A Year of Dance: 1816

1816 is sometimes cited as the year the waltz scandalised London society and thereby became fashionable. That actually happened a few years earlier, but this new couple dance was still attracting a lot of attention. There was other dancing in 1816, too, as advertisements and other contemporary sources reveal.

In France, Louis XVIII was on the throne. At the Paris Opéra, the ballet Le Carnaval de Venise choreographed by Louis-Jacques Milon received its first performance on 22 February 1816. It would stay in the repertory for over 20 years. Other ballets proved less popular. Louis Henry’s Hamlet, given at the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin on 28 February 1816, enjoyed 47 performances but did not outlast the year. Apart from the libretti for these and other ballets, there seem to have been no dance publications in France during 1816.

In Great Britain, the Prince Regent governed for his incapacitated father King George III. The most notable event of the year was the marriage of his daughter Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, on 2 May 1816. The principal theatres staged comedies and tragedies (many were longstanding staples of the repertoire) as well as the annual Christmas pantomimes – Drury Lane offered Harlequin Horner, or the Christmas Pie, while Covent Garden staged Harlequin and the Sylph of the Oak; or, The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green. Pantomimes were already starting to look very similar to their counterparts today. Covent Garden also offered a ballet divertissement entitled The Seraglio, with ‘the Spanish Dancers’ who were advertised in playbills as ‘La Senora Ramos, y el Senor Luengo, (Principal Dancers at the Court of Madrid) – who will introduce their National Dance’. A French ballet company, led by Armand Vestris (son of Auguste Vestris, who had dazzled audiences when he first danced in London in 1781), appeared at the King’s Theatre.

By contrast with Paris, several dance publications appeared in London during 1816. Apart from second editions of Payne’s second, third and fourth sets of quadrilles, there were a number of titles from the dancing master Thomas Wilson. A Companion to the Ball Room appeared for the first time. There was a second edition of The Treasures of Terpsichore, first published in 1809. This collection of country dances confusingly has the alternative title A Companion for the Ball-Room. Wilson also published his own The Quadrille Instructor, as well as a new edition of Le Sylphe. An Elegant Collection of Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1816. Le Sylphe appeared annually between 1813 and 1818. Of particular interest in the context of this post is Wilson’s A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing which explained how to dance the French Slow Waltz, Sauteuse Waltz and Jetté or Quick Sauteuse Waltz as well as the German Waltz.  The publication of Wilson’s Description preceded the appearance of the new dance at the Prince Regent’s ball on 13 July 1816.

Wilson Waltzing Title Page

Thomas Wilson. A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing (1816). Title page


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