Tag Archives: Cotillion

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.


The Cotillon Ball

As I explained in earlier posts, the cotillon may have been introduced to London in the mid-1760s by Giovanni-Andrea Gallini. His ‘collection of cotillons or French dances’ was probably first published in 1765. By 1768, the cotillon had become the first-ever dance craze. Newspaper advertisements during that year show that these contredanses françaises were central to the balls and assemblies organised by some of the biggest names in London entertainments for the beau monde.

The St James’s Chronicle for 16-18 February 1768 included a poem satirising this ultra-fashionable dance.

St James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, 16-18 February 1768, from ‘Poets Corner’.

St James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, 16-18 February 1768, from ‘Poets Corner’.

This was one of many such jibes – a sure indication of the dance’s overwhelming popularity.

The first to advertise a cotillon event that year was Teresa Cornelys at Carlisle House in Soho Square, famous for its masquerades and other lavish entertainments. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 8 March 1768 reported:

‘On account of the Royal Family, Nobility, and Gentry, now universally dancing the Cotillons, which are very elegant French country dances lately introduced into the gay and fashionable world, at all their assemblies, a very polite and brilliant company is expected to-morrow at the Annual Assembly in Soho-square … in order to be spectators of, or parties in, these celebrated dances.’

Some weeks later, in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 26 April 1768, Gallini advertised cotillons at his own event:

‘By Desire, Mr. Gallini’s Ball (by subscription) will be at Haberdashers Hall, Maiden lane (for one night only) on Wednesday the 11th of May, where the new Cotillons Allemande will be performed.’

Tickets were half a guinea each (around 52 pence, equivalent to at least £55 today). Gallini had already held at least one ball that year. Although the advertisements for his ball on 23 March 1768, like those for previous years, made no specific mention of the cotillon, Gallini did promise ‘great Variety’ of dances. He may, of course, have been including cotillons in his balls even before the publication of his collection but only felt the need to advertise them when faced with competition.

Over the next few years, the cotillon ball remained very popular. I will pursue this phenomenon a little further in a later post.

Dancing the cotillon: the allemande step

In his A Second Book of Cotillons or French Dances (1768), Gherardi lists the steps and then adds ‘And the steps necessary for the Country Dance in Allemande’. He says nothing more. Similarly, he says nothing about the steps in his collection Twelve New Allemandes, probably published in 1769, despite claiming to include ‘Instructions and Advice respecting the Allemandes’. Instead, he tantalisingly refers to ‘Boiteuse’, ‘Troteuse’ and ‘Sauteuse’ allemandes. His omissions were probably deliberate. On the title page of his Twelve New Allemandes, Gherardi made clear that the collection was aimed at the scholars of his Academy, who would of course be taught the necessary steps for a fee.

I don’t really know my way around the dance collections and treatises of the later 18th century, so it took me a while to track down descriptions of the allemande steps even with the help of modern studies of this dance. I couldn’t find them in La Cuisse’s Le Repertoire des bals, although he explains the steps suitable for cotillons in volume one (1762) and in the ‘Avertisement’ to volume three (1765) he talks about the growing popularity of the allemande and the necessity of learning the steps that go with it.

Guillaume, in his Almanach dansant ou positions et attitudes de l’allemande, published in 1770 and dealing with the duet, describes two different steps for use in the dance and explains how he teaches the step.

‘Le vrai Pas pour l’Allemande ordinaire ou de deux quatre, se fait par une espece de Pas de bourée-jetté, & marque trois tems.

Je leur fais faire un petit jetté à la quatrieme position sur le pied droit, le gauche marque le deuxieme tems en se rapprochant du droit à la troisieme, & le droit se détache en avant entre la troisieme & quatrieme. Les genoux pliés pour recommencer le jetté sur la jambe gauche. Ce Pas se fait de la même maniere de côté & en arriere; & pour lui donner plus d’agrément, on peut faire une petite ouverture de jambes en faisant le jetté, la pointe bien en dehors & le cou du pied tendu.’

Guillaume continues:

‘L’autre Pas, … en trois huit, se fait en posant la pointe du pied droit & sautant dessus, ce qui forme deux tems, ensuite la même chose du pied gauche, soit en avant soit en arriere: ce qu’on appelle balancers dans les Danses Allemandes, n’est autre chose qu’un Pas en avant, & un autre en arriere sans quitter sa place, ou un de côté à droite, & un autre à gauche.’

The only other description of an allemande step I was able to locate comes from the 1776 Supplement to the famous French Encyclopédie, in the entry for ‘Contredanse’.

‘Cette danse [the allemande] n’admet qu’une seule espece de pas boiteuse, formé par un plié & deux pas marchés.’

Was this the step to which Gherardi was referring with his allemande ‘Boiteuse’?

Dancing the cotillon: Villeneuve’s steps

Like Gherardi, Villeneuve simply provides a list of the steps to be used for the dances in his A Collection of Cotillons.

The Balance

The Pirouette

The Rigadoon Step

The Double Chasse forwards and backwards

Contretems forwards, backwards, and in turning

The Glissades to the Right and Left

The Sissoons forwards and backwards

Four of Villeneuve’s steps are among those described by Gallini: the balance; the pirouette; the rigaudon; and the contretems. Gherardi includes glissades within his step sequences. Villeneuve’s double chasse is presumably Gherardi’s chassé double included among the figures in his Second Book of Cotillons. By ‘Sissoons’, Villeneuve must mean pas de sissonne. These are not mentioned by either Gallini or Gherardi.

Between them, Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve suggest around a dozen steps to be used in cotillons. All are familiar from the early 18th-century treatises that set out the style, technique and step vocabulary of ‘French’ dancing or la belle danse. However, it was for the dancing masters (and perhaps the dancers as well) to decide how and when to use these steps in individual cotillons.

Dezais, Premier Livre de Contre-Dances: a closer look

I have been curious about the choreography for La Blonde and La Brunne for a long time, because a dance with much the same name was performed on the London stage in the early 1730s. Before I pursue that dance, I want to take a closer look at the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances published by Dezais in 1725. Unfortunately, the collection seems to have been unknown to the dance historians and musicologists who have done such valuable work on the dance notations surviving from the 18th century. So far as I can tell, nothing has been published on it and few concordances for the tunes have so far been identified.

The collection helps to fill a gap in the history of the cotillon, between Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie published by Dezais in 1716 and the 1762 Le Repertoire des Bals by De la Cuisse. There must have been many cotillons danced between those two dates, but the interruption in the publication of notated dances means that they were never recorded in print.

Among the dances in the Premier Livre, the following have the ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure familiar from the later cotillons (although the first two are for four and not eight dancers):

Cotillon Hongrois



Cotillon de Surenne

L’Esprit Follet

All are recorded in a way that shows their structure explicitly, i.e. the ‘Figure’ is notated in full the first time round and the successive repeats are merely noted after each ‘Change’. I haven’t gone so far as to analyse the choreographies for these dances, but such work would undoubtedly shed light on the early development of the cotillon.

The other dances in the collection – La Blonde, La Brunne, L’Ecossoise and La Carignan – are also worth closer investigation. L’Ecossoise is for six, four men and two women (although Dezais says in his Avertissement ‘qu’a la place de 4.  hōmes et 2. fēmes que l’on peut mettre quatre femmes et 2. hommes’.  How unusual are those line-ups among the surviving dances? La Carignan is one of several minuets ‘à quatre’, choreographies worth considering as a group.

There is much to learn from the Dezais Premier Livre de Contre-Dances.

Dances for four: Dezais, Premier Livre de Contre-Dances (1725)

Since my first blog post on dances for four, I have acquired a copy of the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances by Jacques Dezais, published in Paris in 1725. This collection contains the following dances:

Cotillon Hongrois à quatre

L’Inconstante à quatre

L’Infante à 8

Cotillon de Surenne à 8

La Blonde à quatre

La Brunne à quatres

L’Esprit Follet à 4 [in fact à 8]

L’Ecossoise à six

La Carignan menuet à quatre

So, there are five dances for four in this collection.

Dezais uses the simplified form of notation developed by Feuillet for contredanses, notating just a few steps in each dance. The pas de rigaudon appears in nearly every dance and several dances include half-turn pirouettes, balancé, pas de bourée and assemblé. Dezais obviously classified these choreographies as contredanses. He describes them as such on the title page and, as well as using the simplified notation, he refers readers to Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil de contredances for the ‘principes’ needed to read and perform each dance. Indeed, he goes further by offering to notate and publish any ‘contre-dances des Provces. [Provinces]’ he may receive. According to Dezais, then, these are definitely contredanses, for the ballroom. Nevertheless, I will take a closer look at some of them in future posts within other contexts.

There is one other interesting aspect to this collection. The Premier Livre de Contre-Dances was engraved by Mlle Louise Roussel. When cotillons began to be published in large numbers in Paris in the 1760s, one name prominent on their title pages was Mlle Castagnery. Both she and Mlle Roussel are worth further investigation.


Dancing the cotillon: Gherardi’s steps

In all three of his cotillon collections, Gherardi provides the same list of steps needed for the dances.

‘The Names of the French Country Dance Steps

Balancé pas de Rigodon.

Deux chassés, assemblé, pas de Rigodon.

Deux glissades, assemblé, pas de Rigodon.

Contre-tems en avant, contre-tems en arrière, contre-tems en tournant.

Chassé en tournant.

Demi contre-tems d’un Pied et de l’autre.

Brizé, a trois pas d’un Pied et de l’autre.

Chassé a trois pas d’un Pied et de l’autre.

And the Steps necessary for the Country Dance in Allemande.’

It is obvious that Gherardi is setting down not individual steps but sequences of steps, enchainements, for use within the changes and the figures of his cotillons.

He does not explain how each particular step is to be performed. However, in his ‘Observations and Advice’ at the beginning of his first collection, Gherardi says:

‘Every Lady & Gentleman desirous of dancing the Cotillons with some degree of Excellence, … should have the assistance of a Master to perfect them in the following very few Steps; easy in the Execution, and without which, it is impossible to perform these fashionable & entertaining Dances with Precision.’

In his second collection, Gherardi proposes that gentlemen and ladies take out subscriptions for his Cotillon Academy, where they can learn the steps ‘from the Assistance of an experienced Master’. Was he assuming that they will know the basic belle danse steps, but will need help with his enchainements?

Most of the steps are recognisable from the dance manuals of the early 18th century, and several are those described by Gallini. However, the ‘Brizé, a trois pas’ and the ‘Chassé, a trois pas’ are not so familiar and will need a bit of investigation, as do ‘the Steps necessary for the Country Dance in Allemande’.

I can see I will need to devote some more posts to cotillon steps.

Dancing the cotillon: Gallini’s steps

I have looked at the changes and discussed the figures of the cotillon. I now turn to the steps of this contredanse française. Among the dancing masters in London who published cotillons when the craze for these dances began, only Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve say anything about steps. The figures and the steps are so closely intertwined that both Gallini and Gherardi describe them together.

Gallini’s steps are all recognisably from the long-established vocabulary of la belle danse, the ‘French Dancing’ that developed at the court of Louis XIV in the late 17th century and subsequently spread throughout Europe. They were at once over-familiar and unfamiliar. Gallini introduces them by saying:

‘A description of all the Steps and Figures in Dancing, might, by the Reader, be thought tedious, therefore it is intended here to explain only those which are used in the following cotillons’’

He begins with the Assemblé, which is used ‘at the end of several Steps’.

‘the Assemblé Forward is performed by Sinking and Advancing the hinder foot in a circular manner, Springing and Falling on both feet in any Position that shall be proper for the following Step.’

The use of a circular motion hints at the decorations that could be added within the cotillon.

Le Balancé:

‘is done by Sinking, then Rising as you Step forward or sideways with one foot, the other must follow Straight to the first Position, and in the same manner Step back again, beginning with the contrary foot.’

Le Chassé ‘is performed in various ways’:

‘To do this Sideways you must place yourself in the Second Position; if you go to the Right, it is performed by Sinking, then in Rising Spring on both feet and place the Left foot behind where the Right was, at the same time the Right foot Advancing to the Second Position.’

Gallini explains ‘if you Chassé cross, add one Step in the fifth Position and an Assemblé’ and the same is done for the chassé forward. This step was moving towards the 19th-century basic quadrille step.

Le Contretemps:

‘To perform this Forward you must advance your Right foot, sink on both feet, but spring and fall on the Right, then walk two Steps Straight.’

He goes on ‘to this you may add an assemblè’, taking it towards a pas de gavotte.

He describes only half-turn pirouettes:

‘[La Pirouette] is performed to the Right, by bringing your Right foot in the fifth Position behind, then  Rising on your Toes, and turning half Round to the same Position, do the same again to bring you Round; this may be done to the Left, by Reversing the Feet.’

Finally, Gallini gets to Le Rigaudon, one of the characteristic steps of the cotillon.

‘To perform this in the first Position, you must Sink, then Spring, and Fall on the Right foot, bring your left to the first Position, move your Right and return it to the same Position, the knees being straight, Sink, then Spring on both feet and Fall on your Toes in the first Position.’

He adds ‘This may be done by Reversing the Feet’. He also, helpfully, explains how to do the rigaudon from the third position, allowing the dancer to move forwards or backwards.

‘When the Rigaudon is performed in the third Position, with the Right foot foremost, you must Sink, then Spring, and Fall on the Right foot; advance your Left to the same Position, then advance the Right to the third Position, the Knees being straight, Sink, then Spring on both feet and Fall on your Toes with the Left foot foremost in the same Position.’

The one step Gallini completely ignores is the demi-contretemps, the basic step of the cotillon already being used as early as Le Cotillon, the dance for four published in 1705.

His step descriptions seem to be his own, which he presumably developed in the course of his teaching rather than simply copying them from earlier dance manuals. They don’t seem to provide quite enough detail to perform all these steps properly – assuming that the steps were indeed the same as those notated and described in the early 1700s. Do Gallini’s instructions provide hints on the changing style and technique of ballroom dancing in the mid-18th century?

Dances for four: Le Cotillon (1705)

The first dance for four to be published in the new system of dance notation was Le Cotillon, which appeared in Feuillet’s IIIIe Recueil de dances de bal pour l’année 1706. In his first such collection, for 1703, Feuillet promised that they would appear towards the beginning of November each year to allow time to learn the dances before the winter season of balls began. This little collection had just three dances, two danses à deux and a danse à quatre:

La Bavière, a menuet and forlane, choreography by Guillaume-Louis Pecour.

La Fanatique, a sort of rigaudon to a ‘marche des Fanatiques’ by Lully, choreography by Feuillet.

Le Cotillon, a branle (in fact a gavotte) by an unknown choreographer.

In his Avertissement to his latest annual collection, Feuillet wrote:

‘Le Cotillon, quoi que Danse ancienne, est aujourdhui si a la mode a la Cour, que j’ay cru ne pouvoir me dispenser de la joindre à ce petit Recüeil, c’est une maniere de branle a quatre que toutes sortes de personnes peuvent danser sans même avoir jamais appris.’

[The Cotillon, although an old dance, is so fashionable at court, that I thought I had to include it in this little collection, it is a sort of branle for four that anyone can dance without having learnt it beforehand]

He reminded his readers that he would continue to publish his collections of ball dances each November for the forthcoming year. He also announced the publication of his Recueil de contredances at the beginning of 1706 – ‘les Contredanses d’Angleterre … aussi fort à la mode’.

Le Cotillon is an earlier form of the contredanses françaises – cotillons – that would become a dance craze in the 1760s in both France and England. The musical structure for the dance is AABABA x 6 (A = B = 4). There are a series of Changes, to each AA, between which the same Figure is danced, to the BABA music. The terminology ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ is that used when the cotillon, a dance for four couples facing inwards around a square, reached London in the mid-1760s.

The 8-bar changes in Le Cotillon are as follows:

Forward and back (in couples)

Siding (in couples)

Taking right hands and left hands (in couples)

Taking both hands (in couples)

Right hand star (all four dancers)

Left hand star (all four dancers)

Circle left and right (all four dancers)

These are recognisably related to English country dance conventions.

The 16-bar figure is much simpler than those to be found in the later cotillons. One man and his opposite lady perform a sequence of steps taking right hands and then their partners do the same.

Feuillet notates all the steps in Le Cotillon. These, too, anticipate the vocabulary of the later cotillons. Dancers use pas de gavotte (contretemps to first position, jump and step) when moving forwards and backwards and demi-contretemps when moving in a circle. Sequences usually end with an assemblé. The figure uses a sequence beginning with a jump on two feet with a quarter-turn and then back, pas de rigaudon and a jump on two feet, a step and then a series of demi-contretemps ending with an assemblé.

The steps are easy and the sequences are straightforward and predictable. As Feuillet promised, dancers could perform Le Cotillon with no prior practice.

Le Cotillon (1705). First plate. Opening Change.

Le Cotillon (1705). First plate. Opening Change.

Le Cotillon (1705). Second plate. First half of Figure.

Le Cotillon (1705). Second plate. First half of Figure.


Dancing the cotillon: Gherardi’s figures, from his Third Book of Cotillons

In the introduction to his A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons, Gherardi complained:

‘The reason of the little Improvement (generally speaking) hitherto made in the Cotillons, has been and is, doubtless, owing to the obscure and unintelligible method of explaining the Figure; for, to this Day, Masters have generally adopted Terms made use of for the English Country Dances; which, inadequate as they must appear to be in pointing out the Figure, leave the Dancer totally in the dark with respect to what he ought to do himself, or cause his Partner to perform.’

Gherardi’s answer to this problem was to repeat what he had done in his second book, ‘I think it not improper to explain them, both by Representation and Words’. So, he again used diagrams to make the figures as clear as possible. He chose to both explain and illustrate nine figures, including: simple chassé across; chassé dessus et dessous; chassé double (for which he gave two diagrams). He also showed some more complex figures, for which I will give only his diagrams:

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. viii

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. viii

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. ix.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. ix.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xiii.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xiii.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xiv.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xiv.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xv.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xv.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xvi.

Gherardi, A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons. London, [1770], p. xvi.

Did he need to use all this ingenuity to keep his cotillons interesting and, above all, novel and thus fashionable?

After his explanations and illustrations, Gherardi was careful to add:

‘I recommend to the Lovers of the French Country Dances, or Cotillons, a careful and frequent consideration of these Figures, & also of those in my last Book, … in order to fix them strongly in their Memory.’

He ended his introduction by reminding his readers that ‘Mr. Gherardi’s Academy is begun for the Winter’. Gherardi’s books were not so much self-help manuals as advertisements.