Category Archives: Country Dancing

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?

The Fundamental Step of the Cotillon

In his Le Repertoire des Bals of 1762 de La Cuisse set down the steps to be used in cotillons, although he did not explain how to perform them. One of these steps is:

‘Le Pas de Gavote ou Demi-Contretems … un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse; C’est enfin avec ce Pas que se font les Ronds, les Moulinets, les Courses, et prèsque toutes les figures des Contredanses. Chacun de ces Pas vaut une demie-mesure de Musique.’

So, the demi-contretems was much used in France when dancing cotillons. As the name, as well as de La Cuisse’s explanation, implies, there were two demi-contretems to each bar of music.

Gallini made no mention of the demi-contretems among the steps in his A New Collection of Forty-four Cotillons. Perhaps this was a deliberate omission, for he writes ‘it is intended here to explain only those [steps] which are used in the following cotillons’. Gherardi included ‘Demi contre-tems d’un Pied et de l’autre’ within his list of ‘The Names of the French Country Dance Steps’ in his Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances published around 1767, repeated in his subsequent collections. Contrary to what I said in my post Dancing the Cotillon: Gherardi’s Steps, the dancing master did list some individual steps among the sequences. However, he did not explain how this, or any other, step should be performed. Hurst says nothing about steps and Siret also remains silent. Villeneuve’s list of steps does not include the demi-contretems.

The demi-contretems is a step for travelling forwards in a variety of figures, as recommended by de La Cuisse. This is how it is recorded in the 1705 dance for four Le Cotillon. This is also how it has been used in those modern reconstructions of cotillons which I have danced. I don’t know why it was ignored by some of the dancing masters publishing in London – unless the cotillons in their collections hold the answer.

In the dance manuals of the early 18th century, the first mention by name of the demi-contretems seems to be in Pierre Rameau’s Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode published around 1725. He includes notated versions of the step, with its name, in his table ‘Suitte des contretems’ (p.65) but he does not describe it. In Rameau’s Le Maître a danser it is not mentioned by name, but its manner of performance may be taken from the description of the contretems de gavotte (translation by John Essex, The Dancing-Master, p. 97):

‘To make one with the right Foot, the Body must be on the Left in the fourth Position, the Heel of the right behind up; then sink upon the Left, and rise upon it with a Spring; but at the same Time the right Leg, which was ready to go, moves forwards in the fourth Position and on the Toes, both Legs well extended; …’

Instead of making the second step, to perform a contretems de gavotte, the dancer should transfer his or her weight onto the right foot to repeat the demi-contretems on the left.

The instruction ‘rise upon it with a Spring’ (Rameau writes ‘se relever en sautant dessus’) has resulted in two different modes of execution by dancers today. One is simply a hop followed by a step (usually onto a flat foot). The other begins with a small spring onto the ball of the foot, much like a rélevé in classical ballet, followed by step onto the ball of the foot and a quick sink into plié. The latter is more difficult and travels less, but gives a pleasing vivacity and crispness to both the step and the figures in which it is used. The demi-contretems can also be performed with a pas rond, in which the working leg traces a small half circle in the air as it passes from back to front. This little embellishment suits the rococo elegance of the cotillon very well.

A Year of Dance: 1716

In both England and France relatively little of importance happened politically during 1716. The Jacobite uprising which had begun in 1715 suffered its final failure when James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, fled Scotland for France in February 1716. That same month, some of the Jacobite leaders were executed in London. In France, the duc d’Orléans continued to act as regent for his great-nephew Louis XV.

The Paris Opéra offered no significant new works this year, although there was a revival of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, the first since 1691. However, the duc d’Orléans invited a troupe of commedia dell’arte players to Paris for the first time since the suppression of the Comédie-Italienne in 1697. There had been Italian comedies and comedians in the Paris fair theatres in the intervening years, but the Nouveau Théâtre Italien took up residence at the theatre in the Palais-Royal thereby showing royal approval. They gave their first performance there on 18 May (New Style) and played regularly for the rest of 1716.

Was it simply a coincidence that London audiences saw the beginnings of pantomime that same year? The new genre was introduced not at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where the manager John Rich was to become a noted Harlequin, but at Drury Lane where Sir Richard Steele engaged two forains (fair performers) to provide entr’acte entertainments. Sorin and Baxter gave an afterpiece The Whimsical Death of Harlequin at Drury Lane on 4 April 1716. They were described as ‘lately arriv’d from Paris, who have variety of Entertainments of that Kind, and make but a short Stay in England’. London’s playhouses had advertised any number of commedia dell’arte characters and scenes among their entr’acte entertainments over the years, but the billing of The Whimsical Death of Harlequin as an afterpiece was surely intended to signal something new.

Another coincidence was the publication in Nuremberg of Gregorio Lambranzi’s Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul, a collection of 101 engraved illustrations of dances. It provides virtually the only visual record we have of the dances that were performed on stages throughout Europe. This plate shows Harlequin and Scaramouch in what must have been an ‘Italian Night Scene’, popular as an entr’acte piece on the London stage from the early 1700s and one of the precursors of the pantomime.

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

The dances that appeared in notation during 1716 could not have been more different. In Paris, Dezais published a XIIIIe Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1716. This had two choreographies by Claude Ballon, La Gavotte du Roy a quatre and the duet La Bouree Nouvelle, together with Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie by Dezais himself. In the Avertissement at the beginning of the collection Dezais declared that La Gavotte du Roy had been created for the six-year-old Louis XV. The brevity and simplicity of La Bouree Nouvelle suggests that it, too, might have been created for the child King. The cotillon is an early example of the contredanse for eight that would become a dance craze in the 1760s.

In London, Edmund Pemberton published Anthony L’Abbé’s The Princess Anna ‘a new Dance for his Majesty’s BirthDay 1716’, dedicated to the King’s eldest granddaughter the young Princess Royal. As in the previous year, the birthday dance was quickly pirated by the music publisher John Walsh, who also tried to undercut Pemberton. The dancing master was having none of it and attacked Walsh in the Evening Post for 14 June 1716.

‘Whereas the judicious Mr. Walsh has condescended to sell Mr. Isaac’s dances for 1s. 6d. each, the usual price being 5s. It is to be hop’d his tender conscience will cause him to refund the overplus of every 5s. he has receiv’d for 8 or 10 years past, but as it appears his design is equally level’d against me his friend, he having pirated upon me the last birth day dance, compos’d by Mr. Labee. The main reason he gives for it, is, he loves to be doing, and by the same rule, a highwayman may exclaim against the heinous sin of idleness, and plead that for following his vocation: as I have attain’d to a mastery in my art, ‘tis but reasonable I should reap some advantage by it; the masters are impos’d upon by his impression, it being faulty in several places, particularly in the footing. The original is sold against Mercer’s street, Long-Acre, by me the author, E. Pemberton.’

Pemberton had worked for Walsh as a notator of Isaac’s dances, and was clearly acquainted with his wiles.  Walsh gave up without a fight. Presumably Pemberton’s patrons (who extended ultimately to the King) were too powerful for him.

The publication of Kellom Tomlinson’s second ball dance The Shepherdess, a forlana, could have been little more than a sideshow to the publicly expressed rivalry over the printing of the birthday dances created by the royal dancing master. Similarly the appearance of the 16th edition of The Dancing-Master (printed by W. Pearson and sold by John Young) and even Nathaniel Kynaston’s Twenty Four New Country Dances for the year 1716 (printed for Walsh and his partner Hare) were simply part of the normal round of music and dance publishing.

Country Dancing Further Improved

The publication history of For the Further Improvement of Dancing, John Essex’s translation of Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil de contredances, is not entirely straightforward and raises some interesting questions.

For the Further Improvement of Dancing is dated 1710 on its title page. The earliest advertisement I know is in the Tatler for 23-25 March 1710. A third edition was advertised in the Spectator (the successor publication to the Tatler) for 5 March 1712. I have not yet come across an advertisement for a second edition. Indeed, there is no explicit evidence for the successive editions in any of the surviving copies of this collection. The first edition was sold by the music publishers Walsh, Randall, Hare and Cullen, together with the author. According to the Spectator advertisement, the third edition was ‘to be had nowhere but at the Author’s House in Rood-lane, Fenchurch Street’. How should this be interpreted? Had Essex simply taken over the remaining copies printed in 1710 to sell himself as a ‘third’ edition? Or had he fallen out with the music publisher John Walsh, as others were to do later?

There is just one copy of For the Further Improvement of Dancing which is indisputably a new edition, or, to be more precise, a reissue of the original edition in a different format with additional dances. Essex’s translation had originally been printed in the small, duodecimo format. This reissue is a much larger folio. It uses the original plates (For the Further Improvement of Dancing is printed throughout from engraved copper or pewter plates), but these are placed four to a page.

John Essex, For the Further Improvement of Dancing [1715?], plates 1 - 4

John Essex, For the Further Improvement of Dancing [1715?], plates 1 – 4

The newly added dances are readily identified by their larger format. There is one ballroom duet, The Princess’s Passpied, which shows the new layout:

John Essex, The Princess's Passpied, [1715?], first plate

John Essex, The Princess’s Passpied, [1715?], first plate

There are five new country dances, also in the new layout:

Liberty & Property

The Lottery

Mr La Gard’s Royall Swede

The Careless Husband

The Little Whigg

I will return to the titles of these in a subsequent post.

The volume is dedicated to the ‘Princess of Wales’, dating it to after the Hanoverian accession on 1 August 1714. The Princess is Caroline, wife of George Augustus the son of King George I. Essex praises her ‘Patronage and Encouragement’ of the art of dancing and offers her the dances he has added to his original treatise. I suggest that The Princess’s Passpied was intended for performance by Caroline’s eldest daughter Anne, the Princess Royal aged around seven, who would be the dedicatee of several more notated ballroom dances. The sole surviving copy of this folio edition of For the Further Improvement of Dancing, now in the British Library, may well be a presentation copy made especially for Caroline, Princess of Wales.

It is interesting to note that this unique copy, which has been dated to 1715, has an imprint claiming that it was to be sold by Walsh, Hare and ‘the Author’.  By this time, John Essex was presumably well-known as a dancing master. He was certainly careful to ensure that the title page specified that he ‘taught all the Ball Dances of the English and French Court’, probably meaning those that had been published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. The inclusion of The Princess’s Passpied would have underlined his expertise. Was he trying to recommend himself as dancing master to the new royal family?