Category Archives: Country Dancing

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

THE RESTORATION COURT BALL

Samuel Pepys provides us with two descriptions of balls at the Restoration court that deserve to be better known.

The first took place on 31 December 1662. After seeing the Duke and Duchess of York at supper, Pepys went ‘into the room where the Ball was to be, crammed with fine ladies, the greatest of the Court’, all waiting for the ball to begin.

‘By and by comes the King and Queen, the Duke and Duchesse, and all the great ones; and after seating themselfs, the King takes out the Duchess of Yorke, and the Duke the Duchesse of Buckingham, the Duke of Monmouth my Lady Castlemayne, and so other lords other ladies; and they danced the Bransle. After that the King led a Lady a single Coranto; and then the rest of the Lords, one after the other, other ladies. Very noble it was, and a great pleasure to see. Then to Country dances; the King leading the first which he called for; which was – says he, Cuckolds all a-row, the old dance of England. … The manner was, when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stands up; and endeed he dances rarely and much better then the Duke of Yorke.’

Pepys enjoyed the occasion. ‘Having stayed here as long as I thought fit, to my infinite content, it being the greatest pleasure I could wish now to see at Court, I went out, leaving them dancing.’

On 15 November 1666, Pepys wrote of ‘the Ball at night at Court, it being the Queenes Birthday’. He took himself along to Whitehall Palace to watch the event.

‘Anon the house grew full, and the candles lit, and the King and Queen and all the ladies set. And it was endeed a glorious sight to see Mrs. Steward in black and white lace – and her head and shoulders dressed with Dyamonds. And the like a great many great ladies more (only, the Queene none); and the King in his rich vest of some rich silk and silver trimming, as the Duke of York and all the dancers were, some of cloth of silver, and others of other sorts, exceeding rich. Presently after the King was come in, he tooke the Queene, and about fourteen more couple there was, and begun the Bransles.’

Pepys tried to recall all the dancers, but could remember only some of them, ‘But all most excellently dressed, in rich petticoats and gowns and Dyamonds – and pearl.’ He then turned back to the dancing.

‘After the Bransles, then to a Corant, and now and then a French Dance; but that so rare that the Corants grew tiresome, that I wished it done. Only, Mrs. Steward danced mighty finely, and many French dances, especially one the King called the New Dance, which was very pretty. But upon the whole matter the business of the dancing itself was not extraordinarily pleasing. But the clothes and sight of the persons was indeed very pleasing, and worth my coming, being never likely to see more gallantry while I live – if I should come twenty times.’

Pepys does not say what time the ball began, but ‘About 12 at night it broke up’. He had mixed feelings about it ‘between displeased at the dull dancing, and satisfied at the clothes and persons.’

Pepys is not the most reliable narrator when it comes to dancing. His attention was constantly drawn to the women, particularly the countess of Castlemaine, and it is doubtful that he knew much about dance steps and figures. Nevertheless, he provides us with valuable information about the sequence of dances at court balls. These began with branles, led by the King, followed by a series of courantes (also initiated by the monarch) which might be interspersed with ‘French Dances’ before the country dances with which the ball ended. The ‘French Dances’ were perhaps choreographed duets – earlier versions of the ballroom dances published in notation in the early 1700s – whereas the country dances may well have been regarded as distinctly English.

The order, with its emphasis on precedence according to rank, is very similar to that outlined by Pierre Rameau in chapter 16 of Le Maître a danser, published in 1725. Charles II was the son of a French princess, Henrietta Maria, and had spent part of his exile in Paris, so he must have been well aware of the protocol governing the court balls of Louis XIV. There was also a French dancing master at the Restoration court, Jerome Francis Gahory, who must surely have been involved in organising these balls and perhaps creating choreographed dances for them, as his successors Mr Isaac and Anthony L’Abbé certainly did.

Charles II Dancing

Gonzales Coques, Charles II dancing at the Hague, May 1660? (Identification of the dancers is uncertain, but their deportment is very similar to other versions in which Charles II is recognisable)

It seems that there was a long tradition behind the grand balls at the early 18th-century French court, which was shared by the English court. Although Charles II rarely celebrated his birthday with a ball, those for his Queen became almost annual occasions. Such birthday balls would continue from the Restoration well into the 18th century. The bransles disappeared and the courante was replaced by the minuet but, except for these changes, later evidence suggests that the sequence of dances observed by Pepys remained much the same throughout the reigns of William and Mary, Queen Anne and the first three Georges.

Pas de Zephyr: the Step

I first came across the pas de Zephyr a few years ago at a workshop on early 19th-century quadrilles. The name, as well as the step itself, caught my attention. It was taught as part of a dance vocabulary, drawn from contemporary sources, that was very like ballet. I wanted to know more and recently I’ve finally found time to do some research into this step.

So far I have found the pas de Zephyr described in four manuals of social dancing:

  • Edward Payne, The Quadrille Dancer (London, 1818). I discovered this version transcribed on the Regency Dances website and I have yet to look at a copy of the original manual;
  • Alexander Strathy, Elements of the Art of Dancing (Edinburgh, 1822), this was the version I first encountered;
  • Charles Mason, A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société (London, 1827);
  • Giacomo Costa, Saggio analitico-practico intorno all’arte della danza (Turin, 1831).

There may well be other sources that also include it, although I have not found it in the manuals by Carlo Blasis or in Théleur’s 1831 Letters on Dancing. It doesn’t seem to appear in 18th-century dance manuals either.

The four sources I have been able to consult all describe the step slightly differently. Here is Payne’s description, as transcribed on the Regency Dances website:

‘Pas de Zephyr

To perform this step with the right foot behind, in the 4th position sink on your left foot, at the same time making an opening, or half circle with the right, to the 4th position behind, rising with a gentle spring on your left, at the same time making a half circle with the right, to the 4th position before, then bound forward on your right foot, with the knees perfectly extended, and make a battment [sic] with the left, finishing in the 4th position off the floor, repeat the same with the left foot before, to this add two Jettés on your right foot, two on the left, one on your right, one on the left, and finish with a Jetté et assemblé.

This step is applied when you advance, huit measures, tout seul, in la Pastoralle, and occupies eight bars, four advancing and four retiring.’

The pas de Zephyr is presumably not the entire enchainement, only the step Payne explains in detail.

Strathy’s version goes like this:

‘Pas de Zéphyre or Pas Battu

To perform this Step forward with the Right Leg.

Place the feet in the fifth position, the left foot before; balance the body entirely on the left leg; bend on it, and at the same time slide the right foot, on the point, back to the fourth position; rise on the point of the left foot, bring up the right foot to the third position behind, and, sustaining yourself still on the point of the left foot, pass the right foot by the first position into the fifth position before; then gently place the heels.’

By ‘rise on the point’ Strathy presumably means a rise onto the ball of the foot and not onto the tips of the toes. He offers several variations of the pas de Zephyr, beginning with those which have an extension of the free foot to second position rather than fourth. Strathy’s pas de Zephyr is notable for its use of a rise instead of a jump.

Mason writes as follows:

‘Jeté Ballonné et Tems de Zephyre

Make a jeté before with the right foot, disengaging the left to a fourth position behind; then ballonné or sissonne upon the right, pointing the left to a fourth before; reverse it; if, as you make the ballonné, a little battement forward and back be made with the other foot, it becomes a tems de zephyre.’

Although he gives it a different name, Mason’s version is similar to Payne’s.

I don’t have access to a good translation of Costa’s version (and my Italian is not up to a reliable translation of my own) but here is what he has to say in the original Italian:

‘Passo dello Zeffiro

Il piede destro che sta in quarta avanti per aria, gettasi a terra piegando, e distendendo il piede che sta addietro, s’incava alla quarta in aria avanti; gettando a terra il sinistro, piegando, s’incava nuovamente il destro alla quarta in aria avanti, e si avranno fatti due passi di seguito, sempre avanti.

Contiene esso due tempi soltanto, uno piegato, l’altro disteso. Il primo nel gettare a terra il piede che sta alla quarta in aria, piegando le ginocchia; il secondo, uscendo avanti il piede che trovasi addietro nell’atto che distendonsi le ginocchia, e che il piede che sta per terra fa il salticello, che discesi jeté.’

Costa’s explanation is notable for omitting the battement, which seems to me to be a fundamental element of the pas de Zephyr.

A very basic analysis of these four versions of the pas de Zephyr suggest that it is a pas composé which brings together a jeté, a sissonne and a battement (the last two performed either sequentially or simultaneously). Strathy omits the opening jeté called for by Payne and Mason, while Costa (apparently) substitutes a second jeté for the sissonne. Looking at modern technical dictionaries of classical ballet, I wonder if the pas de Zephyr relates to the brisé or the brisé vole. I suggest that all the versions in social dance manuals are modifications of a more demanding step for the stage. I will discuss a possible choreographic source for that stage step in a later post.

Strathy’s Elements

Alexander Strathy’s Elements of the Art of Dancing was published in Edinburgh in 1822. In his introduction, Strathy observes ‘Dancing may be said to be to the body, what reading is to the mind … It embellishes and perfects the work of nature, and enables us to present ourselves in society with an amiable and becoming ease’. He ends by explaining ‘Although the elementary steps described in this essay apply to dancing in general, I have more especially in view that style of dancing denominated La Danse de la Ville, or the Quadrille’. Despite his emphasis on social dancing, Strathy’s treatise makes considerable demands on amateur dancers.

A first clue to these demands appears in the second plate, showing a young lady ready to dance. The positions of the feet at the bottom of the page are recognisably derived from ballet, and require a full ninety-degree turnout.

Strathy Plate Lady

Strathy. Elements of the Art of Dancing (1822), plate II.

Strathy does indeed describe these positions (which had been established in the mid-17th century) and emphasises the importance of proper turnout of the legs. He goes on to describe several training exercises, from bends and rises to various grand battements and petit battements while holding on to a support for balance. Many of these still form part of the barre work in a ballet class today.

Strathy’s steps include assemblés, jetés, glissades, sissonnes, temps levés, chassés and changements. Some of these relate closely to their modern ballet equivalents while others differ in certain respects. One important difference is the omission of the jump from assemblés and jetés. These are performed with a sink and rise, which provides a similar effect but makes them more elegant and provides a contrast with the other jumped steps. Some steps seem to have been taken from the stage, for example the pas de Zéphyre (which I will explore further in a later post).

Strathy’s little treatise is a good place to start for dancers willing, and with the skill, to add more demanding steps to their quadrilles. It is also a great introduction to early 19th-century dance for those with some background in ballet.

What’s in a name: Gallini’s forty-four cotillons

Somebody recently mentioned one of Gallini’s cotillons to me, with particular reference to its name. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at his dance titles to see if any patterns emerge. Meaningful analysis is difficult without access to a comprehensive list of cotillon titles, French as well as English, throughout the period when this contredanse was popular. However, a little while ago I compiled a list of the titles of the earliest English cotillons which might help.

All but one of Gallini’s titles are French. The exception is La Graziosetta which is, presumably, Italian. The same is true for all the other early cotillons published in London, although Gherardi occasionally adds English versions, for example La Poison d’Avril or the April Fool.  Thomas Hurst who was insistent that his dances were ‘New English Cotillons’ nevertheless gave his titles first in French and then in English, as Le Moulinet. The Windmill and La Belle Angloise. The British Beauty.

There are a fair number of titles which include place names, perhaps hinting at the fashionable pastimes to be enjoyed there. Gallini has Les Amusements de Spa and Le Bois de Boulogne, among others. Gherardi is more inclined to London and its environs, for example Les Folies d’Ormond Street and Les Plaisirs de Tooting.

There are plenty of titles which are commonplaces, such as Gallini’s La Belle Paisanne and Les Quatre Saisons (Siret also has a cotillon entitled Les Quatre Saisons). It would be interesting to know how many of the cotillons that share a title also use the same music and, conversely, how many use the same music but have different titles. A few cotillons have titles that are the same as those of much earlier contredanses, for example Le Pistolet and La Pantomime (both in collections by music publishers). Are there any links between the dances or their music?

There are allusions to royalty, as in Gallini’s Le Prince de Galles and La Royale. There are also acknowledgements of other dancing masters. Gallini has Les Plaisirs de Carel, but his Le Rondeau de Fischer may refer to the composer and oboist Johann Christian Fischer who spent some time in London. Carel also features in the 1768 cotillon collection by the music publishers Thompson (La Carel and La Nouvelle Carel). Villeneuve includes the cotillon La Dubois in his collection.

There are, of course, many allusions to love, in keeping with the galanterie inseparable from the cotillon. Gallini has L’Amour Fidelle and L’Amour du Village as well as, less obviously, Les Plaisirs Enchantés and La Pouvoir de la Beauté. The cotillon mentioned to me was La Zone de Venus. The Figure goes as follows:

Gallini Zone of Venus 1

Gallini’s Instructions for La Zone de Venus

Is it intended to represent homage to Venus and to love? In the 18th century the ‘Zone’ of Venus was identified as her girdle or ‘Cestus’, which was decorated to encourage desire. There is a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds entitled ‘Cupid untying the Zone of Venus’, which shows him undoing the ribbon around her waist. It seems that the ‘Cestus’ became an object of interest (if indeed it was not invented) during the early 1700s. So, was Gallini’s title innocently referring to youthful love or was it intended to be risqué?