Category Archives: Ballroom Dancing

The Dancing Master’s Art Explained: Pierre Rameau, John Essex and Kellom Tomlinson

In 1725, Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître à danser was published in Paris. Just three years later, a translation by John Essex entitled The Dancing-Master; or, the Art of Dancing Explained appeared in London. It was heralded by an advertisement in Mist’s Weekly Journal for 13 January 1728, which stated that the treatise would be published ‘Next Week’ and promised that it would be ‘illustrated with 60 Figures drawn from the Life’ (Rameau’s title page had promised that his treatise was ‘Enrichi de Figures en Taille-douce’ without saying how many). The price was to be one guinea (equivalent to around £120 today).

Just over a year earlier, the issues of the Evening Post for 13-15 and 20-22 October 1726 had carried advertisements soliciting subscriptions for another English dance manual, Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing. Tomlinson promised ‘many Copper Plates’ for the illustration of his treatise indicating how important such images were. There was another advertisement in the London Journal for 3 December 1726, in which Tomlinson promised that The Art of Dancing was ‘now partly finished’ and would be published once he had sufficient subscribers to cover his costs. As we know, Tomlinson’s work would not appear until 1735 but his 1726 advertisements may have acted as a spur to Essex to produce his translation of Rameau’s treatise.

If John Essex had intended to compete with Kellom Tomlinson, it seems that he succeeded. In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, Tomlinson gave his reaction to reading about the imminent publication of The Dancing-Master in Mist’s Weekly Journal:

‘This gave me no small Surprize, having never before heard of either any such Book, or Author. Had it been my Fortune to have known, either before, or after I undertook to write on this Art, that such a Book was extant, my Curiosity would certainly have led me to have consulted it; and had I approved it, ‘tis highly probable, I should have given the World a translation of it, with some additional Observations of my own.’

Tomlinson’s claim to be ignorant of the existence of Rameau’s Le Maître à danser needs some investigation, given the tight-knit community of London’s leading dancing masters and the importance of French treatises and notated dances to their work (evidenced in Tomlinson’s surviving notebook). His immediate response was to defend his own treatise, which he did with an advertisement in Mist’s Weekly Journal for 27 January 1728.

Thereafter, Kellom Tomlinson remained quiet until he was able to return to advertising the forthcoming publication of The Art of Dancing, beginning in the London Evening Post for 20-22 December 1733. He may have spent the intervening period enhancing his treatise with additional plates to accompany his text, so that he could challenge Essex directly.

In the meantime, successive advertisements suggest that Essex’s The Dancing-Master may not have sold well. There were notices in the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 22 November and 27 December 1729, both saying ‘This Day is Published’ although The Dancing-Master had first appeared nearly two years earlier. Then, the Grub Street Journal for 23 December 1730 announced the publication of the ‘Second Edition’ of the treatise (which is dated 1731 on its title page). However, this was not a new edition at all but a reissue of unsold copies of the first edition, with a fresh title page and an additional leaf with approbations from Pecour (who was recommending Rameau’s original treatise) and Anthony L’Abbé. This edition was advertised successively in the Country Journal or the Craftsman on 1 January and 5 May 1733.

The changes to the title page wording (with an extended sub-title and a recommendation to likely purchasers) were doubtless for marketing purposes.

Later that year, the Grub Street Journal for 8 November 1733 advertised a ‘Second Edition with Additions’. This notice reproduces the wording of Essex’s title page, but it is worth paying close attention to the final paragraph.

Essex’s concern about the quality of his plates may have been prompted by his discovery that Kellom Tomlinson was finally ready to publish The Art of Dancing with its ‘many Copper Plates’ as announced in the London Evening Post for 20-22 December 1733.

I will have to leave a discussion of the plates in both The Dancing-Master and The Art of Dancing for another post.

Essex followed up his November 1733 advertisement with another in the Country Journal or the Craftsman on 5 January 1734, saying ‘This Day is Published’ but otherwise word-for-word as in the Grub Street Journal. Tomlinson’s next notice, in the London Evening Post for 18-20 April 1734, advised his subscribers that publication would be deferred to the following January ‘by Reason of the Advance of the Season, and the Emptiness of the Town’. He was hinting that many, if not most, of those who had subscribed to his treatise were the ‘Quality’ who left London for their country estates over the summer and early autumn. Essex seems to have fallen silent, at least I have not discovered further advertisements by him in the mid-1730s. The next notice was Tomlinson’s, in the London Evening Post for 8-10 May 1735, announcing the publication of The Art of Dancing on 26 June.

The additional delay was to allow the Engraving Copyright Act to become law. It had been championed by William Hogarth among others to protect the rights of artists whose original works were the subject of engravings. Tomlinson had himself drawn the images which were engraved by several leading printmakers for his treatise. The Art of Dancing cost two guineas to subscribers and two and a half guineas to others (equivalent to £250 and nearly £300 today).

Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing might have been more original and more handsomely produced than The Dancing-Master, as well as being supported by the nobility and gentry, but it did not sell well either. An advertisement in the London Daily Post for 11 December 1736 includes it among ‘Books sold cheap’ by William Warner. According to a notice in the London Evening Post for 5-7 November 1741, Tomlinson was himself selling copies for £1.11s.6d – rather less than the two and a half guineas he was originally charging – although an advertisement in the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 2 January 1742 quotes his original price. In the same newspaper for 31 December 1743, Tomlinson told intending purchasers that ‘there now remain but a small Number unsold of the Work’. The London Evening Post for 9-11 October 1746 advertised a ‘Second Edition’ as published that day, although surviving copies are dated 1744. The pagination of the two editions suggests that the second was in fact a reissue. Here are their respective title pages.

The last advertisement for the ‘Second Edition’ of Essex’s The Dancing-Master appeared in the Daily Advertiser for 12 January 1744 and there are surviving copies with this date on their title pages. John Essex was buried at St Dionis Backchurch in London on 6 February 1744.

I have come across two later advertisements for Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing. One is in the London Evening Post 30 January – 1 February 1752, offering the ‘Second Edition’ which is ‘colour’d, in a most beautiful Manner, and bound’ for five guineas (equivalent to more than £600 today). The other, in the Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer for 9 November 1758, has Tomlinson offering ‘The Original Art of Dancing’ for three guineas. The Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer for 18-20 June 1761 reported ‘Tuesday died, of a Paralytick Disorder, in Theobald’s Court, East Street, Red-Lion-Square, Mr. Kenelm Tomlinson, Dancing-Master, in the 74th Year of his Age’.

The publication history of these two early 18th-century dance manuals illuminates the commercial and social as well as the artistic context within which London’s dancing masters worked. They were intended for a monied if not an elite clientele. Both The Dancing-Master and The Art of Dancing are worth detailed research which goes well beyond a concern with the steps, style and technique that are their subject matter.

References

Both of these treatises were studied in detail by the American dance historian Carol G. Marsh in her PhD thesis ‘French Court Dance in England, 1706-1740: a Study of the Sources’ (City University of New York, 1985). In this post, I have drawn on and tried to add to her work.

The Regency Minuet

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to take part in a display of dancing for a heritage open day. We were doing regency dances, but the display began with a couple minuet. One of the other dancers asked if it was a regency minuet and I had to admit that it was not, but the question got me thinking about what a regency minuet might have been like.

Were minuets still being danced in the regency period? George, Prince of Wales was sworn in as Prince Regent for his father George III on 6 February 1811, and he succeeded him as king on 29 January 1820. A quick survey of newspaper references to the minuet during the first and last years of the regency reveals that it was still being taught, and performed at balls, throughout that period. I didn’t have time to do a thorough search, but I quickly came across advertisements by dancing masters who continued to include the minuet among the dances they offered. The Morning Post for 23 January 1810 has one by Thomas Wilson, who lists minuets alongside cotillions, hornpipes and country dances. The Morning Herald for 6 April 1818 has another by Mr Cunningham, who was offering ‘Quadrilles, Waltzes, Spanish Dances, Minuets, &c. Taught in the most fashionable style’. The following year, in the Morning Post for 12 November 1819, Mr Levien in his turn offered quadrilles, waltzes, minuets and country dances, ‘or any other department of Fashionable Dancing’. The minuet seems to have been far from dead, at least so far as dancing masters were concerned.

The reports and advertisements for balls show that the minuet was still the opening dance, performed by a suitably high-ranking couple. The ball on Lord Mayor’s Day, reported in the Morning Chronicle for 11 November 1811, was ‘opened in a Minuet by the Duke del Infantado, the Spanish Ambassador, and Lady Georgiana Cecil’. However, one indication of the changes that were happening appears in the report of the Lord Mayor’s Easter Monday ball in the Morning Chronicle for 15 April 1819. The Earl of Morton and Miss Atkins danced the Menuet de la Cour, and the writer declared that ‘Nothing could be more elegant and graceful’. The report did not reveal whether the ball opened with this dance but it did explain that ‘It was originally intended that the minuet should conclude with the usual Gavot as danced at the Opera House, but that part of the performance was omitted, as being inconsistent with the dignity of his Lordship’s character as Lord High Commissioner to the Grand Assembly of the Church of Scotland’. The ‘Gavot’ was, of course, the Gavotte de Vestris. Other changes involving the minuet are also evident from the newspapers, although I will not pursue these here.

The Menuet de la Cour dated back to the late 1770s and seems to have been introduced to London in 1781, when Gaëtan Vestris and his wife Anne Heinel danced it in the ballet-pantomime Ninette à la Cour. This duet (with and without the Gavotte de Vestris) would become a staple of benefit performances in London’s theatres. The original choreography would undergo many transformations in the course of an exceptionally long afterlife. The version published in notation by Malpied around 1780 shows clearly that, although the Menuet de la Cour included some of the minuet’s long-established figures, its steps went well beyond those prescribed by Pierre Rameau and Kellom Tomlinson in the earlier 1700s. This may have made it a suitable basis for the development of this exacting exhibition dance in the decades around 1800. Here is the opening figure of the dance, following the reverences (also notated by Malpied), in which there is not a single conventional pas de menuet.

One question hovering in the background of the regency minuet is to do with dress. The minuet had begun its long career in the late 17th century and had seen many changes of silhouette during the course of the 18th century, particularly for women. This illustration, which dates to the mid-1700s, shows one of them.

How was this most formal and, apparently, inhibited of dances adjusted to the free-flowing female dress of the regency and for dancers who were at the same time experiencing the very different movement style of the early waltz? This print, published in 1813, shows Princess Charlotte (the Prince Regent’s daughter) dancing a minuet with William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire. I can’t help thinking that the style and technique of the minuet, as well as its figures and its steps, were forced to change alongside the revolutions in dress and dancing.

There was one obvious attempt to bring the old duet up to date. The Sunday Monitor for 20 April 1817 has an advertisement by Thomas Wilson for a ‘Waltz and Quadrille Ball’ which ‘will be opened … by Mr. Wilson and a Young Lady, one of his Pupils, with the Waltz Minuet, composed by Mr. Wilson’.  I know that the basic waltz step suggested by Wilson in his 1816 treatise A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing bears an interesting relationship to the minuet step. I am hoping that there is somebody out there who knows (or can find out) how the ‘Waltz Minuet’ was performed. I would be happy to attend a workshop!

A Year of Dance: 1726

Following my recent detailed analysis of the 1725-1726 theatrical season on the London stage, I thought I should return to my A Year of Dance series and add 1726. (I wrote about 1725 quite some time ago). Politically, this seems to have been a quieter year than 1725.

In France in June, Louis XV appointed his old tutor André-Hercule de Fleury as his chief minister. Fleury was created a cardinal in September 1726. The previous spring, the poet and writer Voltaire had arrived in England for two years of exile from France following a second period of imprisonment in the Bastille. He quickly learned English, honing his language skills by regular visits to London’s theatres. During his stay he was to meet Alexander Pope, John Gay and Jonathan Swift, among others.

In England, 1726 was marked by the death of the architect and dramatist Sir John Vanbrugh on 26 March, followed by that of the scourge of London’s theatres Jeremy Collier on 26 April, whose A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage published in 1698 had attacked Vanbrugh among other leading playwrights. Towards the end of the year, George I’s former wife Sophia Dorothea of Celle died. Their marriage had been dissolved following her adultery in 1694 and she had been imprisoned in her native Celle for more than twenty years. 1726 also saw the publication of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (‘Lilliputians’ would in due course become a popular feature on the London stage), as well as the ‘rabbit’ hoax by Mary Toft which fascinated and bamboozled many over the autumn.

In the wider context for these posts, the most significant theatrical event of 1726 in London was the new pantomime at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Apollo and Daphne given on 14 January, which brought Francis and Marie Sallé back to the London stage after an absence of several years and reintroduced them to audiences as adult dancers. It answered Drury Lane’s 1725 Apollo and Daphne pantomime, which was revised and revived in reply. This small painting by the Italian artist Michele Rocca probably dates to the early 18th century.

There was also Italian opera at the King’s Theatre, with two new operas by Handel – Scipione on 12 March and Alessandro on 5 May. The Italian soprano Faustina Bordoni made her debut as Rossane in Alessandro, with Francesca Cuzzoni as Lisaura and Senesino in the title role.

In Paris, Destouches’s opéra-ballet Les Stratagèmes de l’Amour (composed to celebrate the marriage of Louis XV and Marie Leszczyńska the previous year) was given at the Paris Opéra on 28 March. The dancers included Françoise Prévost and David Dumoulin – she led the Troyennes in the first divertissement in Entrée I, while he led the Matelots in the second divertissement, and they danced together as Esclaves (with sixteen other dancers) in Entrée III. Rebel’s tragédie en musique Pyrame et Thisbé had its first performance on 17 October. David Dumoulin and Mlle Prévost also danced in this production, leading the Egyptiens (with Blondy) in act two and the Bergers and Bergères in act three.

No dances were published in notation this year. The last of the Paris collections had appeared in 1725, while in England the series of new dances ‘For the Year’ by Anthony L’Abbé had already ceased to be annual. It would resume in 1727 and continue, with occasional gaps, until 1733.

Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet

I have recently been working on Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet and I thought I would look more closely at the two different versions of this solo that survive in notation. One was published by Edmund Pemberton, who gives it the subtitle ‘A New Dance for a Girl’, while the other survives in a manuscript version by Kellom Tomlinson. They differ enough from one another to be thought of as two dances rather than two versions of the same dance. There is another solo minuet for a female dancer, Mr Isaac’s Minuet, which was published by Pemberton in 1711 and is clearly linked to both versions of the Slow Minuet. I will mention this third dance from time to time.

The Sources

Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet ‘A New Dance for a Girl’ was among the series of notated ball dances published by Edmund Pemberton between 1715 and 1733. The notation is undated and has been ascribed to 1729, a date I accepted when I wrote about Pemberton in 1993 (references to the sources I have used are given at the end of the post). However, fresh examination of the dance notation suggests that it was probably notated and engraved much earlier. The title page (with its mention of ‘Mr. Firbank’ as the composer of the tune) was also used for the anonymous solo La Cybelline – another ‘New Dance for a Girl’ – but has clearly been altered for Caverley’s dance. La Cybelline was published in 1719, so the Slow Minuet might have appeared around the same time. However, there is another piece of evidence which might place the work of engraving the dance a few years earlier. The dance notation is densely laid out, mainly because Pemberton would have wanted to save on the cost of paper for printing by fitting it into four pages. The engraving is somewhat rough and ready, reminiscent of the first dances that Pemberton published independently after he stopped working for the music publisher John Walsh in 1715. Could the Slow Minuet have been the first dance notation that Pemberton produced himself and then re-issued with a new title page at a later date? Both Caverley and Isaac were keen proponents of the new art of dance notation, so Caverley could have favoured Pemberton with a dance just as Isaac had done a few years earlier. Here is the title page alongside the first plate of Pemberton’s version of Caverley’s Slow Minuet.

The manuscript version of the solo, titled ‘The Slow Minnitt: by Mr: Caverley:’ was transcribed by Kellom Tomlinson into his WorkBook, along with other notes and dances. The WorkBook was discovered in New Zealand and published in facsimile in 1992, edited by the dancer and dance historian Jennifer Shennan. Tomlinson was apprenticed to Thomas Caverley between 1707 and 1714 and would go on to publish several of his own dances in notation between 1715 and 1720. His version of the Slow Minuet is undated but probably belongs to the period of his apprenticeship – the WorkBook contains material which can be dated from 1708 to 1721. Tomlinson’s notation is actually more assured than Pemberton’s (he had fewer restrictions as to paper and gives a separate page to each section of the dance). His notational style differs from Pemberton’s (a topic to which I will return). Some of the differences between the two versions are discussed and analysed by Jennifer Shennan in her introduction to the facsimile. Here are the first two pages of Tomlinson’s notation.

The other dance I have mentioned is the Minuet by Mr Isaac, published in notation within Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing in 1711. It follows Isaac’s Chacone and, in his Preface, Pemberton says that Isaac had ‘oblig’d’ him with ‘a single Dance’ suggesting that the two were meant to be performed together as one choreography. The same collection has Pecour’s solo forlana for a woman (titled a ‘Jigg’) and a solo version of Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passacaille’ originally choreographed as a duet for two professional female dancers to music from Lully’s opera Armide. Pemberton’s 1711 collection was published by John Walsh. Here are the first two plates of Isaac’s Minuet.

It is worth adding that Thomas Caverley and Mr Isaac were near contemporaries. Isaac (whose real name was Francis Thorpe, as I discovered some years ago when I was researching Jerome Francis Gahory) was perhaps born around 1650 and was buried early in 1721. Thomas Caverley’s birth date has been given variously as 1641, 1648 or 1651, although he may have been born as late as 1658 or 1659. He lived much longer than Isaac for he died in 1745. Isaac, of course, was a royal dancing master – described by John Essex in the ‘English’ Preface to his translation of Rameau, The Dancing-Master (1728), as ‘the prime Master in England for forty Years together’. Essex wrote of Caverley as ‘the first Master in teaching young Ladies to dance’, a reputation which explains the publication of his Slow Minuet.

The Dances

The two versions of Caverley’s Slow Minuet each use different music. In Pemberton’s version the tune is attributed to the dancing master Charles Fairbank, whereas Tomlinson’s music is anonymous. The solos are different lengths too. Pemberton’s music has the time signature 3 and four AABB repeats (A=B=8). The dance notation has 6 beats to the bar, so each pas composé takes two musical bars in accordance with the usual convention for minuets. Tomlinson also writes his music with a time signature of 3 but his has five AABB repeats (A=B=8). His notation has three beats to each dance bar, although he writes some steps over two bars with liaison lines to make clear that they are single pas composés. Pemberton’s Slow Minuet has 128 bars of music, while Tomlinson’s has 160.

An analysis of both notations reveals that, although these closely related choreographies are minuets, much of their vocabulary consists in demi-coupés, coupés and pas de bourée. The pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet are used mainly in the third repeat of the AA and again in the fourth AA. Tomlinson uses these steps additionally in his fifth and final AA and final B section.

Both choreographies begin with a sequence of two demi-coupés forwards and two backwards, followed by a coupépas de bourée sequence repeated six times. This fills the first AA and, it seems, sets out Caverley’s intention of teaching the minuet not through the conventional step vocabulary of that dance but through its building blocks. He uses these to introduce the girl to the rhythmic variety possible within the steps of this formal dance, among other ideas, as well as to provide a technical foundation. This approach is evidenced elsewhere in both versions of the Slow Minuet. In the third plate of Pemberton’s notation the pas de menuet à trois mouvements with a demi-jeté on the final step is introduced, and in the fourth plate there are pas de menuet à deux mouvements which begin on both the right and the left foot. In his third AA, Tomlinson uses the pas de menuet à deux mouvements, but in his fourth and fifth AA sections he turns to the pas de menuet used by Isaac in his Minuet (in The Art of Dancing, Tomlinson calls this the ‘English Minuet Step’). This is, essentially, a fleuret followed by a jeté and can be seen in the plates from Isaac’s Minuet shown above. This hints at a link between the choreographies and, perhaps, the teaching of both Isaac and Caverley.

Another such hint is provided by a pas composé used in Pemberton’s version of the Slow Minuet. This takes two bars of music and all the steps are linked together by liaison lines. I find such compound steps difficult to break down into their component parts, but this one may be analysed as a variant on the pas de bourée, incorporating an emboîté and ending with a pas plié, followed by two coupés avec ouverture de jambe. A slightly different version of the step is found in Isaac’s Minuet, with jetés-chassés instead of the coupés. Here are the two steps in notation for comparison. First Pemberton’s, from his fourth plate – without being able to examine an original notation it is not possible to be certain, but the initial emboîté shows the foot position on the balls of the feet.

Next Isaac’s, from his third plate – the dots showing the emboîté on the balls of the feet are clear.

Both Pemberton and Tomlinson use a variety of figures, which are quite often not the same or at least are notated differently. The opening figures are actually the same in both versions, although Pemberton notates all the sideways steps around the right line of the dancer’s direction of travel towards the presence, while Tomlinson shows the sideways travel explicitly. In the figures for the third AA, Pemberton notates the dancer travelling a semi-circular path anti-clockwise followed by another clockwise, whereas Tomlinson takes his dancer clockwise in a quarter-circle followed by a tighter three-quarter circle in the same direction and then traces the same figure anti-clockwise. Both dances have figures that reflect some of those in Isaac’s Minuet, notably zig-zags on the diagonal and repeated tight circles. Although some of the figures contain echoes of those in the ballroom couple minuet, parallels are not obvious in either notation.

Both versions of the Slow Minuet are constructed around a series of variations. Some of these are 8 bars long and are danced twice, starting with the right foot and then the left, to match the repeated musical sections. There are also 4 bar sequences, which might or might not be repeated within a musical section. Two of Tomlinson’s plates are missing a couple of bars of dance notation, but the structure of the section and its predecessor (as well as Pemberton’s version) suggest what the missing steps might be. The second BB section (plate 4) appears to be without its final two dance bars.

One suggestion is that the coupédemi-coupé steps that follow the two demi-coupés should take two bars of music each (rather than one bar as notated). I suggest instead that they do take one bar each and that they should be repeated after the last two demi-coupés on the plate, which gives two identical sequences to match the musical repeat.

The other omission comes in the last B of the third BB section (plate 6).

This is more difficult to guess, but I suggest that two contretemps should be added, one sideways to the left after the fourth step (another contretemps) and the other sideways to the right at the end of the sequence. This would then run as a repeated 4-bar sequence of contretempscoupépas de bouréecontretemps.

The different notational styles of Pemberton and Tomlinson are almost worth a post of their own and are evident from the very beginning of the two dances with the opening demi-coupés. Pemberton’s version is on the left and Tomlinson’s on the right.

Or, do these represent different steps? Tomlinson’s demi-coupé finishes on the first beat, followed by a two-beat rest, while Pemberton apparently gives the dancer two beats to bring the free foot into first position – making this a version of a coupé sans poser rather than a demi-coupé. Later on the same plate, Pemberton notates demi-coupés more conventionally, suggesting that the opening steps are not demi-coupés.

Conclusion

I have discussed these two notations in some detail because I believe that such close reading can help us get a better idea of how these notated dances were actually performed. Caverley’s Slow Minuet is one of very few choreographies that survive in more than one version and there is far more to say than I have set down here. I think that the dance was integral to his teaching of young ladies and that it was intended as a display piece for performance at formal balls held by the dancing master at his premises and elsewhere. It makes formidable demands on the young dancer’s mastery of aplomb – not merely her placement but also her address. She has to be secure in balancing on one foot and moving rhythmically (and sometimes quite slowly) from one foot to another. She also has to maintain her erect and easy carriage as she moves through her steps and figures. There are continuous rhythmic challenges as well as demands on her memory as she dances a series of variations no two of which are the same.

If I were called upon to devise a syllabus for teaching the minuet, I would begin with Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet. If aspirant historical dancers can perform this exacting solo (in either version) successfully, the ballroom minuet would surely hold no terrors for them.

This image from Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing is well known. Does it suggest that he continued to adapt and teach a Slow Minuet to his young female pupils?

References

Thomas Caverley. Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet. A New Dance for a Girl. The Tune Composed by Mr. Firbank. Writt by Mr. Pemberton. [London, c1720?]

For the 1729 dating see Little and Marsh, La Danse Noble, [c1729]-Mnt

An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing; Being a Collection of Figure Dances, of Several Numbers, Compos’d by the Most Eminent Masters; Describ’d in Characters … by E. Pemberton (London, 1711)

Kellom Tomlinson. A WorkBook by Kellom Tomlinson. Commonplace Book of an Eighteenth-Century English Dancing-Master, a Facsimile Edition, edited by Jennifer Shennan. (Stuyvesant, NY, 1992)

Moira Goff, ‘Edmund Pemberton, Dancing-Master and Publisher’, Dance Research, 11.1 (Spring 1993), 52-81.

Moira Goff, ‘The Testament and Last Will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), 537-542.

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

Francis Peacock and Learning to Dance in London

Francis Peacock published Sketches relative to the history and theory, but more especially to the practice of dancing in 1805 in Aberdeen, the city where he had been dancing master since 1747. His treatise pursues themes familiar from many earlier such works, as his contents pages show.

Peacock’s book is best known for Sketch V, with its ‘Observations on the Scotch Reel’ along with a ‘Description of the Fundamental Steps’ of that dance. He provides the only known account of this vocabulary, although there is much discussion among today’s teachers of historical dance as to how ‘Scotch’ his steps may have been. Even experts in Scotland’s traditional dancing suspect the influence of ‘French’ dancing in what Peacock has to say.

I am not going to pursue that question, but I am going to look at what Peacock tells us about his own early training to see if that might contribute any useful information relating to his later writing. He provides some helpful clues in the ‘Advertisement’ to his Sketches.

Peacock tells us that he learnt his craft from three of London’s leading dancing masters – George Desnoyer, Leach Glover and Michael Lally, all of whom were also leading dancers in London’s theatres. At an informed guess, he studied with them between the late 1730s and early 1740s. It seems most likely that he had private tuition. He apparently did not follow any form of apprenticeship, which would have bound him to one of these dancing masters for several years and not allowed him to take lessons from all of them. What might they have taught him above and beyond what we know from other dance manuals like Rameau’s Le Maître à danser?

George Desnoyer (c1700-1764?) was possibly born in Hanover, since he was the son of the electoral court’s dancing master (who was probably French and perhaps danced at the Paris Opéra around 1690). Desnoyer is first recorded when he came to dance in London in 1721. L’Abbé’s ‘Spanish Entree’, ‘Entrée’ and ‘Türkish Dance’ created for him, and published in notation around 1725, give us an idea of the young Desnoyer’s virtuosity. In 1722, he returned to Hanover to take up the post of dancing master to Prince Frederick, son of George Prince of Wales, which he held until the Prince was called to London by his father, then George II, in 1728. Desnoyer was not formally dismissed from his post as court dancing master in Hanover until 1731, but by then he was already employed as ‘first Dancer to the King of Poland’ – as he was described in the bills when he returned to London that year. He danced at Drury Lane most seasons from 1731-1732 to 1739-1740 and then at Covent Garden from 1740-1741 to 1741-1742, his final seasons on the stage. On his return to London in 1731, Desnoyer had resumed his relationship with Prince Frederick (the two seem to have been close friends) and he would be dancing master to the Prince, his wife Princess Augusta and their children (including the future George III) until his death.

Leach Glover (1697-1763) was born in London, but not to a theatrical family. He may have begun his career as an actor, but he was first advertised as a dancer at the King’s Theatre in 1717. In his first season on the London stage, Glover was billed as ‘de Mirail’s Scholar’ and he was indeed a pupil of Romain Dumirail, the French dancer and teacher who had worked at the court of Louis XIV and the Paris Opéra. Between 1717 and 1723, Glover’s appearances in London were intermittent and he usually danced with companies of French comedians. He joined John Rich’s company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the 1723-1724 season and stayed with Rich until 1740-1741, his last season on the stage. Over that period, Glover rose from a supporting dancer to the company’s leading male dancer (in 1739-1740) before he was eclipsed by the arrival of Desnoyer at Covent Garden. Glover was appointed as royal dancing master in 1738, in succession to Anthony L’Abbé, although Desnoyer continued to teach Prince Frederick and his family. He created a ballroom duet The Princess of Hesse to celebrate the marriage of George II’s daughter Princess Mary in 1740 and it was published in notation.

Michael Lally (1707-1757) came from a family of dancers working in London’s theatres from the late 17th to the mid-18th century. Their respective careers are yet to be properly disentangled (the entries in the Biographical Dictionary of Actors require much revision). Michael was the son of Edmund Lally and brother of Edward Lally (born 1701), who were among the subscribers to John Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing in 1721. He may have made his stage debut in 1720, dancing for his brother’s benefit at Drury Lane. With his brother, he danced briefly at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but returned to Drury Lane for the 1723-1724 season and stayed there for ten years. He joined John Rich’s company at Covent Garden in 1734-1735 and continued to work there until 1742-1743, although after 1737 he danced only at his annual benefit performances (he may have been dancing master to the company). Advertisements confirm that Michael Lally was a leading dancer first at Drury Lane and then at Covent Garden.

During the period when Francis Peacock may have studied with them, all three men were active as both dancers and dancing masters. They assuredly provided him with a grounding in French belle danse as practised in the ballroom, but could their teaching have gone further? Might they have included ‘Scotch Dancing’ as part of their tuition? Although all three were best known on stage for their serious dancing, they did also perform in other genres – including Scotch Dances.

Desnoyer came to Scotch Dances right at the end of his career. During his last season on the London stage, he danced a ‘New Scots Dance’ with Sga Barbarina (the Italian ballerina Barbara Campanini) at his benefit on 1 April 1742. They performed the duet together at least four times. It is worth noting that at the same performance Desnoyer and Sga Barbarina also danced ‘A Ball Dance call’d the Britannia [probably Pecour’s La Bretagne of 1704], and a Louvre concluding with a Minuet’. The ‘Louvre’ was Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur. All three choreographies were routinely taught by London’s dancing masters. Glover choreographed his own Scotch Dance, for three couples, and it was first given at Covent Garden on 16 January 1733. It was one of the most popular of the Scotch Dances in London’s theatres and remained in repertoire until the 1740-1741 season.  Like Desnoyer, Glover regularly performed the Louvre, usually with a Minuet, at his own and other benefits. Lally is not known to have performed other than a solo Highland Dance, given early in his career during the 1722-1723 season. However, like Desnoyer and Glover, he regularly performed the Louvre and a Minuet at his benefit performances.

Even if none of his teachers could or would have taught Francis Peacock a Scotch Dance, he would have been able to see such choreographies quite frequently in London’s theatres. As I explained in my post Scotch Dances on the London Stage, 1660-1760, there was a surge in their popularity during the mid-1730s which lasted into the early 1740s and even beyond – just at the time that Peacock must have been in London.

While the evidence I have brought together here remains inconclusive as to whether Francis Peacock might have learnt Scotch Dances while he was in London, it does suggest that Scotch Dances and French dancing had plenty of opportunities to influence each other during the years when he was taking lessons with Desnoyer, Glover and Lally. The following illustrations – one plate from L’Abbé’s ‘Spanish Entrée’ for Desnoyer with two entre-chats à six and Peacock’s description of the ‘Kem Badenoch’ with its mention of an ‘Entrechat’ – may perhaps provide food for thought.

References:

I have written more about Desnoyer and Glover elsewhere (I am currently working on an article about the Lally family).

Moira Goff, ‘Desnoyer, Charmer of the Georgian Age’, Historical Dance, 4.2 (2012), 3-10.

Moira Goff, ‘The Celebrated Monsieur Desnoyer, Part 1: 1721-1733, Part 2: 1734-1742’, Dance Research, 31.1 (Summer 2012), 67-93.

Moira Goff, ‘Leach Glover, “Dancing Master to the Royal Family”, Part One: The Professional Dancer in Context, Part Two: Teachers of Dancing’, Dance Research (forthcoming).

Apart from his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, I couldn’t find any articles devoted to Francis Peacock either in print or online, although he does of course feature in George S. Emmerson’s A Social History of Scottish Dance (Montreal, 1972).

The ‘Z’ Figure of the Minuet: Taubert and Tomlinson

I am not going to undertake a lengthy and exhaustive investigation of the ‘Z’ figure of the minuet. My aim is simply to discover the origins of the version I originally learned. Here, I will look at two sources in particular, and glance at some others.

The earliest notated source for a minuet comes from Jean Favier’s notation for Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos of 1688. This minuet is for four dancers and was performed within an entertainment given by professional dancers at the court of Louis XIV. It thus falls outside my present topic. Details can, of course, be found in Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV: Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol G. Marsh, a study published in 1994 which includes a facsimile reprint of the manuscript.

The treatise by I.H.P. ‘Maître de danse, oder Tantz-Meister’, published in Glueckstadt and Leipzig in 1705, contains the ‘Menuet d’Anjou’ a ballroom duet for a couple. This is a choreographed dance rather than a conventional ballroom minuet, so it too falls outside my topic. The dance and its notation, together with a translation of the treatise can be found in Barocktanz / La Danse Baroque / Baroque Dance, edited by Stephanie Schroedter, Marie-Thérèse Mourey and Giles Bennett and published in 2008.

The next treatise to deal with the ballroom minuet, and apparently the earliest to look at the basic form of this dance, is Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister published in Leipzig in 1717. This valuable treatise is now available in an English translation by Tilden Russell published in 2012. Taubert turns to the minuet in chapter 30 of his second book. After a lengthy discussion of the various minuet steps, he discusses the ‘principal figure of the minuet’ in chapter 33. He gives a short history of the ‘Z’ figure and identifies three versions currently in use – a reversed ‘S’, a ‘2’ and the ‘Z’. For the reversed ‘S’, Taubert prescribes sideways pas de menuet for the first semi-circle and forward pas de menuet for the second. For the ‘2’ he suggests various combinations of sideways and forwards pas de menuet, but he also says:

‘Some use only side steps throughout, in this way: three or four to the left, bringing them down to the beginning of the straight line, along which they turn and make one or two side steps to the right, thus using no forward steps in the principal figure, which I find displeasing. Also it should be remembered that nowadays many do not make the turn to the left [at the straight line], but instead, after having passed by the woman with side steps, always keeping her before their eyes, they dance backward, and then sideways to the right.’ (p. 640 original text, p. 529 translation)

So, we have another backwards step – although Taubert’s sequence is not the same as Rameau’s.

For the ‘Z’ version of the figure, Taubert says ‘Two side steps to the left are made along the upper horizontal line, two or three forward steps along the long middle line, and another one or two side steps to the right along the lower horizontal line’ (p. 640, p. 529. Taubert is describing the figure as danced by the man). He adds ‘Recently it was reliably reported to me that two royal personages were seen dancing this figure with nothing but side steps from right to left, circling round each other at the same time; but I would never lightly advise anyone to try this’. Taubert also notates the ballroom minuet – the ‘Z’ figure looks like this (p. 658, p. 541):

As you can see, there are two pas de menuet à trois mouvements to the left, two more forward and two pas de menuet à deux mouvements to the right having turned around the left shoulder. The half turn is divided into two quarter-turns performed over the final demi-jeté of the fourth pas de menuet and first demi-coupé of the fifth.

In Le Maître a danser, some eight years later, Rameau explained that Guillaume-Louis Pecour had been responsible for changing the original reversed ‘S’ to a ‘Z’ figure (chapter 22, p. 84).

In his Trattato del Ballo Nobile published in Naples in 1728, Giambatista Dufort has a second section devoted to the minuet and looks at the ‘Z’ figure in chapter 5. Essentially, he prescribes two pas de menuet to the left, two more to cross and then two to the right. He does not mention any backwards steps.

Kellom Tomlinson published The Art of Dancing in London in 1735 (although he claimed to have completed the work in 1724, before Rameau published Le Maître a danser). He provides a detailed account of the steps and figures of the minuet in book two, reaching the ‘Figure of S reversed’ in chapter 7. Tomlinson uses eight pas de menuet for the figure. He begins with four pas de menuet à trois mouvements sideways – two to the left and two on the diagonal to meet in the middle – followed by four pas de menuet (‘one and a fleuret’) forwards to complete the ‘S reversed’. He adds that the last of the eight pas de menuet may be made sideways. Like Taubert, Tomlinson includes a notation for his ballroom minuet with two ‘S reversed’ figures in which he varies the last step.

Tomlinson also includes several engravings showing couples dancing the minuet. In this one they are about to begin the ‘S reversed’ figure.

Not only does the ‘Z’ figure include a pas de menuet backwards, in more than one treatise, but the type of step as well as the number used varies according to the different dancing masters who wrote about it in the early 1700s. I wish I had known this when I was learning the dance. The version I learned most closely resembles Taubert’s notation, although I do not remember him ever being cited as the source. I am not going to take this particular line of enquiry any further, at least for the time being, but I think there is ample material for some practical research by those who would like to get a little closer to how the minuet might have been danced at balls and assemblies in the 18th century.

The ‘Z’ Figure of the Minuet: Pierre Rameau

I recently saw a demonstration of the ‘Z’ figure of the minuet that gave me pause for thought. Citing Pierre Rameau and the diagram in Le Maître a danser, the figure was danced with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and one backwards to the right. So far as I can remember, I have never been taught the ‘Z’ figure in this way, but instead of rushing to the conclusion that the interpretation must be wrong, I decided to do some research. A quick look on YouTube revealed very few videos of the ballroom minuet, let alone Rameau’s version of this dance. Of the two videos I found, the couple in one danced the final section of the ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the right (turning around the right shoulder for the necessary quarter-turn), while the other couple did indeed do a single pas de menuet backwards. It was interesting that the latter video was far more recent than the former, so was I looking at a fresh interpretation of Rameau’s instructions?

Rameau deals with the figures of the ballroom minuet in his chapter XXII, ‘Du Menuet, & de la maniere de le danser régulierement’. Here is Rameau’s illustration of the ‘Z’ figure – ‘Figure Principal du Menuet’ – from this chapter.

As you can see, it says that both dancers perform two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two more forwards to pass one another by the right shoulder ‘en effaçant l’épaule’ and one backwards to the right (‘un en arriere du coté droit’).

When we turn to Rameau’s text, his written instructions are less clear.

Although he includes the numbers 1, 2 and 3 on his diagram, Rameau refers only to 2 and 3 in his text. In fact, he says nothing at all about the final step of the ‘Z’ figure. Is it possible that a part of Rameau’s instructions was omitted when the book was printed? So far as I am aware, there has been no detailed bibliographical study of this text that might address such issues.

I turned to John Essex’s 1728 translation of Rameau’s treatise, The Dancing-Master, to see whether he might have made good the omission in the original. Essex reproduces Rameau’s diagram, titling it ‘The fourth & Principal Figure of the Menuet’ and he too shows ‘two menuet Steps to ye left’ followed by ‘two forward, shading the shoulder’, but he has ‘two backwards to the right’.

Essex has made a change to Rameau’s illustration, but he merely translates the associated text without alteration.

Although Rameau’s treatise was published in 1725, was he perhaps reflecting an earlier French convention for the performance of the ‘Z’ figure? Was Essex merely making a faithful translation, or was he referring to a convention still current in English performances of the minuet?

Why was I taught a ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and two sideways to the right? Does the answer lie in other dance manuals of the early 18th century rather than in an idiosyncratic approach to dance reconstruction? I will turn to the other sources for the ‘Z’ figure in a new post.

The Brisé in the Ballroom

Among the steps listed for use in the cotillon, when the dance became popular in the 1760s, were a sissonne brisé (Josson, 1763) and brizé à trois pas (Gherardi, 1769?). Neither source describes how these steps should be performed, nor does the brisé turn up in earlier dance manuals (at least not under that name). It does appear later among the steps recommended for quadrilles  (where it is described) and it does, of course, also form part of the vocabulary of modern classical ballet. What was a brisé in late 18th and early 19th century social dancing?

The earliest description of a brisé that I know comes from Gennaro Magri’s Trattato teorico-prattico di ballo of 1779. Apart from appearing some ten to fifteen years later than Josson and Gherardi, Magri deals principally with stage dancing. Here is what he has to say about the brisé:

‘The brisé done in its true form has nothing in common with the capriole; indeed an assemblé to the side is more like a capriole than a brisé. This step is greatly used by the French, and although it might be a little thing in itself, none the less it appears to have more value by being a brilliant step, as it makes more effect done by those ballanti with supremely lively footwork than a capriole done by another. In truth then, referring to the subject of the capriole, it is executed as though it were a fourth capriolata to the side, but since it is done on the ground it becomes a step and not a capriole, whence in calling it a capriole the teachers of the art commit an error, showing that they cannot distinguish this from the step. It may be done forwards, backwards, sideways, turning, repeated, or doublé.

To do it forwards, if you wish to take it with the right leg, place yourself in any position except the first and the second, but the best is always the fourth; placed then in this with the right behind, bending, extend the foot to second in the air from where, with the calf of the same leg, beat in front of the instep of the other, which by the same strike is chased to fourth in front.’

(Magri, Theoretical and practical treatise on dancing, translated by Mary Skeaping, 1988, p. 138)

A footnote explains that ‘The right foot cuts in front of the left, which is simultaneously snatched up to touch the calf of the right’. Magri’s remark that ‘it is done on the ground’, without a jump, is particularly interesting in the context of cotillons and quadrilles. Steps that we would today associate with jumps seem to have been done simply with a rise in the ballroom. Magri’s caprioles include the entre-chat and cabriole, i.e. they are steps with both jumps and beats.

Magri also has a step called the demi-sissonne, described thus:

‘The sissonne, whether it be simple or with a rise and of whatever other category except the repeated, may be halved by ending it with a bend of both knees, without rising after the landing.’ (Skeaping translation, p. 106)

He adds that ‘This demi will have its place whenever another different step which begins with a plié has to be attached, either a jump or a capriole’ and tells us that serious dancers ‘add a pas brisé to it’. Might this shed some light on Josson’s sissonne-brisé?

The sources for quadrilles do explain how to perform the steps they mention. Here is what Gourdoux-Daux has to say in his De l’art de la danse of 1823 about the ‘pas ou tems qu’on nomme brisé dessus et à trois tems’. He begins ‘Pour faire ce pas, les pieds étant à la troisième’ and continues:

Gourdoux-Daux seems to be suggesting that the brisé is followed by a sissonne (the early 19th-century version) and then a close in third position. Was this, in fact, Gherardi’s brizé à trois pas?

Mason describes a jeté brisé dessous in his A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société of 1827 as follows:

‘Jeté devant upon the right foot, passing the left to fourth position behind; make a little battement forward and back; jeté devant upon the left, and continue.’

The pas battu seems to have no jump, in keeping with the conventions of social dancing.

Modern dictionaries of ballet describe the brisé as a small travelling assemblé with a beat. The earlier versions I have been discussing here seem not to travel and to have been executed with a rise and not a jump. Otherwise, the 18th and 19th-century brisé is clearly the ancestor of the modern step. Reading the various early descriptions, I can begin to see how the brisé could be incorporated into the perpetuum mobile of the cotillon and be performed within an early 19th-century quadrille.

Cotillon Steps and Quadrille Steps

The Cotillon

Cotillion Dance 1771 (2)

A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the cotillon steps recorded by London’s dancing masters in the 1760s. In 1762, De la Cuisse (who began the cotillon craze by publishing these dances) listed six steps in his Le Repertoire des bals ou theorie-pratique des contredansesbalancé, rigaudon, contretems, chassé, pirouette and pas de gavotte (the demi-contretems, which he described as ‘un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse’). All are familiar from the dance manuals of the early 1700s. Between them, Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve added another six – assemblé, glissade, ‘brizè à trois pas’, ‘chassé à trois pas’, double chassé and sissonne.  Three of these were also described in the earlier manuals, while three – the brizé and chassé ‘a trois pas’ and the double chassé were apparently more recent.

The Quadrille

Quadrilles - Practising at Home

The step vocabulary for the early 19th-century quadrille was more extensive and some of the steps were certainly more challenging than any used in the cotillon. One of the earliest works to deal with the quadrille was Notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse by J. H. Gourdoux-Daux, published in Paris in 1804. The second edition was titled Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse pour la ville and appeared in 1811. It was presumably this edition that was translated into English for publication in Philadelphia in 1817 as Elements and Principles of the Art of Dancing as used in Polite and Fashionable Circles. This translation describes nine steps for use in quadrilles – the ‘change of foot’ (changement de jambe), assemblé, jeté, sissonne, échappé, temps levé, grand coupé, chassé and glissade. Only one, chassé, is among the cotillon steps prescribed by De la Cuisse, while three more appear in the collections published in London – assemblé, glissade and sissonne. The last of these occurs only in Villeneuve’s Collection of Cotillons and he does not describe it. By the time Gourdoux-Daux was writing, the sissonne had become a spring from two feet to one, beginning in third position and ending with the free foot either extended to second or fourth position or brought into the ankle. It is recognisable as the second part of the pas de sissonne recorded in the early 1700s.

Gourdoux-Daux published a third edition of his treatise titled simply De l’art de la danse in 1823, which is accessible digitally. It adds a tems du balonné, pas de bourrée, tems de cuisse, demi-contretems, brisé and entrechat. His third edition is described as ‘revue, corrigé et augmenté’, indicating that it contains new material. However, without access to Gourdoux-Daux’s earlier editions, it is not possible to know whether he included any of these steps before 1823 or whether his American translator simply omitted them as either not generally used or, perhaps, not appropriate for social dancing.

In 1822, Alexander Strathy published his Elements of the Art of Dancing in Edinburgh. His list has twelve quadrille steps – assemblé, jeté, glissade, sissonne, temps levé, chassé, échappé, pirouette, changement de jambe, pas de Zéphyre or pas battu, jeté tendu and jeté du côté. His vocabulary overlaps with that of Gourdoux-Daux, but both have steps not included by the other.

The only other treatise I will look at here is Charles Mason’s A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société published in London in 1827. His vocabulary overlaps with both Gourdoux-Daux and Strathy and also includes steps they do not list. Mason’s list has twenty of what he calls ‘Les Mouvemens’ – changement de jambes, assemblé, jeté, sissonne, tems levé, chassé, glissade, jeté ballonné, tems de Zéphyre, coupé, pas de basque, pas de bourrée, tems de ‘coudepied’, jeté brisé, pas tombé, fouetté, contretems, pirouette, emboîté and petits battemens. Some of these may have been embellishments to steps, rather than steps in their own right, and some may have been used only within the ‘Differens Enchainemens de Pas’ Mason refers to on his title page.

In the following table I have tried to set out the steps recommended for the cotillon and quadrille respectively, with the name of each dancing master to include it listed in order of the date of their first publication in which it appears. For the purposes of this investigation, I have omitted the Allemande step used in so many cotillons – it is probably worth another post of its own (although I did write about it a few years ago). There were, of course, several other works on dancing – and the quadrille – published in the early decades of the 19th century, so my list of steps is probably far from complete and it is certainly not definitive. How and why did the step vocabulary change and expand so much as the cotillon gave way to the quadrille?

Table of Cotillon and Quadrille Steps

 

Mlle Théodore and the Pas de Basque

I have been discussing quadrille steps with an historical dance teacher of my acquaintance and he has been wondering about the origins of the pas de basque. In 1827, Charles Mason described it thus in his A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société:

Mason Pas de Basque (2)

There are several versions of this step in both modern and historical genres of dance, some of which can be traced back a long way – although, so far as I know, none are given the name pas de basque before the early 19th century.

I am sure that there are various theories about the origins of the step, although from my perspective it seems likely that the versions used in early 19th-century quadrilles owe something to the vocabulary of early 18th-century ballroom dancing. Recognisably related steps can certainly be found in the notated dances of the early 1700s. Where did the name come from and when did it start to be used?

In the course of another piece of research, I came across an advertisement for a performance at the King’s Theatre on 11 January 1783 which might provide a clue. The bill that evening declared that the ballet to accompany the evening’s opera (the King’s Theatre was London’s opera house) would include ‘two Pas de Basque by Mlle Theodore’. In this case, the ‘Pas de Basque’ were evidently solo dances given by the French ballerina. She repeated her Pas de Basque several times that season. The following season, the bill for Mlle Théodore’s benefit at the King’s Theatre on 13 May 1784 announced that she ‘will also dance the favourite Pas de Basque’.

Mlle Théodore had begun her career at the Paris Opéra, where she made her debut in 1777. She had first come to London, and the King’s Theatre, for the 1781-1782 season where she had quickly become popular with critics and audiences alike.

Mlle Theodore

In 1783, she married the dancer and choreographer Jean Bercher, known as Jean D’Auberval, who would later create La Fille mal gardée with his wife in the title role.

Is it possible that these dances performed in 1783 and 1784 could have given a name to a step that would become part of the quadrille vocabulary? She seems to have made a mark with these solos. A critic in the Public Advertiser for 18 January 1783 wrote ‘The Theodore, in her two Pas de Basque, especially the latter, is every Thing that is meant by the Words Liveliness, Vigour, and Agility’. Another critic, in the Morning Herald a few days earlier on 13 January, gave additional details of the performance:

‘As long as the Theodore confines herself to those light and skipping motions in dancing, which have so powerfully recommended her to public notice, she will ever remain unrivaled. She was greatly and deservedly applauded in her two Pas de Basque; but especially in the last; when there happening a little accident of her shoe slipping off, she went on with her dance, and convinced the spectators, that shod or unshod, she is the liveliest of the lively train.’

Apart from the evident vivacity of her dancing, the mishap may well have drawn extra attention to her steps and ignited a desire to imitate them.

These Pas de Basque were performed in ‘an entirely new Ballet’ Le Tuteur trompé; or, the Guardian outwitted by Charles Le Picq, being performed for the first time on 11 January 1783. It was taken, in part, from Beaumarchais’s Le Barbier de Séville and according to the Morning Herald had dancing ‘which was mostly in the Spanish stile, and of course a novelty on this theatre’. The early 1780s were also a period when quadrilles were being danced both on stage and in the ballroom in London. Quadrilles were still quite new and may well have been establishing and extending both their steps and figures.

I don’t actually believe that Mlle Théodore and her dances introduced this step and gave it the name pas de basque. However, could they have played a part in its adoption into the ballroom and addition to the vocabulary of the newly emerging quadrille and even influenced its naming?