The Cotillon

I’m a recent convert to the cotillon. I love these lively little French contredanses with their four couples facing inwards around a square engaging in a game of perpetual motion. I’d really like to dance more of them, but it is difficult to find enough good dancers who are able to get together regularly to learn and practice. Cotillons are not easy.

So, what is a cotillon? It’s a country dance but, as I said above, it is a French country dance – a contredanse – in which the couples stand in a square rather than in two lines (the usual English form). It alternates a figure, which can be quite complex, with a series of simpler changes. The dancers continually move around the set and they never stop dancing. Danced at a good speed, the cotillon is an 18th-century aerobic workout.

My ambition is to get together a group to work on a potpourri cotillon. In these little choreographies each change is followed by a different figure. Unlike the ordinary cotillon, which uses the same music throughout, the potpourri cotillon has new music for each successive change and its figure. So, it is a challenge to the dancers’ memory and musicality as well as their stamina.

Here’s an example of an early cotillon, which hasn’t yet developed into the structure found from the mid-18th century. It is danced with a pleasing energy and precision, although I can’t help feeling that no group of 18th-century dancers would have been quite so accurate in their performance.

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