The first dance manual to describe the minuet in detail was Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffner Tantzmeister, published in Leipzig in 1717. This German treatise is a mine of information on all aspects of learning to dance but, without a complete and accessible translation into either English or French, it has remained little known compared to other dance manuals of the 18th century. With the publication in 2012 of a complete English translation it is now widely available for use and study. I will be drawing on this translation for my posts.
As Taubert’s translator Tilden Russell makes clear, the minuet was central to Taubert’s view of the 18th-century world of dancing. In this post, I will look at his general approach to teaching rather than his specific instructions for the steps and figures of the minuet. In his Foreword, Taubert declares he will provide ‘a clear, methodical and thorough introduction to the theory of the well established art of French dancing’. He makes clear that he will be ‘mainly concerned with presenting a comprehensive discussion of both the theory and practice of the three world-renowned fundamental dances’. He identifies these as the courante, the minuet and the bourée, although his focus throughout most of the treatise is the minuet. He uses the term ‘la belle danse’ for the style and technique used in ‘all ballroom dances’ and makes his debt to French dancing abundantly clear. So far as Taubert was concerned, the French were undisputed rulers of the world of dance.
Taubert lays great emphasis on the necessity for the systematic teaching of dance. He begins with la belle danse and ballroom dancing, setting out his ‘instruction of the fundamental dances and general method’.
- First, standing, walking and bowing;
- Second , ‘first principles and universal steps’;
- Third, how to execute ‘the prescribed basic step for each fundamental dance correctly’;
- Fourth, how to execute ‘the other most important simple and compound steps’ introducing theatrical steps alongside those for the ballroom;
- Fifth, how to read and understand the symbols in Feuillet’s Choregraphie as well as the notated dances.
He promises that ‘all this shall be examined topic by topic, methodically and coherently’.
Standing and walking get a chapter each, followed by five chapters on bowing. Taubert is adamant that dance instruction should not begin until the student has mastered ‘how to stand gracefully; how to walk with ease; and how to bow politely and make the proper révérences for any occasion’.
When it comes to the dancing, Taubert says he will address:
- ‘the formation of steps and motions’;
- ‘the connection of steps’;
- ‘the cadence and division of steps according to the meter’;
- ‘the figures and tracts along which one dances’;
- ‘the air or manner with which one should dance’.
Each and every one of these is as important to the modern student of baroque dance as it was to the 18th-century dancing master and his pupils. All are fundamental to an accomplished performance of the minuet.
Before I turn to the teaching of steps and figures of the minuet and other dances, I will take a look at what Pierre Rameau and Kellom Tomlinson have to say about the fundamental aspects of dance technique.