Category Archives: Country Dancing

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.

Dances on the London Stage: The Running Footman

The bill at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre for 16 November 1723 included, among the entr’acte dances, a Running Footman’s Dance by Nivelon and Mrs Rogier. It was evidently quite popular, for it was given ten times that season (two of the performances were billed as a solo by Nivelon). It was copied at the Richmond Theatre the following summer, where it was danced as a solo by Haughton.

The running footman must have cut a conspicuous figure on the streets of London and elsewhere. Footmen were part of aristocratic and wealthy entourages and running footmen were highly prized. All footmen were young men with good carriage and good physiques, but running footmen were particularly fit and strong as they were employed to run just ahead of their master’s coach on a journey, in a livery designed to attract attention. A satirical piece in the Universal Spectator describes them as wearing ‘fine Holland Drawers and Waistcoats, Thread Stockings, a blue silk Sash fringed with Silver, a Velvet Cap with a great Tassel’ and carrying ‘a Porter’s Staff with a large Silver Handle’. The details of their livery obviously varied according to their employer, but such features as the cap and the staff made them instantly recognisable, as in this undated image.

The running footman also ran errands in town and was entered into competitive foot races by his employer. These events included wagers and could be elaborate. They were regularly reported in the newspapers during much of the 18th century, as in Applebee’s Original Weekly Journal for 24 September 1720.

It was surely such exploits that gave Nivelon the idea for the dance – it seems likely that he was the original choreographer.

Nivelon and Mrs Laguerre (as Mrs Rogier became following her remarriage in 1724) performed the Running Footman from 1723-1724 until 1727-1728, with a brief revival in 1732-1733. The fact that it was a duet, when put together with the duties of real running footmen, suggests that the dance had a narrative element and was not simply a display of dancing skills. The Running Footman would feature among entr’acte dances in London’s theatres until the 1763-1764 season. Many of these dances were solos, which does suggest virtuosic display, and in 1750-1751 the Running Footman was given as a male duet which may well have mimicked the races mentioned above. The last mention of the Running Footman as an entr’acte dance was on 4 May 1764, when Robert Aldridge danced with Miss Baker and supporting dancers (indicated, as usual, only by ‘&c.’). Did this choreography make use of a narrative? Could it have looked back to Nivelon’s original dance?

Music for a Running Footman country dance can be found in several sources of the mid-18th century. The earliest to bear the title seems to be that in The Compleat Country Dancing-Master published by John Walsh in 1731, where it has the title Running Footman’s Jigg. Could this be the tune used by Nivelon? All these country dances have a time signature of 6/8.

The Running Footman also seems to have been absorbed into an entr’acte dance named The Medley. There were a couple of early entr’acte dances with that title, performed in 1702-1703 and 1734-1735 respectively, but the one that is relevant to this post must be the ‘New Entertainment call’d The Medley, by Slingsby, Miss Baker, &c.’ given at Drury Lane on 20 November 1764. This was performed more than forty times that season although oddly, given its popularity, it wasn’t revived until 1767-1768 (with different performers). It was subsequently given in 1770-1771, when it was performed by ‘Scholars of Giorgi’ (he was a leading dancer at Drury Lane). That version of The Medley continued in repertoire into the 1772-1773 season. All of these performances were at Drury Lane. The Medley moved to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket for 1774-1775 and 1775-1776 and took a last bow there in 1783-1784 when it was danced by ‘Master Giorgi, Miss Byrne and others’. There are no hints in the surviving advertisements about the theme of the dance, although the title suggests that it included several different choreographies.

At least one version of The Medley was performed in the provinces, where it was advertised with full details. Here is the relevant section from the advertisement in the Derby Mercury for 28 February 1782. My thanks to Keith Cavers for providing both the information and the reference.

The list of characters in The Medley suggests that it was drawn not only from entr’acte dances popular on the London stage, but also from well-known dances within afterpieces. Were these linked together by a narrative thread spun by the Running Footman himself? Mr West was the dancer and choreographer William West (born circa 1757). As I write, I haven’t been able to find evidence that he did succeed Slingsby in The Medley at Drury Lane – unless he was one of the unnamed ‘Scholars of Giorgi’ who performed it there in the early 1770s (when West would have been in his mid-teens).

The Running Footman made two other stage appearances in the late 18th century. One was at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on 8 August 1781 in an afterpiece titled Medea and Jason. This was a parody of Noverre’s well-known ballet, which had been given in London for the first time at the King’s Theatre earlier that season. The Haymarket cast included the ‘Prince de la Cour (as a Running Footman)’ danced by Master Byrn. This production may be worth returning to in a later post. The Running Footman’s last appearances seem to have been in another afterpiece, Here and There and Everywhere, also given at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, from 31 August 1785. The role was taken by Master Goosetree. In both cases, the Running Footman seems to have been performed by a boy rather than an adult male dancer.

There is another image of the running footman in a series of four studies by the Italian artist Giovanni Paolo Panini, possibly dating to the mid-1750s. They provide an idea of the figure represented on the London stage by Nivelon, Slingsby and some of the other dancers who performed the Running Footman.

More Steps for Cotillons

My curiosity about the change in step vocabulary between the cotillons of the 1760s and 1770s and the quadrilles of the early 1800s has been further piqued by information from an additional source. I had heard of Josson’s Traité abrégé de la danse of 1763 – I had even seen and catalogued a copy in a private collection – but I had never really taken note of its contents. Catherine Turocy of the New York Baroque Dance Company drew my attention to the digital copy on Gallica, prompting me to take a proper look. Josson is probably best known for what he has to say about the minuet but his Traité also deals with ‘les différens pas & figures des contre-danses en usage’. At the time he was writing, I think we can assume that these contredanses were in fact cotillons.

Josson lists as the basic steps – ‘les pas dont on fait usage dans les Contre-danses’ – balancé, pas de rigaudon, pas de gavotte, chassés and pirouettes. He also describes how they should be performed and there are some interesting differences from what is said elsewhere, notably by De la Cuisse. I will not go into detail here, but I will mention the pas de gavotte. Josson’s version is not the same as that of De la Cuisse (who equates it to the demi-contretems). This is what Josson says (p. 77):

This isn’t the pas de gavotte I was taught in years past either – a contretems forwards or backwards followed by an assemblé into first position, with or without a pas marché to fill the upbeat – although it obviously relates to that pas composé.

My attention was also drawn to Josson’s supplementary list of steps (p. 81):

The entre-chat, sissonne brisé and jetté battu can claim to be steps for the stage, although there is evidence beyond Josson’s Traité they were also used in the ballroom. However, I am now wondering about the term brisé. So far as I know, it isn’t found in the early 18th-century treatises, although it certainly appears in Magri’s Trattato teorico-prattico di ballo as well as some of the various treatises on the cotillon and the quadrille. In the context of social dancing, what is a brisé? Also, why does Josson list the demi-contretems here? It presumably isn’t the step described by de La Cuisse as ‘le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse’ but something altogether more demanding.

Josson has upset my notion of the cotillon as a dance with a circumscribed step vocabulary in which the emphasis is on the figures. His Traité raises questions about the range of steps actually used in these contredanses. How could this showy vocabulary be fitted into the tight figures and relentless momentum of cotillons? We still have much to learn about these demanding little choreographies.

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


The Last Quadrilles on the 18th-Century London Stage?

Between 1776 and 1787 quadrilles continued to be mentioned in London theatre bills from time to time. On 16 May 1778, the bill at Covent Garden included ‘a variety of new Quadrilles’ at the end of act four of Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. These ‘new Quadrilles’ may well have been cotillons for four, since they were immediately preceded by ‘Le Minuet à Quatre by Dumay, Holloway, Miss Matthews, Miss Ross’ who presumably provided all the dancing in this entr’acte.

In 1782, there was another outburst of quadrilles which is worth looking at in some detail. Late in 1781, a masked ball ‘with Quadrilles’ was announced at the King’s Theatre. Subsequent newspaper reports suggest that it was deferred until 24 January 1782. The advertisement in the Morning Chronicle for that day listed an elaborate sequence of entertainments by the theatre’s leading dancers.

Morning Chronicle 24 Jan 1782

These quadrilles seem to have been danced by four couples and had been created by none other than Jean-Georges Noverre. The practice of holding masquerades alongside the opera performances dates back to much earlier in the history of London’s opera house, as this image of 1724 shows.

KIn's Theatre Masquerade Grisoni 1724 (2)

On 2 February 1782, the performance at the King’s Theatre included entr’acte dancing with ‘the Dances introduced in the Masquerade’.

On 7 February 1782, there was a cotillon ball at the Pantheon. The advertisement in that day’s Morning Chronicle helpfully explained:

‘Several Ladies having expressed a desire to dance Quadrilles, and other figure dances at the Cotillon Ball, Ladies who wish to make their party for that purpose, may be accommodated with a room to practice the same any morning from Twelve to Three, free of any expence.’

The ‘Ladies’ would of course have subscribed in advance to attend the cotillon ball. There was probably more than a little rivalry between the various venues mounting public balls.

In April and May 1782, there were a number of performances at the Covent Garden Theatre which included quadrilles in the entr’actes. On 2 April there was ‘a new Grand Divertisement’ at the end of the mainpiece play. Here is playbill for the performance.

CG 2 April 1782

The Gala, with its Quadrilles and Cotillons, was repeated on 16 and 27 April. The advertisement is open to interpretation – either the quadrilles and cotillons used four and eight dancers respectively, or the dances were distinguished from one another by their steps, choreographic structure and music. The wording does not suggest that the dancers were divided into groups, so it is impossible to tell what the difference was. On 25 May 1782 a ‘New Quadrille’ was given in the entr’actes at Covent Garden, but the bill says no more than that title.

There were only occasional mentions of quadrilles later in the 1780s. The last reference to quadrilles on the London stage before 1800 was in the bill for a performance at the King’s Theatre on 20 January 1787. However, it came within the description of ‘an allegorical Ballet’ at the end of the opera ‘divided into 3 Quadrilles’ which must surely mean simply that the dancers were divided into three groups for the purposes of the choreography.

I suspect that there are many more references to danced quadrilles to be uncovered in newspapers and other sources during the last decades of the eighteenth century. Paul Cooper’s ‘Cotillion Dancing in England, 1760s to 1810s’ on the Regency Dances website cites an advertisement in the Bath Chronicle of 30 October 1794 for a dancing master named Deneuville, who was teaching quadrilles in that city. I am certain that London’s dancing masters must have been doing the same, even if the dance (in any form) was not being given in London’s theatres. Further research will surely shed light on the ‘quadrilles’ danced in London and elsewhere before the 19th century.

More Quadrilles in 18th-Century London

After the burst of interest in 1773, no more quadrilles were advertised in London’s theatres until 3 May 1776 when the performance at Covent Garden included:

‘New Dance Call’d The Academy, in which will be introduced the New Court Minuet and Rigadoon (never perform’d before) by Mas. Holland and Miss Armstrong; with a Minuet and Allemande, by Mas. Daigueville, and a Girl only 5 years old; to conclude with a new Cadrille, by Sg and Sga Zuchelli, Dagueville, and Sga Vidini’.

In this case, the identification of a quadrille with a cotillon performed by only four dancers seems plausible. The performance was a benefit for ‘Dagueville’ (Peter D’Egville), described as ‘ballet master’ in the advertisement, so did he create this quadrille?

However, just a couple of years earlier, there had been a private performance of quadrilles which might have bought them back on stage, although they are not explicitly mentioned in any bills. On 9 June 1774, Lord Stanley (Edward Smith Stanley, later 12th Earl of Derby) had given a Fête Champêtre at his country seat The Oaks, near Epsom in Surrey to celebrate his forthcoming marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton. The report in the General Evening Post, 9-11 June 1774, mentioned (among many other entertainments) ‘an infinite number of persons habited as peasants who attended swings and other amusements, and occasionally formed parties quarrees to dance quadrilles’. The description ‘parties quarrees’ suggests four couples dancing in a square. I couldn’t find individual portraits of the happy couple around the time of the Fête Champêtre, but here is a double portrait of them with their son painted by Angelica Kauffman in 1776.

Lord and Lady Stanley Kaufmann 1776

Lord Stanley’s entertainment later became part of a play by John Burgoyne, The Maid of the Oaks, first performed at Drury Lane on 5 November 1774. A review in the Westminster Magazine for November 1774 sets out the plot and describes its divertissements:

‘After some superb exhibitions of transparent scenery, several characteristic airs, and elegant dances, Mr Oldworth … proclaims Maria his only daughter and gives her to Sir Harry. After a dance of Cupids, Hymen, &c. … offering them eternal wreaths, the Druid of the Oaks, freed by the present powers of Beauty from that sequestered habitation to which by mystic spells he had long been doomed, appears to ratify their union, and astonishes the spectators by his magic influence, in a glorious vision of that felicity the virtues of the happy pair had so justly insured. An admirable vaudeville, and a grand dance, conclude the dramatic entertainment’.

Cupid, Hymen and the Druid had all featured in Lord Stanley’s Fête Champêtre. The published text of the play makes clear that some of the scenes seen on stage represented the gardens and temporary buildings which had formed its backdrop the previous June. This print shows the ballroom designed and erected by Robert Adam for the occasion.

Adam Ballroom Oaks 1774 Stanley Fete (2)

The advertisement for the first performance of The Maid of the Oaks told would-be audiences that the piece would include a ‘Fête Champêtre’ with singing and dancing – ‘The Dances by Slingsby … Atkins, Como, Giorgi, Sga Crespi, Mrs Sutton, &c. and Sga Hidou, … The Ballets by M. Larevier’. The distinction between ‘Dances’ and ‘Ballets’ is interesting and perhaps reflects a difference between the choreographies performed by the guests at the Fête and the divertissement dances given by the professionals. Another source tells us that the Ballets were ‘very Grand’. There is no mention of quadrilles either on the bills or in the printed text. The latter refers only to ‘a Grand Dance of Shepherds and Shepherdesses’ at the end of act two, a ‘Country Dance’ towards the end of act four, and a Minuet at the beginning of act five – which ends with the ‘Grand Dance’. Perhaps the ‘Country Dance’ was actually a quadrille.

I am inclined to believe that The Maid of the Oaks did include quadrilles, if only because on 31 August 1774 the Daily Advertiser Carried the following announcement:

Daily Advertiser 31 Aug 1774 (2)

The Morning Chronicle for 22 November 1774 announced that Delatre’s New Set of Cotillons was to be published that day, with its ‘first published’ quadrille. Delatre may well have been making use of the publicity surrounding Lord Stanley’s Fête Champêtre. Was he also capitalizing on the dancing in The Maid of the Oaks? He may have been the Monsieur Delaître who danced at Drury Lane in the 1750s, beginning with Jean-Georges Noverre’s The Chinese Festival in 1755. He is one of the very few dancing masters for whom trade cards have survived. This is the most elaborate of three that are known and may date to the 1780s.

Delatre Trade Card (2)

I had thought that two pieces on these early stage quadrilles would have been enough, but I found quite a bit of interesting material. A third piece will take the story forward to the 1780s.

The First Quadrilles in London?

At an online cotillon workshop a few weeks ago, someone asked when cotillons changed to quadrilles. I was curious to know more about this, so I thought I would do some research. Of course, once I got started, I found more information and it was more complicated to analyse than I had anticipated. There may be more than one post on this topic.

I began with a couple of modern sources – Ellis Rogers’s extensively researched book The Quadrille (3rd edition, 2005) and Paul Cooper’s research paper ‘Cotillion Dancing in England, 1760s to 1810s’, which includes a section on early quadrilles, on the Regency Dances website. Both supply a wealth of information and references which I have tried to follow up and build on. My focus is usually dancing on the 18th-century London stage, so I thought I would also see if there were any quadrilles advertised in London’s theatres during that period. There were, so I have looked first and foremost at these. I don’t usually provide references in my posts, but I will give some here. Details of stage performances can be found in The London Stage.

In The Quadrille (p. 13), Ellis Rogers cites Jean-Michel Guilcher who states in his La Contredanse that before the 19th century the term ‘quadrille’ meant simply a group of dancers brought together to perform a dance. Paul Cooper tells us that quadrilles were danced in England from the mid-1770s and cites the dancing master S. J. Gardiner who, in his 1786 treatise A Definition of Minuet-Dancing, has a section ‘Of Cotillions, Quadrilles, &c.’ and writes of quadrilles – ‘They are Danced the same as the Cotillions, only with this difference, that instead of four Couple in the Cotillions, there are but two in the Quadrilles’ (p. 55).

On the London stage, the earliest recorded performance of a quadrille was on 27 March 1773 at Drury Lane. At the end of the play there was ‘A New Dance, in which will be introduced a Quadrille, by Daigueville, Giorgi, Atkins, Grimaldi, Sga Vidini, Sga Giorgi, Mrs Sutton, Mme Daigville, &c.’ The New Dance with its Quadrille was repeated on 30 March. It is interesting that eight dancers (four men and four women) are named, although the ‘&c.’ indicates that there were additional supporting dancers. It is impossible to tell which of the dancers might have performed the Quadrille – although my guess is that it was the eight who are named.

That same season a Grand Quadrille was given at the end of the opera at the King’s Theatre on 27 April. The advertisement tells us:

La Fete de Village will be done in the same manner as it was at Mlle Heinel’s Benefit, in which Mlle Heinel and Fierville will dance a Minuet, to conclude with a Country Dance and a Grand Quadrille by the principal dancers.’

There had been no mention of either a Country Dance or a Grand Quadrille when La Fete de Village was danced at Mlle Heinel’s benefit on 1 April 1773, although that ballet was repeated on 28 May and 8 June as well as 27 April with these additions. On 8 June the Grand Quadrille was advertised as danced by ‘Slingsby, etc.’ Simon Slingsby must have been one of the unnamed ‘principal dancers’ referred to on 27 April and presumably led both the Country Dance and the Grand Quadrille with a female partner.

These performances came soon after a private ball at which quadrilles were danced. Horace Walpole provides us with a description of the dancing at the ball given at the French Ambassador’s house on 26 March 1773:

‘The quadrilles were very pretty: Mrs Damer, Lady Sefton, Lady Melbourn and the Princess Czartoriski, in blue satin and blond and collets montés à la reine Elizabeth, Lord Robert Spencer, Mr Fitzpatrick, Lord Carlisle and I forget whom, in like dresses with red sashes, beaucoup de rouge, black hats with diamond loops and a few feathers before, began: then the Henri Quatres and Quatresses, who were Lady Craven, Miss Minching, the two Misses Vernons, Mr Storer, Mr Hanger, the Duc de Lausun and George Damer, all in white, the men with black hats and white feathers flapping behind, danced another quadrille, and then both quadrilles joined’. (The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, ed. W.S. Lewis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937-1983), vol. 32, pp. 108-113. Letter to Lady Ossory, 27 March 1773).

Walpole’s use of the word ‘quadrilles’ here may well have Guilcher’s meaning and so does not really refer to what they were dancing – although each of the quadrilles did have eight dancers. The footnotes to the letter identify most of the dancers, almost all of whom were in their mid-twenties. At least two of them were painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds around this time – Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1828) in 1773 and Lord Robert Spencer (1747-1831) in 1769. They may have been partners for the first quadrille.

The ball was given an advance mention in the Public Advertiser for 25 March 1773, which provided the additional information that ‘The directors of the dances are Mr Slingsby and Monsieur Lepy’. Both were dancers at the King’s Theatre this season, raising the question whether Drury Lane stole a march on their rivals by adding a quadrille to the bill on 27 March, well before the King’s Theatre were ready to do so. Reading all this over, I am not sure I have quite fathomed the relationship between the French Ambassador’s ball and the various later stage performances.

There are references to quadrilles beyond this ball and the subsequent theatre performances, which seem to indicate that quadrilles were being introduced to London for the first time in 1773. On 8 April 1773 (after the French Ambassador’s ball and the first ‘quadrille’ performance at Drury Lane), Gallini advertised his forthcoming annual ball at Almack’s in the Public Advertiser and drew attention to the fact that the tunes in the second volume of his Treatise on the Art of Dancing ‘may be danced to in Quadrille as well as Cotillons’. When the ball was advertised again in the Public Advertiser on 17 April (it was to take place on 23 April) there was an addition to the wording – ‘By particular Desire, a double Quadrille will be performed’. On 30 April 1773 the Public Advertiser carried a notice for ‘Mr. Noverre’s Annual Ball’ to be held on 3 May (Mr Noverre was Augustin, younger brother of Jean-Georges). The dances would include ‘Minuets, Cotillons and a Double Quadrille, by Mr. Noverre’s Scholars’. Both Gallini and Noverre seem to have been trying to capitalise on the new dance that had caught public attention as well as emulate the double quadrille at the French Ambassador’s ball.

These quadrilles were being danced in London just a few years after the start of the craze for cotillons. Were they really quadrilles, or just another form of cotillon? I will return to the question of the combination of steps, figures, choreographic structure and music that defines a quadrille.

How Easy Are Regency Quadrille Steps?

In an earlier post, Jumping or Rising? Regency Quadrille Steps, I admitted that I had found it difficult to learn the step sequences used for the various quadrille figures in Strathy’s Elements of the art of dancing (1822) and Gourdoux-Daux’s Elements and principles of the art of dancing (translation, 1817). I’m still puzzling over the reasons for this. I’ve been dancing quadrilles for a good few years, admittedly using only a small range of steps, and my background in ballet (as well as my work on baroque dance) means that I can usually pick up step sequences quite quickly. So, in this post, I thought I would take a closer look at what made the new quadrille sequences so challenging.

I’ll begin with the upper body and the arms. Strathy advises:

‘The graceful display of the arms depends greatly on the manner in which the elbows and wrists are turned. The arms should be held in a rounded form, so that the elbows and wrists make the least appearance possible; the elbows turned forward in a small degree, and the wrists held in contrast with them; the hands gently rounded, and the thumbs placed on the joint, or rather over the first joint of the fore-finger, and turned towards the sides. In this position, the arms have a much more delicate appearance, than when the back of the hands are held foremost’.

The lady, of course, holds her skirt, and Strathy helpfully provides illustrations.

The arms are in what is nowadays called a bras bas position and this is where they stay, except when taking hands with another dancer in the quadrille set. Strathy places a lot of emphasis on the ‘proper deportment of the body’ and the ‘proper disposition of the waist’. It takes quite a lot of practice to control the upper body (including the head and the shoulders) and keep the arms still without becoming tense and looking stiff.

In my earlier post, I looked at whether regency dancers jumped or merely rose for their springing steps. With further experimentation, and advice from the dancing master who began this enquiry, I came to the conclusion that the answer was somewhere between the two and that some steps, for example the jeté, travel relatively little. This style of dancing is far more contained than modern ballet. Just as much as its baroque predecessor, it requires what Strathy calls ‘à-plomb,- that steadiness and facility of execution’ achieved by keeping the weight well over the feet.  At the end of each step, you must be ready to go in any direction (or none) – just as in baroque dance. I am beginning to master this, but it has taken quite a while.

My main struggles have been with the sequences used in regency quadrilles. As I tried, and failed, to learn these well enough to do them without repeatedly checking the notes, I attempted to analyse what was going on. I came to the conclusion that I was actually trying to replicate what was expected in modern ballet. I was just too used to sequences that were fully symmetrical as well balletic conventions for closing the working foot either ‘under’ or ‘over’. Baroque dance, of course, works differently but I’ve almost always been learning notated dances and not short step sequences.

I’ll give, as an example of how regency quadrille sequences work, one of Gourdoux-Daux’s alternatives for traverser – in which the dancer crosses the set to the other side. Most of us (myself included) generally use the sequence of three temps levé-chassé ending with a jeté and assemblé.  Here is what Gourdoux-Daux suggests (and this is only one of several alternatives offered by him and Strathy):

‘Presenting the right shoulder to your opposite dancer, perform the glissade above with the right foot, glissade under, jeté in the third position under the left foot, turning round on that side at the same time. Then do the assemblé with the left foot under the right. To complete this trait, rise sisone under with the left foot, glissade above with it, glissade under and assemblé with it under the right foot.’

The description does need a bit of interpretation, but it is an asymmetric sequence and you have to get the correct foot in front at the end of each glissade as well as finishing your jeté and assemblés ‘under’. You also have to be ready to change orientation, as well as direction, immediately after dancing to the right side and the left. It has taken me a while to get it right.

Perhaps my problems also related to the fact that I was trying to learn several different sequences (for dos-à-dos, traverser, chassé croisé and dancing right and left) all at the same time, as well as having very little time for practice each week. I’m sure that it would have taken regency dancers some weeks of careful tuition by an expert dancing master before they became proficient. Still, never underestimate the skills of even amateur dancers in history!


Jumping or Rising? Regency Quadrille Steps

I have been trying to get my feet around the steps and sequences used in regency quadrilles and finding it a bit of a struggle. I think there are two main reasons for this. One is that the ‘grammar’ of the sequences, the way in which the steps are put together, contradicts what I am used to in modern ballet’s petit allegro. The other is that the individual steps, which seem very similar to those of petit allegro, in fact need a different style and technique which I am still trying to work out.

I started to learn this material (in which I claim no expertise) for a project devised by a young teacher of historical dance with whom I have been lucky enough to work over several years. The source texts we are using are Strathy’s treatise of 1822 and the 1817 American translation of Gourdoux-Daux’s manual.

These provide descriptions of the temps levé, chassé, jeté, assemblé, échappé, glissade, sissonne, changement and grand coupé, which feature in the various quadrille figures and balances we have been exploring.

Looking through the two treatises, I was surprised to see that both use the word ‘rise’ where I expected to see ‘spring’ or ‘jump’. Gourdoux-Daux’s translator does use the word ‘jump’ occasionally and Strathy says ‘spring’ once, but the descriptions suggest that neither word really represents what they intended their dancers to do. When describing the landing from a step which I would assume (from my experience with ballet) leaves the floor, Strathy uses the word ‘fall’ while ‘V.G.’ says ‘alight’. I won’t go through all of the steps I have listed, but here are their descriptions of the changement, which I think illustrate the point I am grappling with.

Strathy says:

‘Of the step named Changement de Jambe.

Place the body as directed for the deportment, the feet in the fifth position; balance the body equally on both legs, bend low by folding the knees outward, rise without jerking, and make the feet pass by the first position, the one to the place of the other, the knees extended, and the points or toes turned down, so as the feet may be in a line with the legs, the points near the floor, where they will fall by the weight of the body: place the heels gently, the feet in the fifth position; keep the knees straight.’

While Gourdoux-Daux says:

‘On the motion called Change of Foot, in the third position.

To perform this step, place yourself in the third position, firm on the hips and knees, with the toes properly turned out. Bend down equally upon both knees and insteps, (without raising the heels from the floor) rise up gradually, just high enough to enable you to bend the instep so as to cause the toes to be in a perpendicular line with the leg, as much as possible. Cross your feet as in the first position, viz. the heels close together, and alighting on the floor on the toes, bring the heels gradually down in the third position and straighten up your knees.’

Both descriptions suggest a jump that isn’t quite a jump, since the dancer rises only high enough to fully point the feet. The motive force for the step seems to come from the feet as much as the plié, making it closer to the modern rélevé than a jump. So, in regency dancing, are jumps closer to the demi-jeté or perhaps the ‘relever en sautant dessus’ of the contretemps in baroque dance?

Another word that turns up regularly in these treatises is ‘slide’, used in the description of the assemblé (for the initial movement of the working foot) as well as in the glissade (which is obviously linked to the baroque step with its pas glissés). A sliding step does not, of course, leave the floor.

For another project, I have been re-reading a study of balls and assemblies 1660-1840 where I came across a short discussion of changes to the dancing floors around the regency period. The evidence was somewhat contradictory. Apparently sprung floors were being introduced at much the same time as floors became highly polished – the one facilitating springing steps while the other encouraged sliding steps. Did they indeed affect the dancing style and technique of the time – perhaps further research is needed?

So, to return to my original problem, was regency dancing full of small jumps similar to those taught in a modern ballet class? Or was it based on jumps that weren’t quite jumps, making it lively and bouncy but with the emphasis on controlled vivacity rather than aerial feats?



Morgiana in the Ballroom

At a workshop recently, I learnt an early 19th-century English dance with the name Morgiana in the title. The teacher (who is always finding new country dances and quadrilles from this period) mentioned that it was only one of several dances in which her name features. So, who was Morgiana and why was she so popular in the ballroom?

A quick search on the web revealed that she is a character in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment and that she features in the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. This collection of stories reached western Europe in a French translation early in the 18th century and was quickly translated into English in a version which went through many editions and remained popular well into the 19th century. In the modern edition I have, Morgiana is described as ‘a cunning artful slave, so fruitful in her inventions, that she would succeed in the most difficult undertaking’. In fact, she plays a central role in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, saving her master from death several times – it is she who kills the forty thieves.

Morgiana’s last exploit comes as Ali Baba is, unwittingly, entertaining the captain of the thieves who intends to murder him. She employs a particularly interesting ‘invention’ to outwit the would-be killer. She ‘dressed herself like a dancer, girded her waist with a silver-gilt girdle, to which there hung a poniard of the same metal, and put a handsome mask on her face’. The story goes on:

‘Morgiana, who was an excellent dancer, danced after such a manner as would have created admiration …

After she had danced several dances with a great deal of justness, she drew the poniard, and holding it in her hand, danced a dance, which was very surprising for the many different figures and fine movements it required.’

At the end of her dance, Morgiana stabs and kills the captain, saving Ali Baba once again. She has already earned her freedom, so her final reward is to marry Ali Baba’s son.

Such a colourful and exciting tale was ripe for adaptation on the London stage, although it apparently had to wait until the early 19th century for its first production. On 8 April 1806, Drury Lane presented The Forty Thieves, a ‘New Grand Operatical Romance’ with a scenario by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, music by Michael Kelly and ‘Ballets and Action’ by James Harvey d’Egville. The playbill shows that it was a lavish production.

Forty Thieves DL 1806

Other versions of The Forty Thieves soon followed in London’s minor theatres, including one as late as 1835 at the Lyceum. The Drury Lane ‘melo-dramatic romance’ was quickly published, as was its vocal score. Further versions of Ali Baba; or, The Forty Thieves destroyed by Morgiana were published around Britain into the mid-19th century, suggesting that many provincial theatres also gave performances of the piece.

Of course, Morgiana danced in The Forty Thieves. In a printed edition of the play, she is described in the penultimate scene as appearing ‘in a dancing dress, with gold pitcher, (splendid) and goblet’ (the original manuscript ignores the pitcher and goblet but says she has ‘a dagger in her girdle’). While the printed text says only that there is a ‘short dance by Figurantes, then by Morgiana with Tambourine’ the manuscript expands this:

‘Morgiana’s Dance in which imitating two or three of the Passions she prevents Hassarac’s [the captain] attempts to assassinate Ali Baba without her intention being discover’d by Hassarac or Ali Baba & Family – Hassarac has, at last, lifted up his dagger & is on the very point of stabbing Ali Baba when she seizes his arm and in a violent struggle she forces the Robber to plunge his weapon in his own breast.’

It was surely Morgiana’s tambourine dance (as much as her dramatic action) that caught the imagination of the public and encouraged dancing masters to use her name, and perhaps her music, to create new dances for the ballroom – some of which my 21st-century dancing master has re-discovered.

Here is Morgiana dressed to dance, and to kill!


Morgiana Gallica