L’Ecossoise is the eighth of the nine dances in Dezais’s Premier livre de contredances of 1725. It is particularly unusual among country dances for its line-up of four men and two women. In his Avertissement at the beginning of the book, Dezais says that the contredance can also be performed by four women and two men.
The music is a gavotte. Dezais notates a few of the steps, mainly pas de rigaudon but also (for the men only) half-turn sprung pirouettes. Apart from its unorthodox line-up, L’Ecossoise is also interesting for its successive formations. At the opening of the dance, the performers face one another across the dance space in two lines with the women between the men. Although they continue to face one another for much of the choreography, there are three places where they all turn to face their audience. On two occasions they are in perpendicular or ‘right’ lines one behind the other, the first time with the women at the back and the second time with them at the front. On the third occasion, they form one ‘diametrical’ line across the space. (The terminology comes from Feuillet’s Choregraphie, via Weaver’s translation). The first ‘right’ line is immediately followed by the ‘diametrical’ line. At the end of L’Ecossoise, the dancers are in a rectangular formation, with the women top and bottom and the men to either side. The contredance has conventional country dance figures, including left-hand and right-hand stars, right and left hand turns and circles, but some of the formations suggest that it might have originated as a display dance.
The title, L’Ecossoise (Scottish lady), may come from the music, but could the dance and its music have originated on the French stage? I wondered whether it might have come from a piece given at the Paris fair theatres or the Théâtre Italien, but I can’t find anything obvious among the titles of their respective repertoires. Voltaire wrote a play L’Écossaise, but that did not reach the stage until 1760.
Was there a London connection? ‘Scotch’ dances had been popular in London’s theatres from at least 1700, but there is little to link these with dancing on French stages. One danced entertainment, The Dutch and Scotch Contention; or, Love and Jealousy, which features a Highland couple, was performed in Paris as well as London, but it dates to 1729.
There are, of course, ‘Scotch’ and ‘Highland’ dances in the many editions of Playford’s The Dancing Master as well as elsewhere. I won’t pursue these here. However, one dance did catch my eye as I was looking through various sources. Confess was published in 1651 in The English Dancing Master. It isn’t a ‘Scotch’ dance but its line-up is two men and four women. The dancing master Confess had links with the English court in the early 17th century, so perhaps this dance was intended to have an element of display. There is also a figured minuet for six ladies by Mr Shirley in Pemberton’s 1711 An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, but that takes me a little too far from my original topic.
Research into possible connections and influences between the dances of the 18th century is endlessly fascinating, but there is nothing like performing these choreographies to provide real insights. Here is one version of L’Ecossoise in performance.