Thomas Hurst, The Cotillons Made Plain and Easy, 1769

On the titlepage of his 1769 collection, The Cotillons Made Plain and Easy, Thomas Hurst describes himself as ‘Of  the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, Late Pupil and Assistant to Mr. Grimaldi Ballet-Master’. Giuseppe Grimaldi (d.1788) worked at Drury Lane from 1758 to 1785 and was the father of the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi. Hurst seems to have worked at Drury Lane from 1755, when he was a child dancer, until at least 1782.

Given his background, Hurst’s remarks in his preface are surprising. He refers to the many books already published on the cotillon, complaining that they ‘cannot be of service to any but great proficients’ and declaring that he will avoid the terminology and steps of theatre dancing. He offers no French tunes, preferring instead English, Irish and Scotch airs for his cotillons. Hurst dedicates his book ‘to the Dancing-Masters of these Kingdoms’. Perhaps he was just setting up as a teacher of social dancing.

Hurst provides a diagram of the ‘Dancing-Room’ which shows clearly the placing and numbering of the four couples. He briefly explains how to perform a cotillon – the bows, the alternation of changes and the figure, and the changes themselves. He lists fourteen changes, explaining that he has added ‘several new ones, to those now in use’. He says nothing about steps. Thomas Hurst’s sixteen cotillons all have French titles, which he translates into English.

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, centre left]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, centre left]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

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