Giovanni-Andrea Gallini’s Critical observations on the art of dancing, with its ‘collection of cotillons or French dances’ was probably first published in 1765. This was the year before he retired from the London stage as a dancer and director of dances at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (London’s opera house). Gallini was also a dancing master, teaching pupils from high society. 1765 seems to have been the year of his first subscription ball, given at the ‘Great Assembly Room, King Street, St James’s’ – later advertisements would make clear that this was Almack’s, the famous club which also opened that year. Gallini’s subscription balls would become an annual event in London’s social calendar.
Cotillons are frequently referred to as ‘French country dances’ in English sources. They have been identified with the contredanses françaises that began publication in Paris in the early 1760s. Did Gallini introduce the cotillon to London? He had trained in Paris and, although he had worked continuously in London since the late 1750s, he may well have returned there from time to time. He must surely have maintained his dance contacts in France, since they would have been useful for his work at the King’s Theatre.
There are several brief accounts of Gallini’s career in London, although none of them pay attention to his work as a dancing master. I will return to him, but my immediate concern is the success of the cotillon in London’s ballrooms.