Category Archives: Ballroom Dancing

English Court Balls, 1685 – 1702

Back in 2019, I wrote a couple of posts about dancing at the English court – The Restoration Court Ball and Catherine of Braganza: a Dancing Queen. Recent research has taken me back to the topic of court balls and I thought I would pursue birthday balls in particular up to the accession of Queen Anne. Charles II’s queen undoubtedly helped to establish the convention of balls to celebrate royal birthdays following the Restoration in 1660. As I said in my post about her, the first ball that we know of celebrating Catherine of Braganza’s birthday was held on 15 November 1666, some four years after her arrival and marriage. Several others are known from subsequent years.

By contrast, there is evidence for only one ball in honour of Charles II’s birthday, held on 29 May 1675. There may be several reasons for this (not least that the King’s restoration coincided with his birthday) but the lack of such celebrations is still worth further research.

Charles II died on 6 February 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James, Duke of York. James II was crowned on 23 April 1685 and the Hall Theatre at Whitehall Palace was apparently first prepared for a ball the following October. The new King’s birthday was on 14 October, while that of his Queen Mary of Modena was on 5 October.

Preparations for a ball in the Hall Theatre are recorded in October 1686, but there are no indications of similar work the following year. By October 1688, Britain was in crisis – William of Orange landed at Torbay on 5 November and on 23 December James II sailed to exile in France.

Researchers seem to have paid little attention to court balls during the reign of William III and Mary II, although surviving evidence indicates that such entertainments continued. The couple were reported to have danced at a ‘greate Ball’ held at the court of Charles II on 15 November 1677, not long after their marriage on 4 November. Despite his evident seriousness, William of Orange is reported to have been a good dancer.

Following their joint acceptance of the throne on 13 February 1689 and their coronation on 11 April that year, it was several months before court entertainments settled into a pattern. There was a ball to celebrate William III’s birthday on 4 November 1689, the first of what would become a series. There seems to have been no parallel entertainment for Mary II’s birthday on 30 April the following year, or indeed in later years, although the Queen apparently hosted a ball for her sister Princess Anne’s birthday on 6 February 1691. William III’s birthday was accompanied by a ball at Whitehall Palace in November 1691, November 1693 and November 1694. There may well have been a ball in November 1692 as well but direct evidence that would confirm this does not survive.

The death of Queen Mary II on 28 December 1694 brought court entertainments to a halt. In November 1695 there was no ball for the birthday of the widowed King. In November 1696, William III’s sister-in-law Princess Anne – who had taken on her late sister’s role of court ‘hostess’ – gave a ball for the King’s birthday and there were further such balls in 1697, 1698 and 1699.

Princess Anne’s birthday was celebrated by a ball at Kensington House on 6 February 1698, although this seems to have been an isolated occasion. I have recently been investigating some of the choreographies by Mr Isaac, dancing master to Princess Anne, and it is possible that those that can plausibly be dated to the 1690s include some that were originally performed at the birthday balls for William III.

It is worth reiterating that the birthday balls that were a feature of Queen Anne’s reign and continued throughout the ensuing Georgian era had their beginning in the 1660s, perhaps under the auspices of the royal dancing master Jerome Gahory (Mr Isaac’s uncle). William III himself tacitly acknowledged the importance of French dancing at his court, continuing the precedent set by Charles II, when Le Palais des Plaisirs was given at Kensington House in 1698 and again when the French dancers Claude Ballon and Anthony L’Abbé danced there before him in 1699. L’Abbé was Isaac’s brother-in-law and would continue the line of royal dancing masters when he was appointed to that post by George I around 1715.

Further research among a range of primary sources is needed on this topic. For this post, I have mainly relied on the following secondary sources:

John van der Kiste. William and Mary (Stroud, 2008)

Anne Somerset. Queen Anne: the politics of passion (London, 2012)

Eleanore Boswell. The Restoration court stage, 1660-1702 (London, 1966). Reprint of the 1932 ed.

A register of English theatrical documents 1660-1737, compiled and ed. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume. 2 vols. (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1991)

See also:

Moira Goff. ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), pp. 537-542

Jennifer Thorp. ‘Monsieur L’Abbé and Le Palais des Plaisirs: a new source for a London spectacle’, Proceedings of the SDHS Conference 2010, pp. 335-343.

Mr. Isaac’s Choreography: The Six Dances – Motifs and Steps

In my previous post, I looked at the opening and closing sections in each of Mr Isaac’s six dances published in 1706. Here, I turn my attention to some of his choreographic motifs and his versions of some of the basic steps of baroque dance.

Choreographic Motifs: The Right Line

As I work on each of these six dances (a project which is still in progress), I am taking note of one of Isaac’s choreographic motifs in particular. In all of the six dances, except for The Rigadoon, there is at least one sequence danced on a right line. In Orchesography, Weaver describes a ‘Right Line’ as ‘that which extends itself in Length, from one end of the Room to the other’ and illustrates it as running from the presence to the far end of the room in the centre of the dancing space. He is, of course, simply translating what Feuillet says (and illustrates) as his ‘ligne droite’. The feature which makes Isaac’s motif surprising is that the couple face one another and dance along this ‘Right Line’, so one of them has their back to the presence and screens the other from view. (I am assuming, perhaps wrongly, that the presence is on the same level as the dancers and not above them).

The Richmond

The Richmond has one sequence on a right line, roughly half way through the choreography, which begins on plate 3 and finishes on plate 4.

Plate 3
Plate 4 (sequences at top and bottom)

With the woman backing the presence, they approach one another and then retreat.  Each then travels to the right for another sequence in which they move towards one another again on a right line, although they are now offset so both dancers can be seen from the front. The sequence of steps is complex, in keeping with this English hornpipe.

The Rondeau

The Rondeau also has a single sequence on a right line, this time around halfway through the minuet section with which the dance ends.

Plate 6 (the sequence begins on the central vertical line)

The man has his back to the presence. The pair approach one another and then retreat to begin a circular line (on the next plate) which will bring them face to face again, this time on a diametrical line.

The Favorite

The Favorite has two sequences on a right line. The first occurs in the chaconne with the lady backing the presence (plate 2). The second is in the first part of the bourrée with the man backing the presence (plate 5)

Plate 2
Plate 5

This was the dance that drew my attention to the motif, simply because in the chaconne the woman performs a coupé battu to the presence before she turns her back to face her partner (at the top of the detail from plate 2) and this includes a plié on the pas battu which makes it seem like a courtesy. (The man does the same step facing upstage). This figure is followed by another on a diametrical line. The second of these motifs, in the bourrée, has the man with his back to the presence and brings the two dancers together to take right hands for a circular figure.

The Spanheim

The Spanheim also has two figures on a right line. The first comes about a quarter of the way through the dance and the second just over half-way, within the full repeat of the music.

Plate 1
Plate 3

The first of these figures takes only three bars, while the second lasts for five bars. The first time, the woman has her back to the presence and the second time she faces it. The notation for the second right line shows the dancers as slightly offset, although their preceding steps and figure indicate that they are indeed face to face.

The Britannia

The last of the six dances, The Britannia, has three sequences on a right line. The first comes within the first half of the bourrée, with the woman backing the presence, and has the couple approaching one another, turning their backs and turning to face each other again.

Plate 4

The second and third right line figures are within the early sections of the minuet. Both are fleeting and the dancers face the sides of the dancing space (or even the presence and end of the room) as much as each other. In the second, the man is closest to the presence and in the third it is the woman.

Plate 7
Plate 8

There is even the hint of yet another figure on a right line, in the form of a single step just a little further on in the minuet, with the man closest to the presence.

Plate 9

Isaac reveals some preferences in his choice of steps for these right line figures. He uses paired jettés-chassés in The Richmond, The Rondeau and The Britannia, and he also turns to pas de bourrée incorporating an emboîté and a plié. Similarly, he likes to use a coupé with an emboîté and an ouverture de jambe leading to a pas sauté – either a jetté, a jetté-chassé or a sissonne (the vertical jump from two feet to one that completes the pas de sissonne).

Isaac’s Steps

For Orchesography, Weaver evidently used the 1701 second edition of Feuillet’s Choregraphie with its ‘Supplement de pas’ (Feuillet had neglected to include the pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet, alongside a variety of other steps in the notation tables of his first edition). Weaver’s ‘Suplement’ is limited to minuet steps, including some of the ‘grace’ steps, but he also includes four pas composés which he attributes to Mr. Isaac.

Weaver’s claim that these steps are ‘seldom, or ever found in any other Dances whatsoever’ needs to be explored in detail. They aren’t in Feuillet’s step tables but it would be worth checking where and when they occur in dances other than those by Isaac.

Looking through the six dances, some other individual steps stand out. Here are some examples.

The Richmond

Plate 3 (an extension with variation of the jetté-chassé).

Plate 5 (the first pas simple continues that of the preceding pas composé, note the additional ornamentation on the right, the man’s side).

The Rondeau

Plate 1 (this can be described as a coupé battu with an added temps and is a step used in other dances. It comes from the opening triple time section).

Plate 3 (a jetté followed by a coupé soutenue, but perhaps also related to Isaac’s fondness for the sort of variations shown in Weaver’s examples of his steps. This is from the second duple time section).

The Favorite

Plate 3 (two pas de bourrée with variations, from the chaconne).

The notation suggests subtle adjustments to the step as the foot moves, as well as directional changes in relation to the partner – assuming that it represents Weaver’s notation rather than the engraver’s interpretation of it.

Plate 5 (a coupé simple emboîté paired with a variant on the coupé avec ouverture de jambe, from the bourrée).

The Rigadoon

In The Rigadoon it is the sequences of steps that are unusual, rather than the individual pas composés. The most famous sequence is that of plate 2, with its glissades and pas de bourrée tracing a square or rectangular figure.

The glissades (paired coupés soutenues travelling sideways) are a feature of the step vocabulary of The Rigadoon and can be found in other dances as well, notably The Favorite.

There is also the rhythmic challenge posed by a sequence on plate 4. Three successive steps, each of which has a different number and placing of demi-coupés.

The couple travel sideways towards each other and are, at this point in the figure, quite close to the presence.

The Spanheim

Plate 3 (the two steps on the left can each be described as a pas de bourrée with a beat as well as the concluding jetté – here an assemblé – with added changes of direction).

The Britannia

Plate 1 (two jettés-chassés followed by a jetté, from the opening triple time section).

Plate 2 (a hop ornamented with a rond de jambe followed by a demi-coupé. The next step is two demi-coupés in succession. These are from the triple time section).

Plate 4 (two pas de bourrée with emboîté, ending in a plié leading to a sissonne, from the bourrée).

I hope to look at Isaac’s minuets in The Rondeau and The Britannia separately as both use a vocabulary of steps which go beyond the usual variations on and around the pas de menuet, contretemps du menuet and grace steps.

In all these steps, we can see Isaac not only constructing new pas composés from otherwise familiar elements, combining these in new ways, but also ornamenting these compound steps spatially as well as dynamically. It takes time and practice to master Isaac’s steps and sequences, which are an integral part of his idiosyncratic approach to the choreography of ballroom danses à deux.

Mr Isaac’s Choreography: The Six Dances – Opening and Closing Figures

Apart from a solo Chacone and Minuet for a girl (perhaps two separate solos), Mr Isaac’s choreography survives in twenty-one ballroom duets published between 1706 and 1716. Of these, eleven were said to have been ‘Perform’d at Court’ (another, The Northumberland, may also have been danced at court), while another seven were advertised as ‘Made for Her Majesty’s Birth Day’. Two were called a ‘new Dance for the Year’ – they were danced on stage and may have been originally intended for that purpose.

In her 1985 thesis (p. 229), French Court Dance in England: A Study of the Sources, Carol Marsh identified nine country dances that used music from Isaac’s ballroom dances (some used only one section from the music for a multi-partite dance). There appears to be no suggestion that these were created by Mr Isaac himself, although most were published close in date to his ballroom duets. There is also Isaac’s Maggot, in the ninth edition of The Dancing-Master published in 1695, which might be by him. I don’t intend to pursue any of these here or in future posts, although they may well be worth further research by those well-versed in country dances and their history.

In this post, I will look at two of the choreographic conventions demonstrated, or disregarded, in the six of Isaac’s dances published together in 1706. I will investigate some of his more idiosyncratic figures and steps in my next post. Behind this line of enquiry lies the issue of the notation, what it can (and can’t) notate, notational errors and (with Isaac’s other dances) the different approaches of individual notators and engravers. John Weaver was the notator of the six Isaac dances (which were published the same year as Orchesography, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie), but at least two engravers prepared the plates from which they were printed. I will touch on these issues in my analyses, although work on the styles and practices of engravers, and notators, really needs to be done through close examination of the originals.

Early in my involvement in baroque dance, I encountered what were identified as choreographic conventions within the genre. There were two in particular: dances opened with a passage travelling downstage towards the audience, or for ballroom dances – the presence; they ended with another passage travelling upstage so that the dancers returned to their starting point. These conventions provide a useful starting point for a brief analysis of Isaac’s six dances.

Here are the opening and closing figures for each of the six dances.

The Richmond:

In the opening A section of the music for The Richmond (4 bars), the two dancers move downstage on a diagonal but quickly turn to face each other. They move sideways for one step, then turn to face the presence for two steps. Isaac divides the focus of the dancers between each other and the presence. They are closer together than appears on the notation.

The closing sequence (the final 4 bars, a petite reprise to the last section of the music) has the couple (who are improper) take inside hands as the man moves upstage and lady downstage. They then turn and repeat their pas composé taking other hands. On the next, penultimate, step they let go hands and change sides for their final step in which the man dances backwards and the lady dances forwards. She makes a half turn on the coupé soutenu into fourth position, with which they both finish.

The Rondeau:

Apart from one step, in bar 3, in which the couple face each other for a brief acknowledgement, the convention of facing and travelling downstage towards the presence is observed throughout the first 8-bar musical section. The two coupés sans poser sideways (in bars 4 and 5) would have travelled less than the notation suggests.

The Rondeau ends with a minuet and the closing figure uses the convention of the man travelling backwards, while his lady travels forwards – as if they had taken both hands, although no hand holds are shown on the notation. His final coupé soutenu ends in fourth position, while hers ends in first position implying that they immediately perform an honour.

The Rigadoon:

Isaac gives The Rigadoon, his most famous dance, an entirely conventional opening sequence, with the two dancers travelling downstage side-by-side towards the presence throughout the first A section (before turning their backs as they begin the second A).

The closing sequence is actually a repeat, with variations, of the steps from the opening of The Rigadoon. The man moves backwards as the woman dances forwards and she turns to face the presence only on her final step – both ending with a coupé soutenu into fourth position.

The Favorite:

Apart from their initial steps in The Favorite, which include coupés sideways towards and away from each other, the couple travel directly downstage side-by-side towards the presence, making this a conventional opening.

The Favorite is another dance for which the music ends with a petite reprise. In these final four bars, the two dancers face each other or upstage, travelling upstage on a diagonal before ending with a quarter-turn (not indicated on the notation) into a coupé soutenu into fourth position.

The Spanheim:

In The Spanheim the dancers face one another on their first step and travel sideways downstage on the next, before turning to face the presence to continue travelling downstage with their next two steps to complete the first A section of the music.

The final musical section of The Spanheim has six bars. For the first three the couple travel upstage together, turning to face the presence at the end of their second step. The floor pattern for the last three bars is more complex, using diagonals and a curving track before they make a quarter turn to face the presence at the very end. The man does a coupé soutenu into fourth position and the woman into first, so this dance also seems to end with an immediate honour.

The Britannia:

The A section in The Britannia is longer than usual, with 10 bars, and begins unconventionally with the dancers facing one another for the first 5 bars, before turning to face the presence for a sequence which travels sideways moving away, towards and away from each other.

The Britannia ends with a minuet, like The Rondeau, and Isaac also uses a variation on the taking of both hands (in this dance the notation indicates that the couple do take hands). Their final retreat is shorter (three bars of music – equivalent to one and a half minuet steps) and ends with coupés soutenus into fourth and first respectively, so presumably straight into an honour.

Although each of these dances keep to the general conventions in their opening and closing passages, Isaac is inventive in his variations of these. In all but The Rigadoon, his dancers acknowledge each other in some way. In The Richmond, The Spanheim and The Britannia their opening steps and figures are directed to each other and they only turn to the presence some way into the opening section. I am wondering whether these differences, subtle as they may seem, point to different contexts for their performance or perhaps to Isaac interpretating a theme within his music or the dance’s title. As I work on these choreographies, I question how formal were the balls at which they were performed. Were some of them danced at private or semi-private events before a small royal and aristocratic group, rather than at royal balls given before a wider audience?

The variations in the closing steps are interesting. In Le Maître à danser, published some twenty and more years later than the creation of Isaac’s six dances, Rameau specifies that at the ‘grand Bal du Roy’ and ‘Bals reglez’ honours must be made at both the beginning and end of each couple dance (pages 54, 56-57). These honours are rarely notated in the surviving dances and Weaver’s notations for Isaac seem to hint at differences in practice, signalled by the finishing position of the woman. Do these, too, point to a less formal context for the performance of some of the dances?

Monsieur Gherardi and the Couple Allemande

Looking back over my various Dance in History posts, I can see that I have written next to nothing about the couple allemande which became popular in the ballroom (and on the stage) in the late 1760s. This is probably because I have had very few opportunities either to learn or dance it, although quite some time ago I did bring together a folder of research notes about this duet. I am currently involved in some research which is concerned with ballroom dancing in the late 1700s and early 1800s and my attention was caught by what Monsieur Gherardi had to say in his Twelve new allemandes and twelve new minuets, published in London in 1770. This is actually a collection of pieces of dance music, to which Gherardi prefixes some quite lengthy remarks on the couple allemande, which I here transcribe in full.

“To the Lovers of the Allemande Dances.

The satisfaction, which every one expressed, who saw the Allemande Dances two Years ago, gave me room to hope a diversion, so much in fashion throughout the major part of Europe, would, at last, take place in the public, and private Balls of this kingdom also: I had the greater reason for this agreable supposition, on account of the repeated and continual encomiums they met with from almost – and, indeed, I might say, entirely – all whom I then had the honour of instructing.

Consequences however have deceived me; I am in hopes therefore it will not be unacceptable if I endeavour to point out the cause of this disappointment; especially as my principal motive is to remove those Impediments which obstruct the enjoyment of one of the most elegant and innocent amusements of the polite world.

As a Professor of dancing, I could impute it to several circumstances, of which I have had ocular experience during the course of my Instructions; the principal of which is, a fundamental error in the generality of Masters, which, perhaps, operating with the too common negligence in Pupils of attending even to the best directions, has chiefly contributed to the disparagement both of the Art in question, and of its Instructor likewise.

As I address myself to the lovers of the Allemande Dances, I do not apprehend the censure of obtruding the following Reflections and Advice; my earnest and only desire being, to furnish them with the most certain and effectual methods, of arriving at a masterly execution in this elegant diversion: a Point which, when obtained, cannot fail of adding to their pleasure, and of removing, or, at least diminishing, their fatigue.

The Allemande comprehends a number of minutiæ, in which, all, who pretend to any knowledge of it, should be instructed, which must necessarily concur to its perfection.

In the first Place; the Gentleman and his Partner must never close their hands, or fingers: they must, on the contrary, keep them almost disengaged, so as to turn easily within each other: & above all, take care not to loose their hold during the passes unless the necessity of the case requires it.

They must also be match’d as much as possible in point of height; by which means the passes will be render’d more facile, and consequently less fatiguing; or if there must be a difference in their size, the Man’s being a little taller than his Partner will occasion no material inconvenience, provided he shews his Judgment (which if he is adroit he may) by making use of his advantage, in point of height, in favouring the steps of the Lady, who may not be so skilfull as himself.

In order to dance the Allemande well, a nice knowledge of the different steps is also necessary: it has but few for such as make it only the amusement of the Evening; but for those who aspire after excellence, there are a sufficient number to be employed at quitting and joining hands, & also during the momentary interval of separation; which are properly the critical times for displaying the address and ingenuity of the Artist.

But what astonishes me is, that in a Country where the National dance is so extreamly lively and animated, a kind of Allemande, which being much more so, seems better suited to the taste and genius of the People, should have been wholly omitted: the kind I am speaking of, is called Boiteuse; it is in great esteem at Strasburgh, where they dance it to perfection: the Air of it is brisk and sudden, and has its particular steps and passes: to dwell upon its beauties would be unnecessary; they may be discovered by looking over the Airs themselves, for which purpose I have inserted several of them in my collection.

There are still two other kinds of Allemandes called Troteuse and Sauteuse, or the Trotting and Leaping kinds; but as each of these includes several subdivisions also, I shall defer any consideration of them to another opportunity.

Notwithstanding several Masters of this Metropolis (in order to distinguish their Scholars) have endeavour’d to mix the natural steps of the Hornpipe, with those of the Allemande, and which they have effected in the Contre dances Francioises [sic], or Cotillons, I will venture, without design of prejudicing their reputation or their interest, to warn such as desire really to distinguish themselves, from following this method; it being entirely repugnant to the true Allemande; in which nothing but an uniformity in the Steps, and an easy performance of the Passes, can procure perfection or applause: in fact, is it not ridiculous to see a Dance between two Persons, executed in one way by the Gentleman, and in another by the Lady? and which must very frequently be the unavoidable Consequence in the present Case.

It is upon long experience that all my remarks are founded. In Germany, where I resided at the Margrave of Baireith’s, in quality of Ballet-Master, principal Dancer, and dancing master to the Court, and to the reigning Dutchess of Wirtemburg, the Margrave’s Daughter, I never observed, either among the Saxons, Suabians, or Strasburghers, other than a perfect correspondence between the steps of the Gentleman and his fair Partner; and if these People, the first in the World for Allemande Dances, did not put a proper Value upon this correspondence, may we not suppose their Masters would be directed to furnish them with the requisite varieties; for which Task they are certainly as capable as those of this Nation!

The following are therefore the directions I would recommend to be observ’d in the Allemande. The Gentleman must, in the first place, take care not to make his Allemande too long, and 2dly. to avoid every pass which being in the least difficult to him, must be so likewise to the Lady; and the passes to be rejected, are such as, where the body being half bent, the Man turns three or four times round, under his own and the Lady’s Arms; a Position which, besides the indelicacy of it, subjects her to the almost inevitable necessity of spoiling her cloathes by the Powder and Pomatum in his Hair; not to mention the consequent disagreable discomposure of that material part of the dress of the Gentleman; giving his Head the same elegant appearance as if he had just popped it out of a Sack.

We must therefore endeavour to conform to the present prevailing taste amongst those who Pique themselves on dancing the Allemande well; which is, to make but few passes, and even those very easy too: such as we call Mirroirs, or Regards, are, for their great facility, extreamly in use, and, on that account, very proper for the Ladies.

In a tour which I made last Year to Paris, I was present at an Assembly, and saw a tall Gentleman dance the Allemande with a Lady only ten years of age, for at least a quarter of an Hour, without once passing under her Arms; every figure was in Mirroir, the execution was elegant and pleased me infinitely! I must likewise observe the advantage there is of previously practising every dance at home, under the inspection of a Master; by this means each party, being more thoroughly acquainted with the necessary passes, is more certain and easy in the execution of what they so well know; and every thing becomes , of course, greatly more agreable.

To evince what I assert, we need only reflect on the Allemandes of the Stage Dancers, who acquire the Judgment, and Agility, they display, in the execution of their art, by nothing so much as by the mere dint of frequent repetitions of the same Dance; and as a proof still more convincing, it will not be improper to instance the astonishing approbation and success which the Allemande has met with during the space of two Years it has been danced in London at the Public Theatres; and are still, and deservedly, seen with new delight.

I recommend to the Admirers and Learners of the Allemandes, to weigh the few foregoing Observations, and if they find the Theory (as I flatter myself they will) founded on Reason and Judgment, to avail themselves of it in the Practice: for in what-ever situation of Life a Person may be, if he attempts a Science, and does not study it with assiduity and precision, so as to attain to some degree of perfection, he certainly throws a damp on Emulation in others; and thereby injures that very Science, which as a Student therein, it should be his warmest Endeavour to advance.

Persuaded of this truth from the earliest part of Life; I have, for many Years past, devoted my whole time and study to the Profession in which I am engaged, with a view of rendering myself, in my little Province, useful to, and deserving the countenance and approbation of, the Public in general; but more particularly of those who have already honoured, or do at present honour me, with their commands, and presence at my Academy, held twice a Week at my own House.”

Who was Gherardi? He provides some information about his career in his remarks, describing himself as ‘Ballet-Master, principal Dancer, and dancing master’ to the Margrave of Bayreuth and his daughter the Duchess of Württemburg, although he does not tell us when or how long he worked for them. His patrons were evidently Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1711-1763) and Elisabeth Fredericke Sophie of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1732-1780) who married Charles Eugene, Duke of Württemburg in 1748. Her mother was Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia, sister of Frederick the Great.

On the title pages of his various collections, Gherardi also describes himself as ‘One of the Principal Dancers of ye Opera at Paris’ and ‘Ballet Master and principal Dancer of the Opera in London’. The Biographical Dictionary of Actors describes Gherardi as dancing and then becoming ballet master at London’s opera house, the King’s Theatre, between 1760 and 1765. The same source suggests that he was the son of Jean-Baptiste Gherardi (b.1696) of the Comédie Italienne in Paris and the grandson of Evariste Gherardi (1663-1700), who had been Harlequin and the author of numerous comedies for the famous commedia dell’arte troupe based in Paris until its expulsion by Louis XIV in 1697. Gherardi himself seems to have been a Harlequin, as well as a dancer, at the Paris Opéra between 1740 and 1746 and subsequently to have danced at various other European theatres. In her book The Pre-Romantic Ballet, Marian Hannah Winter records that Gherardi’s father had sent him for training to Louis ‘le grand’ Dupré before entering the Paris Opéra (although she does not cite her source). Gherardi was still teaching in London in 1774, for the Public Advertiser for 3 March 1774 carried a notice for his ball at Carlisle House, Soho Square – he was presumably still at Rathbone Place in Soho, as shown in his earlier publications. He is certainly worth further research to document more fully his career in Paris and Europe as well as in London.

Gherardi’s remarks on the couple allemande are of particular interest because they go beyond the information to be found in the various contemporary French treatises on this dance. He mentions that the allemande has a number of steps, associated particularly with the ‘Boiteuse’ allemande as danced in Strasbourg. He refers to ‘Troteuse’ and ‘Sauteuse’ allemandes not mentioned in the French treatises. In his Almanach dansant ou positions et attitudes de l’allemande of 1770, Guillaume says ‘Il y a plusieurs sortes de Pas qui servent à danser l’allemande’ but does not describe them, restricting his explanation to the steps ‘plus usités & analogues à cette danse’. I can’t help wondering whether both Gherardi and Guillaume might be thinking of some of the steps included within Clement’s Passepied et Allemande à Quatre published in notation in 1771. Do any German sources survive to tell us more about the couple allemande?

Here is an English illustration of the allemande in full flow:


Philip Highfill Jr at al. Biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800. 16 vols. (Carbondale, 1973-1993)

Marian Hannah Winter. The pre-romantic ballet (London, 1974)

Mr Isaac’s Six Dances

A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court; … All Compos’d by Mr. Isaac and Writ Down in Characters, by John Weaver was published in London in 1706. There is evidence to suggest that some individual dances had already appeared, but it was certainly the earliest collection of dances to be published in London in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. It seems to have been intended to accompany Orchesographie, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie, which appeared the same year. It was also the first collection of English choreographies and close analysis suggests that these had a character quite distinct from the French ball dances being published in notation in Paris around the same time. We have no portrait of Weaver, but there is this print of Mr Isaac, engraved by George White after a portrait by Louis Goupy which seems not to survive.

The Collection of Ball-Dances was ‘printed for the Author’, presumably Weaver who had produced the notations and who had signed the work’s dedication to the Duke of Richmond. It was published by subscription – 47 names appear in the List of Subscribers, all of whom were men and most (if not all) were dancing masters. Both Isaac and his brother-in-law Anthony L’Abbé subscribed and the list is otherwise almost identical to that for Orchesography (see my recent post Subscription Lists and London’s Dancing Masters: John Weaver for more information).

So far as we know, the Collection survives in only two copies now in the USA, at the Library of Congress and Harvard University Library respectively. There is a possible third copy at the British Library, bound with other notated dances, which I hope to be able to discuss in a separate post in due course.

The order of the dances on the title page reflects their order in the volume.

This order is confirmed by pagination in the top right-hand corner of each plate, although three of the dances – The Rondeau, The Favourite and The Spanheim – have additional individual paginations in the top left-hand corner of each of their pages. The Britannia is engraved in a different style from the rest of the choreographies, not only does it have a decorative border on its first plate but the notated steps have different profiles. These details raise questions about the compilation of the collection, which may have been brought together after some of the dances had been notated for separate publication. I hope to be able to discuss some of these possibilities when I look at the individual dances in later posts.

The dedicatee of A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court was Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond (1672-1723), the son of Charles II and his mistress Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. In his dedication to the Duke, John Weaver writes ‘from your Grace it was that I receiv’d the first encouragement in the Subscription towards this Undertaking, and all, or most of the following Dances, have been Honour’d with your Grace’s Performance’. This portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller depicts the duke around the time the Collection was published.

Weaver suggests that Richmond had provided some financial support for the publication of the Collection, although his name does not appear in the list of subscribers. Was there another unpublished list of the royal and aristocratic contributors to the costs of publication?

There is also the question of which dances the duke had in fact performed. Weaver’s uncertainty (he writes ‘all, or most’) is perplexing. We know that Isaac was the creator of all six choreographies and he would surely have been able to provide Weaver with accurate information about their performers (Isaac and Weaver were close collaborators over some years). So, did the duke perform only some of the choreographies when they were first given at court, perhaps dancing others at private gatherings to which Isaac was not privy? Whichever ones he did dance, who did he partner?

According to evidence presented by the American dance historian Carol Marsh, in her 1985 thesis ‘French Court Dance in England’, the six dances in this collection may range in date of composition from 1690 to 1706. She draws on the publication date of the music for each dance to indicate when the corresponding choreographies might have been created (the resulting chronology does not relate to the order of the dances in the volume). Isaac’s ball dances thus belong to the court culture of William III and Mary II as well as the early years of Queen Anne. There was more dancing at court in the 1690s than many historians realise, which might also have implications for our understanding of dancing on the London stage during that decade.

Isaac’s six dances have other features which are important for our understanding of ballroom dancing of the period. Here is a summary of basic information about each of the notated choreographies, in the order in which they appear in the Collection, together with an image of the first plate of notation.

The Richmond: 1695 or before. The music was published in The Self-Instructor (London, 1695). The dance is a hornpipe in 3/2, with the musical structure AABBCCDDEEFF’ (A=B=C=D=E=4 F= 8, F’=4 as a petit reprise), and has 52 bars of music.

The Rondeau: c1693. The music was published that year in the 7th edition of Apollo’s Banquet. The dance uses music in a slow 3 and duple time, with a concluding minuet. As the title suggests, the musical structure of the first part is AABACAA (A=B=C=8. A is the slow 3, B and C are in duple time). The musical structure of the minuet is also AABACAA (A=B=C=8, written in 3, i.e. 3/4 rather than 6/4). There are 112 bars of music in all.

The Rigadoon: c1695-1698. An alternative version of the music for Isaac’s choreography was published in Theatre Musick I in 1698 (there is no concordance for Weaver’s version). The dance is a rigaudon and was acknowledged as Isaac’s most famous choreography. The musical structure is AABB (A=4 B=6), played four times to provide 80 bars of music for the dance.

The Favorite: c1690 or earlier. The music was published in the 6th edition of Apollo’s Banquet in 1690, although it can also be found in the Deusiesme recueil des dances et contre-dances (Amsterdam, 1688). It is a chaconne followed by a bourrée. The chaconne has three variations (4+4 bars, 4+4 bars, 8+8 bars) and is played through twice. The bourrée is AABBB’ (A=B=8, B’=4 and is a petit reprise). In all the dance has 100 bars of music.

The Spanheim: may date between 1701 and 1705. The music was published in the Second Book of the Lady’s Banquet in 1706 and there was a country dance to the tune published in 1705. This dance is a gigue, with the musical structure AABBCCDD (A=4 B=6 C=4 D=6), which is repeated to give 80 bars of music.

The Britannia: this was the dance created for Queen Anne’s birthday on 6 February 1706. Although the music was published in 1706 by John Walsh and Joseph Hare together with other ‘new Minuets, Rigadoons, and French Dances, danced at Balls and publick Entertainments’, no copy of this is known to survive. This is another multi-partite choreography, beginning with a section in triple time, followed by a bourrée and then a minuet. The triple-time opening section has the musical structure AA (A=10). The bourrée is also AA (A=14), while the minuet has a rondeau structure AABACAA (A=B=C=8). The whole dance has 104 bars of music.

The music for The Britannia, along with that of many of the dances published after 1706, has been attributed to James Paisible, who may also have provided music for some of the earlier choreographies.

Over the years, I have performed The Richmond and The Favorite and I have worked on The Rondeau and The Rigadoon. I have never danced either The Spanheim or The Britannia, although I am looking forward to learning both of them in due course (albeit on my own, which makes analysis of these duets tricky).

There are another fifteen notated duets by Mr. Isaac, some of which can also be dated to the period between 1690 and 1706, although all were ostensibly first published after 1706. These begin with The Union of 1707 (another choreography I have danced) and end with The Morris of 1716 (a dance I hope to work on at a later date).

All of Isaac’s dances are challenging and even perplexing – as the above short descriptions of the six choreographies in the 1706 Collection suggest. They are very different in style (and even in technique) to the contemporary duets created by Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Were they the product of Isaac’s personal approach to choreography, or do they reflect the idiosyncrasies of English court dance in the French style? Isaac was part French and may well have trained in Paris (he certainly danced in some of the ballets given at the court of Louis XIV), which adds to the questions surrounding his dances. I will try to discuss each of these six dances in separate posts as and when I have done sufficient work on them. I have written on Isaac and some of his dances before and I give a list of these earlier posts below, for those who might be interested.

Earlier Posts

Isaac’s Rigadoon

Isaac’s Rigadoon: the Choreography

Reconstructing Isaac’s Rigadoon

Mr Isaac’s ‘The Favorite A Chaconne Danc’d by Her Majesty’

Further Reading

Carol Marsh, ‘French Court Dance in England, 1706-1740: a Study of the Sources’ (unpublished PhD thesis, City University of New York, 1985)

Meredith Ellis Little and Carol G. Marsh, La Danse Noble: An Inventory of Dances and Sources (Williamstown, 1992)

Jennifer Thorp, ‘Mr. Isaac, Dancing Master’, Dance Research, 24.2 (Winter, 2006), 117-137

Moira Goff ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), 537-542

Reasons to be Bored by Early Dance. II: Politeness

Politeness was an 18th-century invention by the English, so for this post I won’t need to bother about the earlier periods. 15th-century Italian ideas like ‘sprezzatura’ and ‘cortesia’ can be safely ignored. We owe the idea of politeness to two aristocrats, Lord Shaftesbury (for the theory) and Lord Chesterfield (for the practice). Politeness should not be confused with good manners. The UK early dance world has this distinction by heart – bad manners are the rule where politeness is concerned.

So, what is politeness as currently practised in the best of the UK early dance circles?  It rests on the repeated use of the word ‘never’.

  • Never show any enjoyment of dancing;
  • Never walk with energy or grace;
  • Never do steps properly;
  • Never pay any attention to those you happen to be dancing with;

Ignorance of these rules puts a dancer at risk of vulgarity. Rameau warned repeatedly against affectation (implying that it lacked politeness and was therefore vulgar). Although he was handicapped by a) being French and b) writing well before the publication of Lord Chesterfield’s Letters (which showed how true politeness should be practised), we should do what Rameau says. He was surely counselling the sort of dour restraint seen at too many early dance balls in the UK.

There are other precepts for politeness that must be followed.

  • Never put yourself forward for anything to do with dancing;
  • Never agree to do any dancing without being asked repeatedly (and then decline);
  • Never fail to point out when others can’t dance properly;

There is, of course, one ‘always’.

  • Always point out when other dancers fail the test of true authenticity.

I will explore the role of authenticity in early dance next.

Subscription Lists and London’s Dancing Masters: Kellom Tomlinson

In some ways, the List of Subscribers to Kellom Tomlinson’s 1735 manual The Art of Dancing is the opposite to that for Anthony L’Abbé’s A New Collection of Dances. The publications are, of course, quite different from one another. Tomlinson’s manual of dancing is aimed at dancing masters and his, as well as their, pupils. L’Abbé’s collection of notated stage dances was surely intended for the far more specialised audience reflected by his subscribers, most of whom were professional dancers and dancing masters.

Kellom Tomlinson attracted 169 subscribers to L’Abbé’s 68, a third of whom were women (as I have pointed out, there were no female subscribers to L’Abbé’s collection). Tomlinson’s list ranges through dancing masters, nearly half of whom were (or had been) professional dancers on the London stage, as well as engravers, printers and booksellers, alongside members of the gentry and aristocracy. The gentry were predominant, accounting for around two-thirds of all the subscribers. Does this suggest the breadth of Tomlinson’s clientèle, or simply his ability to market his treatise (with or without actual teaching) to a significant number of pupils and their families? Here is the ‘List of the Subscribers Names’.

The publication history of The Art of Dancing is far from straightforward and despite a number of accounts of it (see the reading list below) still calls for fresh, detailed research. I looked at the rivalry between Tomlinson and John Essex, over the latter’s translation of Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître à danser, in my post The Dancing Master’s Art Explained: Pierre Rameau, John Essex and Kellom Tomlinson. Closer reading of Tomlinson’s advertisements suggests a number of issues I did not pursue there. In the context of this post, it is worth saying again that Tomlinson had first advertised for subscribers to The Art of Dancing in 1726, but publication of his treatise was deferred until 1735. Over that period of delay, twenty of his subscribers died, including Thomas Howard, 8th Duke of Norfolk (1683-1732) and the dancing master, notator and publisher Edmund Pemberton (d. 1733). In this post, I will not go through the List of Subscribers in detail but I will look at some of the identifiable groups as well as some of the individuals within it. Tomlinson dedicated most of his engraved illustrations to individual pupils and I will also look at one or two of these.

Within the context of subscribers to works by dancing masters, one group of particular interest is that comprised of other teachers of dancing. Twenty-two men in the list have the epithet ‘Dancing-Master’. Ten of them can readily be identified as professional dancers. L’Abbé is there, as is John Essex, P. Siris and John Weaver – all of whom had themselves published treatises, as well as notated dances and collections of dances. Thomas Caverley was a subscriber, too – hardly surprising since the treatise focusses on ballroom dancing and Tomlinson had been his pupil. Among those dancing masters still appearing professionally on the stage, Leach Glover stands out as one of the leading dancers at Covent Garden who would shortly succeed Anthony L’Abbé as royal dancing master. It is interesting that the other subscribers include John Rich, described as ‘Master of the Theatres Royal in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, and Covent-Garden’.

The female subscribers to The Art of Dancing include Mrs Booth, ‘the celebrated Dancer’. She had recently retired from the stage when the treatise was finally published, but may well have set down her name while she was still London’s leading female professional dancer. The list also has Mrs Bullock, ‘Dancer, at the Theatre in Goodman’s Fields’. Ann Bullock (née Russell) had begun her career around 1714 and by 1735 was in her final years on the stage. Like Mrs Booth, she had been among the dancers represented in L’Abbé’s choreographies in A New Collection of Dances in the mid-1720s.

Turning away from dancers and teachers of dancing, Tomlinson’s list includes five engravers. Two of them – George Bickham Junior and John Clark, are recorded as engravers who had worked on the plates added to The Art of Dancing. There were, in addition, two booksellers and a printer – Messieurs Knapton and Henry Lintot (who subscribed for three copies) were the booksellers and James Mechel was the printer. Were they involved in printing and selling Tomlinson’s manual? His title page says only ‘Printed for the Author’ and that it could be ‘had of him’ at his home address.

The feature that most clearly sets Tomlinson’s List of Subscribers apart from its predecessors is the number of individuals who may reasonably be assumed to have engaged him as a dancing master to teach them or their children. They make up around 80% of the whole list and many of them are identified with particular places, mostly in England. Tomlinson may well have taught the aristocracy in their London houses, but other evidence suggests that he travelled to their country seats and taught in the surrounding areas too.

Among his subscribers is ‘The Lady Curzon of Kedleston in Derbyshire’ and plate six in book one is dedicated to ‘my ever respected Scholars Nathaniel Curzon and Assheton Curzon Esqrs. Sons to Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedleston’.

Lady Curzon was Mary (née Assheton), wife of Sir Nathaniel 4th Baronet Curzon and the mother of the two boys. This portrait of her with them, by Andrea Soldi and painted around 1738 to 1740 a few years after the publication of The Art of Dancing, hangs at Kedleston.

Tomlinson’s plate was not intended to portray the two boys themselves, who in 1735 were only nine and six years old. As he declared in his Preface to The Art of Dancing:

‘The Figures in each Plate are designed only to show the Postures proper in Dancing, but not to bear the least Resemblance to any Person to whom the Plate is inscribed.’

Did Tomlinson use dancers as models for these images (which he ‘invented’ himself) and, if so, who might they have been?

A chance discovery, made a few years ago in the course of another line of research, provides additional evidence of Tomlinson’s assiduous use of advertising to further his career as a dancing master. An advertisement in the Derby Mercury for 12 December 1734, shows that he had been teaching ‘in and about’ Derby (and so in the vicinity of Kedleston).

He must also have been teaching the young Nathaniel and Assheton Curzon at Kedleston in the summer of 1734. Was that when he secured a subscription from Lady Curzon of Kedleston, or had his teaching and her patronage begun earlier in London? It is surely significant that another ten of the subscribers to The Art of Dancing describe themselves as being ‘in and about’ Derby. Tomlinson evidently established an ongoing professional relationship with the area, for he was still advertising in the Derby Mercury as late as 1756 (Tomlinson died in 1761). This advertisement is dated 11 June 1756:

Kellom Tomlinson has been the subject of research, as the reading list below shows, but I can’t help thinking that there is far more work that can be done on him, The Art of Dancing and his various circles of patrons and pupils.

Reading list:

Carol G. Marsh, ‘French Court Dance in England, 1706-1740: A Study of the Sources’ (unpublished PhD thesis, City University of New York, 1985), see pp. 11-121, 150-155.

A Work Book by Kellom Tomlinson, ed. Jennifer Shennan (Stuyvesant, NY, 1992)

Jennifer Thorp, ‘“Borrowed Grandeur and Affected Grace”: Perceptions of the Dancing-Master in Early Eighteenth-Century England’, Music in Art, XXXVI, no. 1-2 (Spring-Fall 2011), 9-27 (see pp. 18, 20-21)

Jennifer Thorp, ‘Picturing a Gentleman Dancing Master: A Lost Portrait of Kellom Tomlinson’, Dance Research, 30.1 (Summer 2012), 70-79 (see pp. 74-76)

Reconstructing The Louvre (Aimable Vainqueur)

I have written about Pecour’s 1701 duet Aimable Vainqueur in at least three posts. This popular dance was mentioned in Favourite Ballroom Duets and Famous French Ballroom Dances. In Aimable Vainqueur on the London Stage, I looked at one strand of the performance history of The Louvre – the title by which Aimable Vainqueur was known in London’s theatres. In this post, I will look at the process of reconstructing the dance, as I have been doing just that using John Weaver’s version of the notation (titled The Louvre), which he included in the second edition of Orchesography in 1722. This is the version I will use for my exploration here.

The Louvre (Aimable Vainqueur) is a loure to music from André Campra’s 1700 opera Hésione. I don’t know whether London audiences knew that, possibly not as they were unlikely to have heard of the opera, but they must have appreciated the tune or the dance would not have survived in the entr’acte repertoire as long as it did. The music in Weaver’s version, as in Feuillet’s original of 1701, has the time signature 3 and the dance notation has one pas composé to each bar of music. Other loures, including the first part of Mr Isaac’s ball dance The Pastorall of 1713, have music in 6/4 with two pas composés to each bar of music on the dance notation. I will return to the relationship between the dance and the music later.

Weaver’s notation has some minor differences from Feuillet’s original, which suggest that he derived his version from Richard Shirley’s notation of the dance, published in London in 1715. Weaver copied Shirley’s floor patterns on the second plate as well as some of Shirley’s notations of individual steps – and he repeated some of Shirley’s mistakes. I assume that Shirley had access to Feuillet’s notation and either he, or possibly his engraver, made the changes. The Louvre has six plates of notation, with the dance divided between them in a way which reflects the music’s structure and phrasing. The music is AABB (A=14 B=24) and plate 1 has the first A, plate 2 has the second A, plate 3 has bars 1-8 of the first B, plate 4 has bars 9-24 of the first B and the second B section is similarly divided between plates 5 and 6.

The notation is clearly set out, although it is not without mistakes and the floor patterns do not always accurately reflect the spatial relationships between the two dancers. Regular users of such notated choreographies will know that it is not possible to entirely reconcile the patterns on the page with those to be performed within the dancing space. Here is the first plate of Weaver’s notation.

All the steps of The Louvre are from the basic vocabulary of baroque dance. The pas de bourée is most often used and the coupé appears in a number of different versions, including coupé simple, coupé à deux mouvements, coupé avec ouverture de jambe and coupé sans poser le corps. Pecour’s figures and step sequences have a classical simplicity (a feature of much of his choreography), although I can’t help feeling that Aimable Vainqueur may have been expressive rather than abstract in performance. The dance takes its title from the first words of an air sung by Venus in act 3 scene 5 of Hésione. The tune was used in the opera for a dance by ‘Ombres de Amans fortunéz’, the shades of happy lovers. At the Paris Opéra, the leading dancers were Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse Subligny and it seems unlikely that the choreography they performed closely resembled the ballroom duet created by Pecour for performance before Louis XIV at Marly by several pairs of courtiers – although the two may well have shared some passages. I have to admit that, when I am trying to reconstruct notated dances, it is important that I know about the context for both the music and the dance to help with my interpretation.

The Louvre is in mirror symmetry, except for the last 16 bars of the first B section and bars 9 to 18 of the second B in which the dancers are on the same foot and so in axial symmetry. The sequence within the first B section is of particular choreographic interest and I will analyse it in some detail.

The duet begins conventionally, with the couple side by side and the woman on the man’s right for a passage which travels directly towards the presence. I will use some stage terms to delineate the dancing space, although these are not really appropriate for the ballroom. The dance begins with two coupés à deux mouvements, followed by a pas de bourée and a tems de courante. The sequence is simple but nicely varied rhythmically and calls for a pleasing succession of arm movements. Fewer than a third of the steps in The Louvre are directed towards the presence, although it is apparent that the dancers remain mindful of it throughout – as they would have needed to be both at the court of Louis XIV and on the London stage. The next figure begins with a variant of the pas de bourée en presence, which allows the couple to acknowledge each other for the first time. Then, after another variant of the en presence, they curve away with a contretemps which moves first sideways and then forwards. I am beginning to wonder if such steps, so early in a duet, were a commonplace intended to allow the dancers to address those who surrounded the dancing space, whether in the ballroom or on stage. In The Louvre, the dancers turn back to face the presence, cross (with the woman upstage of the man) and then travel towards the presence again to complete the section with a pas de bourée and a tems de courante.

The second plate (the A repeat) uses much the same vocabulary of steps, although the dancers begin by turning to face one another and travelling sideways rather than forwards. They turn to face the presence for a few steps and then curve away from each other, turn to face and then curve away again before turning to face on the last bar.

Plate 3 begins the B section with the dancers again travelling sideways upstage. Pecour then gives them each a double loop figure, in opposite directions but still in mirror symmetry. They pass one another across the stage, the woman upstage of the man, and end their second loop facing each other up and down the dancing area. The man has his back to the presence. This sequence of 8 bars (five of which are pas de bourée) raises some questions about which way the dancers’ heads turn and where they direct their gaze as they move through the figure.  As they approach each other in the fourth bar, before they cross, do they look at each other rather than over their raised opposition arm (which would result in the man looking at the woman and the woman looking away from him)? In the fifth bar, in which they meet and then pass, do they both look over the raised arm towards the presence? Here is plate three of the dance, to give an idea of what might be happening.

In many ballroom choreographies there must surely have been a continual interplay between the dancers and their spectators, as they regarded each other, looked towards the presence or acknowledged members of the surrounding audience.

The last 16 bars of this first B section are on plate 4. They are surely the heart of this choreography, so I will explore the steps and figures in some detail. Here is the notation.

The dancers begin facing one another up and down the room and the man has his back to the presence. The couple keep to their own areas of the dancing space throughout. The step vocabulary is more varied than it has been, with the addition of half-turn pirouettes and balancé. I am not a musician, but much of the music for The Louvre seems to fall into 2-bar phrases, perhaps reproducing the 6/4 time signature found in other loures, which can seem like a call and response. This idea is clearly evident in this section of the choreography. First, the woman dances away from the man on a diagonal, with a contretemps and a coupé avec ouverture de jambe, turning her back and then turning again to face downstage (she could be looking towards him over her raised arm). She changes feet as she begins the contretemps, so that the symmetry becomes axial. The man waits as she does her steps and then responds by doing the same, ending facing upstage again. They then dance together for 4 bars, but the woman does two half-turn pirouettes followed by balancé, while the man does the balancé first and then the pirouettes. This little 8-bar sequence can surely be made expressive, in harmony with the dance’s original title Aimable Vainqueur. Was it part of Pecour’s choreography for the stage? The couple then travel towards one another on the diagonal with a pas de bourée and a tems de courante (echoing earlier pairings of these steps) before circling away and then coming to face one another across the dancing space. They do another balancé, but the man adds an extra step forward, returning to mirror symmetry.

The next figure, using the first 8 bars of the second B section, has the dancers tracing mirror-image figures of eight (although the notation blurs the pattern). They begin with jetté-chassés, followed by two pas de bourée, then jetté-chassés again and a pas de bourée followed by a coupé to first position facing one another.

In the last 16 bars of the dance, Pecour introduces some fresh choreographic devices. Here is the final plate of The Louvre.

The dancers turn away from each other, the man facing the presence and the woman with her back to it, with a quarter-turn pirouette followed by a demi-coupé sans poser le corps. They have returned to axial symmetry with their pirouettes. They travel sideways towards each other and away again, with a varied series of coupés.  Throughout this sequence the man faces the presence while the woman faces upstage. They curve away from each other, the woman passing directly in front of the presence while the man is further upstage, and come to face one another again, having changed sides. This sequence also poses challenges on where to look and the notation does not agree exactly on the steps of the two dancers (which may or may not be a mistake). This time, they could be looking towards each other as they approach with a pas de bourée – even though this means that the woman is ignoring the presence as she dances past. The sequence finishes with a coupé to first position, preparing a return to mirror symmetry.

The last six bars of The Louvre seem to be grouped in twos: half-turn pirouette, coupé avec ouverture de jambe, in which the couple turn away from each other and perhaps look towards the presence as they each extend their downstage leg; half-turn pirouette and a quarter-turn into a tems de courante travelling upstage, during which they might look at each other; finally a pas de bourée and a half-turn into the coupé which brings them side by side ready to bow to the presence.

The Louvre is certainly susceptible to interpretative choices which can change the focus of the dance and the interplay between the dancers. There is a great deal of information within the notation, although this is not always clear. There is much that is missing, too – not only the obvious, like arm movements, and the less obvious, like épaulement and the placing of the head, but also pointers to the meaning of the choreography. Is it abstract or is it expressive? We can make choices as we both reconstruct and recreate this delightful dance and try to understand what made it so popular for so long.

Subscription Lists and London’s Dancing Masters: John Weaver

One way to finance printing and publication in the 18th century was through subscriptions. Authors would solicit advance payment for their books from a circle of clients and supporters, enabling these to be printed. The subscribers would receive their copies soon after printing and there would be additional copies available for purchase by non-subscribers, often at a higher price. A list of those who had subscribed was printed for inclusion in the volume and can provide valuable information about the intended audience for the work. Several dancing masters of the period availed themselves of this funding method and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at their subscription lists.

I will start with John Weaver. His translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie (entitled Orchesography) as well as A Collection of Ball-Dances by Mr Isaac, which he had notated, were published by subscription in 1706. Some years later, in 1721, Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing was similarly published. Who were Weaver’s subscribers and were they different for each of the three publications?

Orchesography had 39 subscribers, all of whom also subscribed to A Collection of Ball-Dances, which had a total of 47 names on its subscription list. Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing had only 31 names, of which only nine had subscribed to Weaver’s earlier works. The first name on all three lists is that of Monsieur L’Abbé, by virtue of his place in the alphabet, although by 1721 he was also the royal dancing master – a post which placed him at the head of his profession in Great Britain. L’Abbé was one of ten men listed with the title ‘Monsieur’ in the 1706 lists, identifying them as French. He is the only one so identified in the 1721 list. The majority of the men named as subscribers in the three lists (there were no women) were identified simply by their names, but there were a handful in all of the lists who were further identified by the place where they lived and worked. I will look at each of these groups in turn.

I will start with Orchesography and A Collection of Ball-Dances. Here are their lists of subscribers, to left and right respectively.

Among the Frenchmen, Cherrier, Debargues (usually called Desbarques) and Du Ruell were all stage dancers appearing regularly in London’s theatres during the early 1700s. Together with L’Abbé, Weaver singles out all three for praise in his Preface to Orchesography. The other ‘French’ names raise a series of questions. The first dancer we know called Camille to appear on the London stage was a ‘Young Mr. Camille’ at the Queen’s Theatre in 1712. The epithet suggests that he could, possibly, have been the son of an earlier dancer named Camille for whom we have no record of appearances in London. The dancer Cottin was billed at Drury Lane between 1700 and 1705, but there is no suggestion in the advertisements that he was ‘Monsieur’ Cottin. Monsieur Le Duc and Monsieur D’Elisle bear the same names as French dancers who had performed in the court masque Calisto in 1675. Did they stay in London to dance and to teach or are these other men? The Biographical Dictionary of Actors (full reference below) wrongly conflates Monsieur Le Sac with Queen Anne’s dancing master Mr Isaac. Le Sac was billed on the London stage in 1699-1700 and 1709-1710 and there was a musician of the same name working at Drury Lane during that period. Were the dancer and the musician one and the same? Finally, there is Monsieur Serancour, declared by the Biographical Dictionary of Actors to be the Davencourt who performed in a Grand Dance alongside L’Abbé and others at the Queen’s Theatre in December 1705. A quick look at the original advertisements in the Daily Courant reveals these to be the source of the confusion – ‘Davencourt’ in the first bill becomes ‘Serancour’ in subsequent ones.

The provincial dancing masters listed as subscribers in the two 1706 lists are not quite the same. They are scattered geographically in a way that suggests that Weaver’s appeal for subscribers was mainly concentrated on London. Norwich, Salisbury, Derby and York are represented in both lists, with the addition of Coventry in A Collection of Ball-Dances. Mr Delamain ‘of Dublin’ is joined there by Mr Smith in the Collection of Ball-Dances, while Mr Counly ‘Of Barbadoes’ in Orchesography becomes simply Mr Counly in the Collection. Without further research, we cannot tell why these differences appear, although they may well be simple omissions during typesetting.

This leaves us with the subscribers we are invited to assume are London dancers and dancing masters. Several names are well known from other contexts. There is Thomas Caverley, one of London’s leading teachers of ‘common Dancing’ (as Weaver calls it in the last chapter of his 1712 An Essay towards an History of Dancing) and one of Weaver’s close associates. Antony Caverley, who follows him in the lists, may have been Thomas’s son – unless he was his brother. ‘Mr. Essex’ is, of course, John Essex, who would go on to translate Feuillet’s 1706 Recüeil de contredances in 1710 as For the Furthur Improvement of Dancing. Weaver and Essex seem to have been friends. The Holts, represented in these lists by Walter ‘Senior’, Walter ‘Junior’ and Richard, belonged to a dynasty of dancing masters. I tried to disentangle them in an earlier blog post – Mr Holt and His Minuet and Jigg for Four Ladies. They seem to have been teachers of common dancing with no links to the stage. ‘Mr. Lally’ was perhaps the founder of a family of stage dancers. He was surely Edmund Lally (c1677-1760) whose son Edward was later to enjoy a short but promising stage career. I am not sure about the relationship between Edmund and the far more famous Michael Lally, they may have been father and son or uncle and nephew.

There are some other familiar names that I have passed over. John Groscourt (d. 1742) would be the dedicatee of John Essex’s translation of Pierre Rameau’s The Dancing-Master (1728), while ‘Mr. Gery’ (or Geary) was accorded a place in the preliminary pages to Weaver’s 1712 Essay, alongside Groscourt, Couch, Holt, Firbank and Lewis, as ‘happy Teachers of that Natural and Unaffected Manner which has been brought to so high a Perfection by Isaack and Caverly’. All, except for ‘Firbank’ (the musician and dancer Charles Fairbank), subscribed to both Orchesography and A Collection of Ball-Dances. Sharp-eyed readers will also have noticed an overlap between Weaver’s subscribers and the contributors to Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing published in 1711. I will have more to say about that work in another post.

What about Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing, published some fifteen years later? Here is the list of subscribers, spread over a spacious two pages.

This list has only nine names in common with the earlier ones – Caverley, Couch, Essex (John), Holt (Walter), Lally (Edmund), Orlabeer, Pemberton (Edmund) and Shirley. The forenames come from the List of Subscribers and distinguish between members of the same family. William Essex, William Holt. Edward Lally and James Pemberton were all the sons of earlier subscribers. There are again a handful of provincial dancing masters, none of whom had subscribed earlier and, so far as I can tell, about eight men who were professional dancers in London’s theatres. They include William Essex (John’s son) and ‘Mr. Shaw’ who must surely be the much-admired English dancer John Shaw (d. 1725). Like the 1706 works, the majority of subscribers seem to have been dancing masters rather than dancers.

These subscription lists add to our knowledge of Britain’s (especially London’s) dancing masters, but they also call into question some aspects of our understanding of that world. Weaver’s criticisms of French dancers are well known, yet several were happy to subscribe to his English translation of a work they would surely have known in its French original. The appearance of several families of dancing masters should perhaps be no surprise, although their individual subscriptions suggest they had separate dancing schools. As I put this post together, I was struck by the amount of research still needed to uncover this network of dancers and dancing masters based in London and elsewhere. John Weaver’s Lists of Subscribers are certainly one place to start.


Philip H. HIghfill Jr, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, … in London, 1660-1800. 16 Volumes. (Carbondale, 1973-1993)

Mr Isaac’s ‘The Favorite A Chaconne Danc’d by her Majesty’

I have been learning Mr Isaac’s The Favorite, described on its first plate as ‘A Chaconne Danc’d by her Majesty’. This duet was one of the six notated choreographies included in A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court published in 1706 by John Weaver and perhaps intended to accompany Orchesography, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie. ‘Her Majesty’ was, of course, Queen Anne, although by the time of the dance’s appearance in notation poor health had forced her to give up dancing. Mr Isaac has an idiosyncratic choreographic style and his ballroom duets shed important light on court culture under the late Stuart monarchs, so I thought it would be worth looking more closely at this dance.

The Favorite is actually in two parts, for it is a chaconne followed by a bourée. The music was first published in Amsterdam in 1688 and it appeared as ‘the new French Dance’ in 1690 in the sixth edition of Apollo’s Banquet. When it was reissued by John Walsh around 1712, the title page named the composer as ‘Mr. Paisible’. The chaconne has three variations, which are then repeated, giving 64 bars in all. The bourée has the structure AAAABB and a petite reprise of four bars to give 36 bars. At 80 bars, the dance seems long for a ballroom choreography intended for performance at court but Isaac’s other dances in A Collection of Ball-Dances are mostly the same or even longer (the exception is The Richmond at only 52 bars).

This dance probably dates to the years around 1690, when the music was first published. Princess Anne (as she then was) hosted a ball for William III’s birthday in November 1688, while her sister Queen Mary II gave a dance for the Princess’s own birthday in February 1691. Both were occasions when Anne (then between pregnancies) might have performed before the assembled court a duet specially created by her dancing master.

Can this notated choreography tell us anything about Isaac’s approach to choreographing these dances of display or Princess Anne’s dancing skills? The notation shows that Isaac used a basic vocabulary of steps throughout the two parts of the dance, although he sometimes combined them in ways that required particular skill from his dancers. For example, the first plate includes two balancés. The first ends in first position on beat two, with a pause on beat three, while the second has a battu on the second beat with an extension of the working leg in the air on beat three (as a preparation for the pas tombé and jetté in the next bar). It is a point for debate whether the Princess would have balanced on the ball of each foot in turn or performed these balancés on a flat foot. The fifth plate, with notation for the bourée, includes several bars which have two coupés travelling sideways. Much practice is needed to execute these fast-moving steps clearly and correctly.

Isaac ornaments only one of Princess Anne’s steps, the coupé avec ouverture de jambe in bar 22 of the chaconne, which has a pas battu around the ankle before the working leg opens towards the fourth position. There are five bars within the chaconne in which the man’s steps have either a pas battu or a rond de jambe. Such explicit ornamentation of the man’s steps, but not the woman’s, occurs in other notated dances by Isaac.

The chaconne has some 17% of steps with small jumps within them, whereas the bourée has around 44%. The steps most often used throughout the two parts of The Favorite are the pas de bourée, with its final jetté, the contretemps and (in the bourée section) the pas de sissonne. Isaac also repeats sequences in both the chaconne and the bourée.

The figures in The Favorite hint that this dance is not simply an abstract display. One of Isaac’s repeated motifs has the dancers coming together and then parting (or vice-versa) across the dancing space. They first do this at the very beginning, with a coupé sideways and a tems de courante forwards, before travelling towards the presence according to convention. The following figure has the dancers travelling sideways away from the presence – the only extended sequence of sideways movement in the dance – which allowed them to face the spectators who would have surrounded them as they moved. These figures can clearly be seen in the first plate, even if you don’t read Beauchamp-Feuillet notation.

They begin the third variation of the chaconne back-to-back, with the woman (Princess Anne) facing the presence – her previous step (a contretemps forwards) can be seen just beneath the word ‘Majesty’ on the notation above. Both perform a coupé battu with a plié on the beat. This has the effect of a bow or curtsey towards those watching at each end of the room, before the dancers turn to face one another and come together. They then turn to their right for a more extended sequence in which they travel apart before turning to come together again.

Apart from the occasional mistakes in the notation, the practice of crowding several figures onto a single page can make it difficult to read. The Favorite has five plates of notation, with plates three and five being the busiest (with 32 bars and 28 bars of music and dance respectively). The second half of the chaconne (notated in full on plate three) begins with a double version of the approach and retreat motif. The dancers first turn towards each other and then away before continuing to travel apart and then return, moving on shallow diagonals. Isaac repeats this theme of retreat and approach twice more with another variation, as he places the dancers side-by-side to face the presence. The chaconne ends with the couple turning to face one another across the dancing space. They have been in mirror symmetry (dancing on opposite feet) for most of it, but the woman does a tems de courante and the man a coupé to begin the bourée in axial symmetry.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, so I will skip to the second plate of the bourée which contains three-quarters of its notated steps.

After two circular figures, the dancers can be seen facing one another up and down the dancing space – the man is nearest the presence with his back to it, while the woman faces him. There must be some distance between them as they have two travelling steps to come together (Beauchamp-Feuillet notation does not show figures with spatial accuracy). They dance in a circle, taking right hands, and then travel away from each other and back again in another instance of the retreat and return motif. Isaac’s repeated use of two coupés in a bar (mentioned earlier) can be seen to either side of the page, about two-thirds from the bottom, then to either side of the centre and finally about a third from the bottom of the page – just before the dancers begin their final sequence of steps to the petite reprise which take them to the back of the dancing space before they turn to face the presence with a coupé soutenu, which presumably precedes their final bow (not included on the notation).

I have enjoyed working on Isaac’s The Favorite. It isn’t a difficult dance technically but it certainly isn’t easy either. It would be rewarding to be able to work on it with a partner and a musician or two, to explore the interpretative possibilities of both music and dance and see how the choreography might work in performance. The steps and figures in these five plates of notation suggest that Isaac’s choreography had wit as well as elegance and liveliness.