Dancing the cotillon: Gallini’s steps

I have looked at the changes and discussed the figures of the cotillon. I now turn to the steps of this contredanse française. Among the dancing masters in London who published cotillons when the craze for these dances began, only Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve say anything about steps. The figures and the steps are so closely intertwined that both Gallini and Gherardi describe them together.

Gallini’s steps are all recognisably from the long-established vocabulary of la belle danse, the ‘French Dancing’ that developed at the court of Louis XIV in the late 17th century and subsequently spread throughout Europe. They were at once over-familiar and unfamiliar. Gallini introduces them by saying:

‘A description of all the Steps and Figures in Dancing, might, by the Reader, be thought tedious, therefore it is intended here to explain only those which are used in the following cotillons’’

He begins with the Assemblé, which is used ‘at the end of several Steps’.

‘the Assemblé Forward is performed by Sinking and Advancing the hinder foot in a circular manner, Springing and Falling on both feet in any Position that shall be proper for the following Step.’

The use of a circular motion hints at the decorations that could be added within the cotillon.

Le Balancé:

‘is done by Sinking, then Rising as you Step forward or sideways with one foot, the other must follow Straight to the first Position, and in the same manner Step back again, beginning with the contrary foot.’

Le Chassé ‘is performed in various ways’:

‘To do this Sideways you must place yourself in the Second Position; if you go to the Right, it is performed by Sinking, then in Rising Spring on both feet and place the Left foot behind where the Right was, at the same time the Right foot Advancing to the Second Position.’

Gallini explains ‘if you Chassé cross, add one Step in the fifth Position and an Assemblé’ and the same is done for the chassé forward. This step was moving towards the 19th-century basic quadrille step.

Le Contretemps:

‘To perform this Forward you must advance your Right foot, sink on both feet, but spring and fall on the Right, then walk two Steps Straight.’

He goes on ‘to this you may add an assemblè’, taking it towards a pas de gavotte.

He describes only half-turn pirouettes:

‘[La Pirouette] is performed to the Right, by bringing your Right foot in the fifth Position behind, then  Rising on your Toes, and turning half Round to the same Position, do the same again to bring you Round; this may be done to the Left, by Reversing the Feet.’

Finally, Gallini gets to Le Rigaudon, one of the characteristic steps of the cotillon.

‘To perform this in the first Position, you must Sink, then Spring, and Fall on the Right foot, bring your left to the first Position, move your Right and return it to the same Position, the knees being straight, Sink, then Spring on both feet and Fall on your Toes in the first Position.’

He adds ‘This may be done by Reversing the Feet’. He also, helpfully, explains how to do the rigaudon from the third position, allowing the dancer to move forwards or backwards.

‘When the Rigaudon is performed in the third Position, with the Right foot foremost, you must Sink, then Spring, and Fall on the Right foot; advance your Left to the same Position, then advance the Right to the third Position, the Knees being straight, Sink, then Spring on both feet and Fall on your Toes with the Left foot foremost in the same Position.’

The one step Gallini completely ignores is the demi-contretemps, the basic step of the cotillon already being used as early as Le Cotillon, the dance for four published in 1705.

His step descriptions seem to be his own, which he presumably developed in the course of his teaching rather than simply copying them from earlier dance manuals. They don’t seem to provide quite enough detail to perform all these steps properly – assuming that the steps were indeed the same as those notated and described in the early 1700s. Do Gallini’s instructions provide hints on the changing style and technique of ballroom dancing in the mid-18th century?

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