A Set of Cotillons, or French Dances by Mr Siret is undated, but has been ascribed to around 1770. This places it among the collections published soon after the cotillon first became popular in London. The title page declares that Siret’s cotillons are ‘properly explain’d and illustrated, by Corographical Lines, drawn on a plan entirely new & far superior to those which have been before Published’, adding that both the tunes and the figures are by him.
Unlike the other treatises that appeared in London around this time, which all have verbal descriptions, Siret records his dances in a form of notation like that used in France for the publication of contredanses. He was probably French – he is very likely the Siret recorded as a musician in Paris around 1780 who had earlier published music in London. He may have been a relation of the French organist and composer Nicolas Siret (1663-1754).
Siret explains the notation he uses. He gives the same symbols to the ladies and the gentlemen, except that the ladies are shown in white and the gentlemen in black, with partners sharing identical shapes. He makes a mistake when he says ‘every Gentleman has his partner on his left hand’. In his diagram of the couples standing in a square, Siret does show the ladies on the right according to convention.
He lists seven changes, plus the grand rond ‘all eight hands round and back again’. These, he says, are ‘the most fashionable’. Each dance has an ‘Explanation of the Plan’, which is a verbal description of the figures, and a ‘Plan of the Figures’, which notates them. The ‘Explanation’ names some steps, for which Siret provides no descriptions. His six cotillons all have French titles.
Siret obviously intended to make his mark among the dancing masters competing for attention, and dance students, in late 18th-century London. All these cotillon collections raise the question of dancing masters and their lessons, my next topic.