Category Archives: Dancers & Dancing Masters

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?

Country Dancing Improved

A little while ago, I attended a ball where one of the country dances was The Busie Body. When I was told that it was by John Essex, I thought I ought to explore further.

In 1710, Essex translated Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil de contredances as For the Further Improvement of Dancing. What he translated was Feuillet’s introductory treatise on the simplified notation system used to record country dances. Instead of merely reproducing Feuillet’s collection of 32 country dances, Essex selected 10 from various sources. Three come from Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil: Pantomime; Gasconne; and The Female Saylor (La Matelotte in Feuillet). Two more dances are also French: Micareme and The Diligent, both from Feuillet’s VIme. Recüeil de danses et de contredanses pour l’Année 1708. The other five dances were, as Essex tells us in his Preface, ‘my own composing’. These are the dances titled Trip to the Jubilee, The Great Turk, The Busie Body, The Tatler and The Tost.

If the French were acknowledged as the masters of ballroom and stage dancing, la belle danse, the English claimed primacy in country dancing. Essex was happy to wave the flag in his Preface to For the Further Improvement of Dancing.

John Essex, Preface, For the Further Improvement of Dancing (1710), first page

John Essex, Preface, For the Further Improvement of Dancing (1710), first page

In this post, my interest lies in the titles of Essex’s own country dances and their links with stage and society in London.

Trip to the Jubilee must refer to Farquhar’s play The Constant Couple; or, The Trip to the Jubilee, first performed (so far as we know) at the Drury Lane Theatre on 28 November 1699. Farquhar’s play was one of the most popular of the early 18th century and was performed regularly until the 1790s. The ‘Jubilee’ was the Pope’s Jubilee year to be celebrated in Rome in 1700 – a trip to this event was a running joke throughout The Constant Couple. The dance and its music were first published in 1701 in the 11th edition of The Dancing-Master, described ‘as ‘tis Danced at the Play-House’. So it seems that Essex actually created this country dance for Farquhar’s play. He is certainly recorded as a professional dancer at Drury Lane in the first years of the 18th century.

The Great Turk uses music from the Turkish Entrée in Campra’s 1697 opéra-ballet L’Europe galante. Anthony L’Abbé made use of the same piece for his Türkish Dance in the early 1720s. Essex’s use of the music suggests that it was already familiar in London some years earlier. It is worth noting the danced entr’acte ‘Entertainment after the Turkish Manner’ given at Drury Lane on 2 February 1710. Did this perhaps also use Campra’s music?

The title of The Busie Body is taken from Mrs Centlivre’s play of the same name, first given at Drury Lane on 12 May 1709. This was another successful comedy played regularly in London’s theatres until the end of the century.  The published play has ‘A Dance’ towards the end, in accordance with the convention of a country dance performed by a play’s characters as the plot concludes. Could Essex’s dance have been performed in the original production of The Busie Body, even though he makes no mention of this?

The Tatler, obviously, refers to the famous periodical launched by Sir Richard Steele in 1709 and published three times a week until 1711. It dealt in news, gossip and the manners of the day and was frequently reprinted in collected editions throughout the 1700s.

The title The Tost was corrected to The Toast when Essex reissued For the Further Improvement of Dancing around 1715. (I will talk about this reissue in a later post). Essex may well have had in mind the ‘Toast’ as explained by Steele in the Tatler for 4 June 1709. She is:

‘… the Lady we mention in our Liquors, … call’d a Toast. … The Manner of her Inauguration is much like that of the Choice of a Doge in Venice: it is perform’d by Balloting; and when she is so chosen, she reigns indisputably for that Year; but must be elected anew to prolong her Empire a Moment beyond it.’

Was this dance implicitly dedicated to a well-known ‘Toast’ of the Kit-Cat Club (of which Steele was a member and to which he was referring)? Or was it meant as a compliment to the Duchess of Bolton, to whom Essex dedicated his collection? She was Henrietta née Crofts (c1682-1730), the illegitimate daughter of James, Duke of Monmouth. She married the second Duke of Bolton in 1697.

With his dances in For the Further Improvement of Dancing Essex is surely trying to appeal to a fashionable, London-based élite – the beau monde – members of which he hoped to attract as pupils.

Dancing Masters’ Advertisements

Looking through my notes on dancing masters and their various treatises, I was reminded that some of them advertised for pupils in London and provincial newspapers. I haven’t yet done a comprehensive search, but in the course of my work on cotillons I came across some interesting examples of publicity from the 1760s. I quoted from some of these advertisements in my post Teaching the Cotillon. Here are some more, of particular relevance to learning to dance and favourite ballroom duets.

Messrs Hart and Welch, advertising in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 2 May 1768, offered ‘The cotillons, minuet, louvre, passepied, matlotte, novelle, bretagne, the almand, françois and English country dances’, all of which would be ‘taught as usual at home or abroad’. In this context ‘abroad’ presumably meant their dancing school ‘at No. 109, near Exeter-change, in the Strand’. The list of dances offered is suggestive of the repertoire expected in the ballroom, although advertisements for balls refer only to minuets and country dances including (of course) the newly fashionable cotillon.

Hart and Welch appear to have been teaching several venerable danses à deux. The ‘louvre’ is probably Aimable Vainqueur,  first published in 1701. This duet was mentioned by Taubert, Rameau and Tomlinson and printed in notation, probably for the last time, as late as 1765. The ‘bretagne’, dating to 1704, was cited by the same three dancing masters. The ‘passepied’ and ‘novelle’ (perhaps La Nouvelle Forlanne of 1710) may both be linked to dances published in the early 18th century. The ‘matlotte’ may refer to a duet published by Feuillet in 1706. Is the ‘almand’ the famous duet by Pecour that was first published in 1702 and made its last appearance in print in 1765? The many references to these dances seem to suggest that they were still well-known more than fifty years after their creation.

Mr Patence also advertised in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser. On 14 June 1768 he offered ‘the minuet, louvre, country and other dancing’ and promised to teach ‘in the most polite and expeditious manner’. The louvre would take sixteen lessons (the minuet needed only twelve). These dances would be taught ‘with all the proper steps, such as cupees, borees, bounds, rebounds, marches, periwits, danzas, brilloes, back and fore granade’. Mr Patence’s French seems to have been entirely phonetic and he apparently also drew on other languages for his dance terminology. Periwits are presumably pirouettes, but I’ll have to think about the translations of some of his other terms. He also reveals how changing fashions were affecting ballroom dancing:

‘Mr. Patence having practised dancing some years, has just reason to think, that the excellent dance the louvre, would be more introduced in our polite assemblies, but the insufficiency of masters, in not knowing the proper graces, steps and figures, is the reason of its decline, having known some to have had scholars four years, and then know very little of the matter.’

There is more than a hint of rivalry here and Mr Patence may even have had a particular dancing master in mind. However, by the late 1760s, dancing masters may simply have been unwilling to allow time for such danses à deux alongside the minuets which were integral to their balls. Although, if that was the case, why did Hart and Welch teach so many of them?

Learning to dance: Pierre Rameau

Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître a danser, published in Paris in 1725, is today the best-known and most widely consulted of the 18th-century dance manuals. The same may well have been true in its own time.  Rameau’s treatise was translated into English by John Essex as The Dancing-Master and published in London in 1728. Both versions went through a number of editions. There was a second edition of Le Maître a danser in 1734 and a third in 1748. The Dancing-Master appeared in a second edition in 1731, which was reissued around 1733 with new engraved illustrations, and there was another ‘second edition’ in 1744. Rameau’s influence elsewhere can be traced in a number of treatises. Among these are the translation into Portuguese by Joseph Thomas Cabreira, Arte de dançar à franceza (Lisbon, 1760), and Pablo Minguet e Yrol’s Arte de danzar à la francesa (Madrid, 1758) for which it was the principal source.

Rameau was well aware of the pre-eminence of French dancing (the quotation is from Essex’s translation, which I will use in these and other posts).

‘We may say to the Glory of our Nation that it has a true Taste of fine Dancing. Almost all Foreigners far from disallowing it, have very near an age admired our Dancing, and formed themselves in our Academies and Schools: Nay there’s not a Court in Europe but what has a Dancing-Master of our Nation.’

Rameau wrote ‘près d’un siécle’, translated by Essex as ‘near an age’, dating French dominance of the world of dance to the early 17th century and the reign of Louis XIII, father of the Sun King.

Like Taubert, who was following French practice, Rameau deals with standing, walking and bowing before turning to dancing itself. In his first chapter ‘Of the Manner of disposing the Body’, Rameau declares:

‘I have laid down a Plan, or Method of Teaching, for the Master to lead his Scholar from one Step to another, and at the same Time instruct him in the different Motions of the Arms, to make them agreeable to the different Steps in Dancing: …’

He goes on ‘And as it is essential to dispose the Body in a graceful Posture, that shall be explained in this first Chapter’, referring the reader to an illustration showing a man ready to begin walking. In his preface, Rameau had said ‘I have caused many Copper Plates to be engraved, which represents the Dancer in the several Positions: For Precepts communicated by the Eye have always a better Effect’. Undoubtedly, demonstration was a key element in Rameau’s teaching methods. It is interesting that Taubert did not try to illustrate his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister. The illustration of 18th-century dance manuals, and indeed of dancing itself during that period, is a topic worth pursuing in its own right.

Rameau begins his second chapter, on walking, by referring back to his illustration of ‘The Disposition of the Body’ making clear that  ‘the Manner of Walking well is very useful, because on it depends the first Principle of Dancing a good Air’. In his third chapter, Rameau turns to ‘the Positions’. Taubert had paid little, if any, attention to the five positions of the feet, whereas Rameau devotes six chapters to them, explaining:

‘What is called a Position, is no more than a just Proportion, found out to divide, or bring the Feet nearer together, in a limited Distance, whether the Body be in an easy Balance, or perpendicularly upright; or whether it be in Walking, Dancing, or Standing.’

These positions have survived into the 21st century, although they are now mainly associated with classical ballet.

After the positions, Rameau turns to ‘Honours in General’. He begins with those for Gentlemen, for whom the management of the hat was an important skill – ‘It is very necessary for every one, in what Station of Life so ever he be, to know how to take off his Hat as he ought, and to make a handsome Bow’. There are four chapters on the various bows to be made by gentlemen, after which Rameau turns to the ladies and instructions for how they should walk and make their curtsies. Like Taubert, Rameau directs his treatise first and foremost to gentlemen.

Only after fourteen chapters – dealing with standing, walking, the positions of the feet and bowing – does Rameau feel his pupils are ready to begin dancing. Of course, he turns immediately to the minuet. Whether this was actually the approach he followed in his lessons is impossible to tell. Were pupils routinely taught alone, in couples (to learn the danses à deux) or groups? We have little real evidence, although one illustration to Le Maître a danser (copied by The Dancing-Master) shows a couple under the tuition of their dancing master, who is playing his pochette.

Pierre Rameau, translated by John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Plate facing opening page of chapter 1.

Pierre Rameau, translated by John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Plate facing opening page of chapter 1.

Learning to dance: Gottfried Taubert

The first dance manual to describe the minuet in detail was Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffner Tantzmeister, published in Leipzig in 1717. This German treatise is a mine of information on all aspects of learning to dance but, without a complete and accessible translation into either English or French, it has remained little known compared to other dance manuals of the 18th century. With the publication in 2012 of a complete English translation it is now widely available for use and study. I will be drawing on this translation for my posts.

Gottfried Taubert. Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717). Title Page.

Gottfried Taubert. Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717). Title Page.

As Taubert’s translator Tilden Russell makes clear, the minuet was central to Taubert’s view of the 18th-century world of dancing. In this post, I will look at his general approach to teaching rather than his specific instructions for the steps and figures of the minuet. In his Foreword, Taubert declares he will provide ‘a clear, methodical and thorough introduction to the theory of the well established art of French dancing’. He makes clear that he will be ‘mainly concerned with presenting a comprehensive discussion of both the theory and practice of the three world-renowned fundamental dances’. He identifies these as the courante, the minuet and the bourée, although his focus throughout most of the treatise is the minuet. He uses the term ‘la belle danse’ for the style and technique used in ‘all ballroom dances’ and makes his debt to French dancing abundantly clear. So far as Taubert was concerned, the French were undisputed rulers of the world of dance.

Taubert lays great emphasis on the necessity for the systematic teaching of dance. He begins with la belle danse and ballroom dancing, setting out his ‘instruction of the fundamental dances and general method’.

  • First, standing, walking and bowing;
  • Second , ‘first principles and universal steps’;
  • Third, how to execute ‘the prescribed basic step for each fundamental dance correctly’;
  • Fourth, how to execute ‘the other most important simple and compound steps’ introducing theatrical steps alongside those for the ballroom;
  • Fifth, how to read and understand the symbols in Feuillet’s Choregraphie as well as the notated dances.

He promises that ‘all this shall be examined topic by topic, methodically and coherently’.

Standing and walking get a chapter each, followed by five chapters on bowing. Taubert is adamant that dance instruction should not begin until the student has mastered ‘how to stand gracefully; how to walk with ease; and how to bow politely and make the proper révérences for any occasion’.

When it comes to the dancing, Taubert says he will address:

  • ‘the formation of steps and motions’;
  • ‘the connection of steps’;
  • ‘the cadence and division of steps according to the meter’;
  • ‘the figures and tracts along which one dances’;
  • ‘the air or manner with which one should dance’.

Each and every one of these is as important to the modern student of baroque dance as it was to the 18th-century dancing master and his pupils. All are fundamental to an accomplished performance of the minuet.

Before I turn to the teaching of steps and figures of the minuet and other dances, I will take a look at what Pierre Rameau and Kellom Tomlinson have to say about the fundamental aspects of dance technique.

Favourite Ballroom Duets

I have reconstructed and performed many baroque dances in my time. Most have been theatrical solos or duets. It’s been a while since I worked on choreographies from the ballroom repertoire. However, I have long been curious about the handful of dances from the early 1700s that seem to have attained a special place in the dance culture of the period.

A dozen dances appear in multiple sources, some of which date to more than fifty years after their first publication, indicating that their fame lasted well beyond their own time. References by dancing masters such as Gottfried Taubert and Kellom Tomlinson as well as Pierre Rameau, in their respective dance manuals, suggest not only that these ballroom duets had travelled beyond France but also that they had become part of the course of instruction offered by leading dance teachers. Some of these duets even reached the stage, notably in London where a couple of them became staples of the entr’acte dance repertoire and were regularly featured during the benefit season.

The following may be described as favourite ballroom duets, dates of first publication are shown in parentheses:

La Bourée d’Achille, by Pecour (1700)

La Bourgogne, by Pecour (1700)

La Forlana, by Pecour (1700)

La Mariée, by Pecour (1700)

Le Passepied, by Pecour (1700)

Aimable Vainqueur, by Pecour (1701)

L’Allemande, by Pecour (1702)

La Bretagne, by Pecour (1704)

La Bacchante, by Pecour (1706)

The Rigadoon, by Isaac (1706)

Le Menuet d’Alcide, by Pecour (1709)

La Nouvelle Forlanne, by Pecour (1710)

Some of these dances have become familiar to baroque dance enthusiasts, while others are rarely (if ever) reconstructed. The list highlights the dominance of France, and of Guillaume-Louis Pecour, over European social dancing.

What made these dances special? Was it their music, their choreography or were there other reasons for their popularity? I will take a closer look at each of them to see if I can find out. I’ll also assess their modern status by checking YouTube for videos. In addition, I hope to find the time and the energy to work my way through at least some of the choreographies as part of my research.

 

Cotillon Balls in 1769

In 1769, cotillon balls were even more popular than they had been the year before. The earliest advertisement of the year appeared in the Public Advertiser for 27 February 1769.

‘Mr. Noverre’s Ball will be where it was last Year, on Wednesday the First of March. Tickets at Half a Guinea each; to be had only of his Scholars, or at his House in Surry-street in the Strand. … After the Minuets and French Cotillons till Ten o’Clock by Mr. Noverre’s Scholars, there will be a Ball and Refreshments for those Ladies and Gentlemen who Honour him with their Company.’

A later advertisement provided the additional information ‘The Doors to be opened at half an Hour after Six. Minuets to begin at seven precisely’. The time devoted to minuets and cotillons was extended to ten-thirty.

Mr. Noverre was Augustin, younger brother of the famous choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre. Augustin pursued a career as a dancer and dancing master in England, publishing at least two collections of cotillons and other dances. He later moved to Norwich, where he established his son Francis as a leading dancing master. He is one of very few dancers and dancing masters of the period for whom we have a portrait.

Augustin Noverre. Artist Unknown. The portrait was presumably painted while Augustin was working in London.

Augustin Noverre. Artist Unknown. The portrait was presumably painted while Augustin was working in London.

Cotillons are currently enjoying a revival in 21st-century Norwich.

The Public Advertiser for 1 March 1769 repeated Noverre’s notice of his ball. It also advertised ‘Mr. Yates’s Ball’ to be given on 7 March at Haberdashers Hall. Tickets were again half a guinea and ‘After the Minuets and Cotillons are over [these were presumably performed by Mr Yates’s pupils], there will be a Ball for the Ladies and Gentlemen’. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 9 March 1769 advertised ‘the first of the two Nights Subscription for Minuets and Cotillons’ (the date of this event is illegible) at Almack’s, as well as Mr. Prevel’s ball on 15 March which offered the usual pattern of minuets and cotillons by his scholars followed by a ball. The ladies and gentlemen who attended the latter ‘(tho’ they are not his scholars) may dance the minuet, country dances, and cotillons, if they chuse it’. There seem to have been some well-established conventions surrounding these events.

Gallini’s turn came a little later. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 16 March 1769 announced:

‘Mr. Gallini’s Annual Ball … at Almack’s Assembly-Room, in King-street, St. James’s square, on Friday the 7th of April. After his scholars have danced Minuets, Cotillons and Allemandes, the company in general may dance Country-dances and Cotillons.’

These events seem to have been intended to recommend the dancing master’s teaching through the performances of his scholars. The minuets at such balls were apparently a showpiece for well-drilled pupils. The ‘company in general’ were expected to do no more than watch a sequence of these exacting duets, before they enjoyed the easier dances.

As spring advanced, the pleasure gardens began to offer their entertainments. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 8 May carried advertisements from both Vauxhall Gardens and Ranelagh. On 10 May, Vauxhall was to offer ‘A Ridotto al Fresco, (for one night only) to consist of Grand Illuminations, Extraordinary Decorations, a Concert, and a Ball’. Three different spaces were allotted for dancing, with one room devoted to cotillons. On 12 May, at Ranelagh there would be ‘A Jubilee Ridotto, or Bal Pare. … besides the usual entertainments, there will be country dances and cotillons’. The new contredanses françaises were indispensible not only at balls, but also at London’s most fashionable amusement venues.

Unfortunately, a report in the St James’s Chronicle for 9-11 May 1769 revealed that at Vauxhall ‘The Place was so crowded, that no Ladies of Condition chose to dance, … Some few Cotillons however were danced in the Princes Room’. Would-be dancers may have fared better at Ranelagh where, according to the London Chronicle for 11-13 May 1769, despite the ‘exceedingly numerous’ participants and a great variety of other attractions ‘The company also danced country dances and cotillions’.

The newspapers for this year record many other balls, in provincial cities as well as in London. However, the craze for cotillons is tellingly underlined by an advertisement of a different sort.

St James’s Chronicle, 1-3 August 1769.

St James’s Chronicle, 1-3 August 1769.

Did this satire ever appear (if indeed the notice is not a spoof, or a reference to another form of entertainment)? I have not yet been able to track down a copy.