Famous French Ballroom Dances

Among the many ballroom dances published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation in the early 1700s, eight choreographies have a claim to be famous. All were published in notation and recorded in manuscript collections numerous times. Almost all of them survived well beyond the first decades of the 18th century. All are by Guillaume-Louis Pecour and all were originally notated and published by Raoul Auger Feuillet. Whether or not these dances continued to be performed in the ballroom, they were known to dancing masters who went on teaching them long after the style and technique they exemplified had gone out of fashion.

These are the dances, with their first date of publication:

La Bourée d’Achille (1700)

La Bourgogne (1700)

La Forlana (1700)

La Mariée (1700)

Le Passepied (1700)

Aimable Vainqueur (1701)

L’Allemande (1702)

La Bretagne (1704)

Most were long-lived, but were they really that famous?

Two of these dances, Aimable Vainqueur and La Mariée, enjoyed extended lives on the London stage and I have looked at them in earlier posts. Five of the dances (including La Mariée) come from Feuillet’s very first collection of Pecour’s ballroom dances, published in 1700 alongside his treatise Choregraphie which explains the new notation system. That treatise and its associated collections of dances were reissued in 1709 and again in 1713. Significantly, these dances (together with the other three) were all included in Pierre Rameau’s Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode dans l’art de d’ecrire ou de traçer toutes sortes de danses de ville, first published in Paris around 1725 and intended to introduce his revised version of Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. Rameau’s Abbrégé was reissued around 1728 and again around 1732. The dances must have become more widely known through the successive reissues of both works.

Two of the dances, La Bourée d’Achille and La Bourgogne, may have had more limited afterlives than the others. Neither featured in later printed treatises and were recorded only in what are thought to be early manuscript collections of notated choreographies. Although La Bourgogne does appear in I.H.P. Maître de Danse oder Tantz-Meister published in Leipzig in 1705, indicating that it quickly became known outside France. It is interesting to note that both of the choreographies have become familiar to modern practitioners of baroque dance, as they are often taught to beginners.

Le Passepied and La Bretagne were published as late as 1760 in Madrid, within Pablo Minguet’s El Noble Arte de Danzar a la Francesa. Le Passepied had also been included in I. H. P. Maître de Danse oder Tantz-Meister, while La Bretagne appeared in the translations of Choregraphie issued in London by Siris and Weaver between 1706 and 1730. L’Allemande, which I have also mentioned in an earlier post, appeared as late as 1765 in Magny’s Principes de Choregraphie, alongside more recent dances. Magny provided it with new music, perhaps to bring it more up-to-date. The choreography with the longest life of all was La Forlana, published around 1780 in Paris in a new notation by Malpied.

These dances probably owed their fame and longevity to a variety of factors, including their music, their original performers, their associations with particular people or places and perhaps the desire of individual dancing masters to find favour in court circles. They underline Europe’s (including Britain’s) widespread and enduring fascination with French court culture and not least its expression through dancing. I hope to be able to say more about them, particularly within an English context, in future posts.

 

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