1812, London. Zéphire inconstant, puni et fixé, ou Les Noces de Flore, Didelot’s revised version of his Flore et Zéphire with new music. Armand Vestris and Fortunata Angiolini danced the title roles.

1815, Paris. Flore et Zéphire by Didelot, given its first performance in Paris with Albert and Geneviève Gosselin in the title roles.

Clodion’s terracotta statuette of Zephyr and Flora has been described as dance-like in its composition. Could the artist have drawn inspiration from one of the ballets of the 1790s?

Clodion Zephyr

Clodion. Zephyrus and Flora, 1799.

Several of the later ballets held the stage for a number of years. Their choreography does not survive, but the dancing of the male ballet stars who appeared as Zephyr may well have inspired dancing masters looking for fresh steps for their more accomplished pupils to include in the newly fashionable quadrilles.


A Year of Dance: 1667

In England, the Anglo-Dutch War ended with the Treaty of Breda on 21 July 1667, but not before the Dutch had sailed up the Medway and raided Chatham Dockyard. Lady Castlemaine gave birth to a daughter, named Barbara Fitzroy but not acknowledged by the King. She was probably the child of John Churchill, later to become Duke of Marlborough. Barbara Villiers’s reign as Charles II’ s principal mistress was drawing to a close.

In France, Louise de la Vallière had the last of her children by Louis XIV. Their son Louis de Bourbon was born on 2 October 1667 (N.S.). The daughter she had borne the King in 1666, Marie Anne de Bourbon, had been legitimised in May. The King’s new love, Françoise-Athénaïs de Montespan, became his principal mistress during the year. The Queen also gave birth, on 2 January 1667 (N.S.), to a daughter named Marie-Thérèse after her mother and known as Madame Royale. She would live only until 1672.

In London, theatrical life picked up quickly once the theatres had reopened. The pattern remained the same, with the King’s Company under Killigrew in Bridges Street, off Drury Lane, and the Duke’s Company led by Sir William Davenant in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Samuel Pepys attended plays on several occasions and recorded quite a bit of dancing during the truncated 1666-1667 season and the early months of 1667-1668. He was again much taken with ‘Little Mis Davis’ who danced a jig in boy’s clothes at the end of John Caryll’s The English Princess, given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 March 1667. He confided to his diary ‘the truth is, there is no comparison between Nell’s dancing the other day at the King’s house in boy’s clothes and this, this being infinitely beyond the other’. Pepys had seen Moll Davis and remarked on her dancing back in 1662 and 1663. The performance by Nell Gwyn, in which he disparaged her dancing, was presumably as Florimell in Dryden’s Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen which he saw at Bridges Street on 2 March. Pepys was overwhelmed by her acting ‘so great a performance of a comical part was never, I believe, in the world before as Nell do this, both as a mad girle, then most and best of all when she comes in like a young gallant; and hath the motions and carriage of a spark the most that ever I saw any man have. It makes me, I confess, admire her’. Pepys probably rather more than ‘admired’ both Nell Gwyn and Moll Davis.

Accompanied by his wife, Pepys saw Moll Davis again ‘dancing in shepherd’s clothes’ in James Shirley’s Love Tricks; or, The School of Compliments at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 25 August 1667, which ‘did please us mightily’. Was Moll playing the leading role of Selina, who disguises herself as a shepherd? Pepys also saw Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in the version by Sir William Davenant, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 19 April 1667, ‘which, though I have seen it often, yet is it one of the best plays for a stage, and variety of dancing and musique, that ever I saw’. Macbeth, with its singing and dancing witches, would have a long stage life. Pepys also noted the ‘very fine dance for variety of figures, but a little too long’ in Boyle’s The Black Prince, which he saw at Bridges Street on 19 October 1667. Towards the end of September, he had seen Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage, also at Bridges Street, finding it memorable only for ‘a most admirable dance at the end, of the ladies, in a military manner’. Dancing had become a fixture of performances on the London stage.

Paradoxically, there was very little in the way of dance performances at the French court this year. The only ballet de cour was the Ballet des Muses, which had begun its run of performances in December 1666 and was last given on 19 February 1667 (N.S.).



The Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance on the London Stage

During many, if not most, seasons between the mid-1710s and late 1750s the bills for performances at Drury Lane and Covent Garden included an entr’acte Grand Ballet, Grand Dance or Serious Dance. Usually no details of these dances were volunteered, other than the names of the principal performer (or performers) with the enigmatic addition ‘& others’. Why were these dances so named? What did their differing titles mean? How many dancers were involved in these choreographies? Like so much about dancing on the London stage in the 18th century these are difficult questions to answer satisfactorily.

The term Grand Dance already had a long history in London’s theatres by the time it appeared in the bill for a concert held at Drury Lane on 4 January 1704. James Shirley’s Cupid and Death of 1653 includes a Grand Dance, as do Purcell’s semi-operas King Arthur (1691) and The Fairy Queen (1692). Both of Purcell’s grand dances are chaconnes. The libretto for The Fairy Queen specifies a ‘Grand Dance … of Twenty four Persons’. The suggestion is that a Grand Dance has both an extended musical form and a large number of performers. The Drury Lane concert seems to have been a selection of music, mainly by Henry Purcell, culminating in ‘The Sacrifice’ from King Arthur and the Grand Dance. It seems likely, therefore, that the latter was one of Purcell’s chaconnes, although only six dancers were named in the advertisement. Was it the music, rather than the number of dancers, that made a dance a Grand Dance?

Serious dancing was first advertised as such early in the 18th century. It was sometimes billed together with, and in contrast to, comic dancing. More often than not, serious dances seem to have been duets. Only during the 1716-1717 season was there a billing for a ‘new serious dance, compos’d by Moreau’ for as many as eight dancers – four men and four women (in fact, three men and three women together with the two ‘French children’ Francis and Marie Sallé). Thereafter serious dances with a group of dancers became more common in advertisements.

The title Grand Ballet does not appear in advertisements before the mid-1720s, with the ‘Grand Ballet by ten Persons of different Characters’ performed at Michael Poitier’s benefit at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 21 April 1727. If he did not introduce the term ‘Ballet’ to the entr’acte dance repertoire, Poitier seems to have a hand in popularising it. The 1727 Grand Ballet may well have been his choreography and the ‘Characters’ were perhaps drawn from the commedia dell’arte.

During the 1730s, the terms Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance began to be used together, and seemingly sometimes interchangeably, in advertisements. These almost never provide clues as to the music for the dances and rarely give more than the names of one or two of the principal dancers (often the company’s leading dancers). With the near ubiquitous use of ‘&c.’ or ‘& others’ for the remaining performers, we have few clues as to the usual number of dancers required for a Grand Dance or a Grand Ballet. In later posts, I am going to look more closely at the various billings for these three types of entr’acte dance to see if it is possible to glean further information about them.


Who was the first female professional dancer on the London stage?

There has been much debate, over many years, as to the identity of the first actress to appear on the London stage following the Restoration. Nobody seems to have bothered to ask who the first female professional dancer might have been. It is fair to point out that this is, probably, an even more impossible question to answer. There simply isn’t enough evidence to work with. There was stage dancing in London from at least as early as 1660, even before the arrival of Charles II to reclaim his throne. Who were the dancers? Were any of them professional dancers, as we understand the term? Were any of them female professional dancers? Mostly we don’t know.

Using The London Stage as the principal source of information, the first dancing to be reported for the period is Le Ballet de la Paix recorded in a printed scenario dated 1660. There are many questions surrounding this piece which, if it ever was performed, may have been given in London during spring 1660 just before the King’s restoration. However, there are no hints as to who may have danced in it. During the years immediately following the Restoration, all the reports on dancing in London’s theatres come from the diary of Samuel Pepys. They are quoted in The London Stage. His earliest mention dates to 5 February 1661, when he saw Glapthorne’s Argalus and Parthenia (a pre-Restoration drama) which was ‘pleasant for the dancing and singing’. Presumably the cast danced and sang, but we don’t know who they were.

Pepys’s first reference to a particular dancer came when he saw Davenant’s The Law against Lovers (an adaptation from Shakespeare) at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 February 1662 and commended ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw act before) dancing and singing’. She was probably Mary or ‘Moll’ Davis, whom Pepys would subsequently mention quite often. Around 18 months later, he took note of Winifred Gosnell in Davenant’s The Rivals at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 10 September 1664, remarking ‘Gosnell comes and sings and dances finely’. Of course, both were first and foremost actresses and cannot be described as professional dancers, at least not according to 21st -century ideas.

Moll Davis apparently began her stage career in 1660. John Downes, prompter at Lincoln’s Inn Fields from the 1660s and author of Roscius Anglicanus, or an Historical Review of the Stage published in 1708, named her as one of Sir William Davenant’s four ‘Principal Actresses’ whom ‘he boarded at his own House’ when he formed his company. Some years later, in a diary entry for 11 January 1668, Pepys reports the opinion of ‘Pierce’ who said of Moll ‘she is a most homely jade as ever she saw, though she dances beyond anything in the world’. As I mentioned in another post, Pepys thought ‘little Mis Davis’ a far better dancer than Nell Gwyn. Like her more famous counterpart, Moll Davis left the stage in 1668 after becoming yet another of Charles II’s mistresses. The poet Richard Flecknoe wrote ‘To Mis: Davies, on her excellent dancing’, publishing his verses in Epigrams of all Sorts in 1669.

Dear Mis: delight of all the nobler sort,

Pride of the Stage and darling of the Court,

Who wou’d not think to see thee dance so light,

Thou wer’t all air? Or else all soul and spirit?

Or who’d not say to see thee only tread,

Thy feet were feathers! others feet but lead?

Atlanta well cou’d run, and Hermes flee,

But none e’er moved more gracefully than thee;

And Circe charm’d with wand and magick lore,

But none, like thee, e’er charm’d with Feet before.

Thou Miracle! Whom all men must admire

To see thee move like air, and mount like fire.

Whoe’er would follow thee or come but nigh

To thy perfection, must not dance but fly.

Who trained Moll Davis to achieve a style and technique that was so much admired?

Pepys first met Winifred Gosnell in 1662. His diary entry for 12 November that year describes her as ‘pretty handsome’ and ‘with a good voice and sings very well’. Some days later, he commented that she ‘dances finely’. Miss Gosnell became, very briefly, companion to Mrs Pepys and only later joined the Duke’s Company as an actress. I have mentioned elsewhere Pepys’s reaction to her singing and dancing in Davenant’s The Rivals in 1663. Her stage career seems to have lasted until at least the 1680s, but when she petitioned the Lord Chamberlain about her discharge from the company she described herself as a singer rather than a dancer or even an actress.

So, the player with the best claim to be the first female professional dancer on the Restoration stage is Moll Davis. If she does not quite fit our definition of a ‘professional dancer’ she seems to have had the skills to be accepted as one.

Moll Davis

Moll Davis. Engraving by Richard Tompson after a painting by Sir Peter Lely, 1675-1690.



A Year of Dance: 1666

England continued to be involved in the second Anglo-Dutch War, with sea battles in June and July and a raid on Holland in August 1666, but the most significant event of the year (as destructive of property as the plague of the previous year had been of life) was the great fire of London in early September.

Great Fire of London

Anon. The Great Fire of London. Ludgate in flames with St Paul’s Cathedral (in the background) catching Fire (c1670)

The blaze left much of the city in ruins and it would take some years before life returned to normal. London’s theatres, in what was becoming the ‘West End’ were too far from the city itself to be directly affected. They reopened in December 1666 following their 18-month closure because of the plague. With so few performances in 1666, it is hardly surprising that there was no mention of dancing.

In France, the Queen Mother Anne of Austria died on 20 January 1666 (N.S.). Louise de la Vallière gave birth to Louis XIV’s daughter on 2 October (N.S.). She was known as Marie Anne de Bourbon and then, after she was legitimised, as Mlle de Blois. The first danced entertainment of the year preceded the death of the Queen Mother. The mascarade Le Triomphe de Bacchus was performed at the Palais Royal on 9 January 1666 (N.S.) with a cast entirely of male professional dancers. Pierre Beauchamps danced Bacchus. That year’s ballet de cour was delayed until mourning for the Queen Mother was over. The Ballet des Muses was first given at St Germain-en-Laye on 2 December 1666 (N.S.) and continued to be performed until February 1667. Louis XIV renewed his dance partnership with his sister-in-law Madame, who was indisputably the ballet’s leading female dancer. They appeared together in the 4th Entrée as a Berger and Bergère, in the 6th Entrée as an Espagnol and Espagnolle and in the 14th and final Entrée as a Maure and Mauresque. In addition, Madame appeared among the ladies of the court as the leading Pieride in the 11th Entrée. The King also danced as Cyrus in the 8th Entrée and as a Nymphe in the 12th Entrée. The latter marked his last appearance in a female role.