Tag Archives: Cotillion

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

In his Second Book of Cotillons, Gherardi told his readers ‘The Figures the most in vogue, & of which all French Country Dances are Compos’d, are the following’. His list runs through twelve basic figures:

Les Chaines

Les Pirouettes

Les Carrés

Les Allemandes

Les Passes

Les Courses

Les Ronds

Les Mains

Les Moulinets

Les Poussettes

Les Enchainements

Les Chassés

He adds ‘from these Figures are derived all the others that are made use of in these Dances’. Gherardi’s list is not the same as Gallini’s, although there is considerable overlap.

He chooses to explain only five of these figures: Les Pirouettes, Les Carrés, Les Courses, Les Poussettes and Les Chassés – ‘those which hitherto have not been properly explained’ (presumably also the ones that, in his opinion, ‘seem the most difficult’).

Whereas Gallini gives only a brief explanation of how to perform a half-turn pirouette on both feet, Gherardi describes a number of different pirouettes, indicating how they may be incorporated into figures. Pirouettes are performed using the third position:

‘ … some-times turning only half round, & sometimes whole, either to the Right or Left: or sometimes two whole turns round, of the same side; accompanied, frequently, with turning under the Partner’s Arm.’

He also describes a pirouette in an over-crossed fifth position, and the use of a ‘Chassé en tournant’.

Gherardi uses diagrams to help explain some of these basic figures. He says, waspishly, of the Petit Carré à quatre Personnes that ‘This Figure is by some, very wrongly termed Back to Back, but it is not the same as Back to Back’.

Gherardi, A Second Book of Cotillons. London, [1768?], p. 4.

Gherardi, A Second Book of Cotillons. London, [1768?], p. 4.

As the diagram shows, the four dancers (two men and two women) who perform the Petit Carré dance around the other four, who stand still.

When he turns to Les Courses, Gherardi again hints at some of the squabbles between rival dancing masters.

Le quart de Course

‘Is only when each Couple perform a quarter of la Course, by which means the first Couple take the Place of the fourth, the third of the second, & the fourth of the third. This figure is frequently, though improperly called, la Promenade, la Procession.’

Gherardi elaborates on Gallini’s simple Poussette, with a Poussette en tournant and a Chaine en Poussette.

Gherardi, A Second Book of Cotillons. London, [1768?], p. 9

Gherardi, A Second Book of Cotillons. London, [1768?], p. 9.

Gherardi, A Second Book of Cotillons. London, [1768?], p. 10.

Gherardi, A Second Book of Cotillons. London, [1768?], p. 10.

Similarly, where Gallini only describes how to perform the chassé step, Gherardi explains a series of Chassé figures which make use of it. He has Chassé Simple, Chassé dessus et dessous, Chassé ouvert and a Chassé double which ‘Is a Chassè with the lady: if towards the right, the Lady leads, if towards the left, the Gentleman; having hold of hands’.

This introduction to the most fashionable figures ends with descriptions of some basic moves:

Aller Figurer devant un Couple

Defaire une Figure

Faire une Figure en sens contraire

Contre partie d’une Figure

After all this advice, he is careful to add:

‘Although Mr. Gherardi has endeavoured to be as explicit as possible in the direction for the Figure of each Dance, yet if any Lady or Gentleman does not fully comprehend it, Mr. Gherardi will be very ready to give all farther explanations that may be necessary, as well by Practice as Theory, on application to him for that purpose.’

He finishes the introduction to his second collection with a lengthy advertisement for his Cotillon Academy.



Dancing the cotillon: Gallini’s figures

In his New Collection of Forty-Four Cotillons, Gallini makes clear that figures are made up of specific steps, fitted to floor patterns traced by the dancers as they move. He puts steps and patterns together into one list and describes the figures for each of his cotillons in terms of these elements.

Rather than trying to analyse the figures for individual cotillons in the various English collections, I will look only at the patterns forming part of those figures which are explained by the dancing masters. I am definitely not an expert on country dancing, so the obvious may occasionally elude me as I work through these.

In his ‘General Rules’ at the beginning of his collection Gallini lists the following:

Allemande: ‘This Figure is performed by interlacing your Arms with your Partner’s, in various ways’.

Les Chaines: he gives three – La Grande Chaine or Las D’Amour, ‘by forming a Love-knot’, the Vis-a Vis, ‘done by two opposite Couple with Right-hand and Left’,  and a Chaine ‘performed by two Couple Right-hand and Left, side-ways’. The second sounds like the chaine anglaise, but what is the third?

Moulinet: ‘the same as Hands cross’, and ‘the Grand, or Double Moulinet’ performed by all the dancers.

La Poussette: ‘performed by holding the Lady’s hands, and making her Retreat, then She does the same by her Partner’.

La Course, or La Promenade: ‘performed by taking hold of your Partner’s hands, and walking with her’, through a quarter, a half, three-quarters or the whole of the set.

Les Quarrés: Le Grand Quarré has all the dancers moving, whereas Le Petit Quarré has only four dancers.

La Queue du Chat: ‘performed by two Couple [sic] changing places, beginning at the Right, and then returning to their own places’.

Les Ronds: ‘performed by taking hold of each others hands, and going round with the Chassé’. Le Grand Rond is performed by all the dancers.

As Gallini indicates, several of these patterns are also used separately as changes. The dancers would have been guided by the music, since the changes were danced to the first strain and the figure to the second and any subsequent strains. In his instructions for each cotillon, Gallini was careful to specify which musical strain accompanied which section of the figure.

Dancing the cotillon: the changes

In his A New Collection of Forty-four Cotillons Gallini stated ‘At the beginning of every Cotillon, the dancers must perform Le Grand Rond, and Return to their Places’. He then listed ten changes beginning ‘Each Couple join their Right hands and turn, then back with the Left’.

  1. Each Couple join both hands and turn to the Right, then back to the Left.
  1. The Ladies Moulinet to the Right, then to the Left.
  1. The Gentlemen Moulinet to the Right, then to the Left.
  1. The Ladies join hands and go Round to the Right, then to the Left.
  1. The Gentlemen join hands and go Round to the Right, then to the Left.
  1. Each Couple Allemande to the Right, then to the Left.
  1. La Grande Chaine.
  1. La Course, or La Promenade, to the Right.
  1. Le Grand Rond.

Gallini specifies Le Grand Rond at the beginning of all but one of his cotillons.

Gherardi listed nine changes in his Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances of 1768. Like Gallini, he omitted Le Grand Rond (which he calls ‘All Round’) from the beginning of his list. He also left out Gallini’s first change, right and left hands.

1st. Turn your partner with both hands

2d. Four ladies hands across

3d. Four gentlemen hands across

4th. Four ladies hands round

5th. Four gentlemen hands round

6th. L’Allemande

7th. La Chaine

8th. La Promenade

9th. All Round

Gherardi specifies ‘All round’ at the beginning of all but one of his cotillons (the odd one out begins ‘Ballance & Rigadoon Step then all round’).

Villeneuve listed the same changes as Gherardi in his 1769 Collection of Cotillons and he begins all of his dances ‘All round’.

Thomas Hurst, whose The Cotillons Made Plain and Easy also dates to 1769, was apparently determined to anglicize the cotillon. His list was longer, with fourteen changes, although he did include many from Gallini and Gherardi.

First Change, called Swing Partners.

Second Change. Turn Partners.

Third Change. Ladies Hands across.

Fourth Change. Gentlemen Hands across

Fifth Change. Ladies Hands round.

Sixth Change. Gentlemen Hands round.

Seventh Change. Ring Top and Bottom.

Eighth Change. Ring on each side.

Ninth Change. Hands across Top and Bottom.

Tenth Change. Hands across on each side.

Eleventh Change. Right and Left all round.

Twelfth Change. The Promenade, or Walk.

Thirteenth Change. Beat all round.

Fourteenth Change. The Great Ring

Hurst’s first, third to sixth, eleventh to twelfth and fourteenth changes can be found in Gallini and Gherardi, but he added five changes not found in other cotillon collections of this time. In his ‘Method of performing one dance throughout’, two pages before his list of changes, Hurst makes clear that all his cotillons begin with the ‘Great Ring’.

In his A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons, published about 1770, Gherardi revised his list of changes although he still specified nine.

1st. All round.

2d. Turn your Partner with your right Hand to your own Place, then with your left.

3d. Turn your Partner with both hands.

4th. The 4 Ladies hands across.

5th. The 4 Gentlemen the same.

6th. The Ladies hands round.

7th. The Gentlemen the same.

8th. L’allemande two and two.

9th. All round.

He left out La Chaine and La Promenade. He also begins all the cotillons in this collection with ‘All round’.

Siret, whose A Set of Cotillons, or French Dances may also date to 1770, listed the same nine changes as in Gherardi’s third collection. He specifies ‘All round as usual’ at the beginning of all but one of his cotillons.

Were these variations in the Changes part of the development of the cotillon in England? Were they influenced by fashion, as the cotillon became familiar and dancers sought more variety, or (in these collections at least) did they reflect the preferences of individual dancing masters?

Teaching the cotillon

In the early 1760s, before the appearance of Gallini’s ‘collection of cotillons or French dances’, dancing masters principally taught minuets and country dances. At that period Nicholas Hart regularly placed notices in the Public Advertiser. On 2 January 1762, he announced he was available to teach ‘Grown Persons to dance a Minuet and Country Dances, in the genteelest Manner, and with Privacy and Expedition’. He promised to impart the necessary skills speedily – ‘Country Dances … from three Hours to six Days’ and ‘A Minuet may be attained in two or three Weeks’. He did not specify how many lessons would be needed, and he was coy about his fees. ‘The Expense of learning Address [bows, curtsies and other basics of etiquette] is One Pound Six; (in the Minuet Address is included)’, other charges ‘may be seen at large in the printed Proposals’. Hart expected his dancing school to be open for business for many hours each day. ‘Continual Attendance is given for private Instructions from Ten to Ten, And on Wednesday and Friday Evenings the Long-Room is open for general Practising, from Seven to Ten’.

Dancing masters, like polite society, were subject to changes in fashion. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 6 April 1768 declared ‘Mr.Welch, dancing-master, the partner of Mr. Hart, is returned from France, where we may expect the cotilons, &c. in perfection’. In another advertisement on 2 May 1768, Welch observed that ‘the cotillons, &c. [are] an essential requisite in this nation’. On 14 June 1768, the dancing master Mr Patence advertised in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser. He, too, taught ‘grown ladies or gentlemen’ a repertoire of minuets and country dances ‘in the most polite and expeditious manner’. Country dances could be learned in six hours and the minuet in twelve lessons. He also taught ‘all the rigadoon steps, and figures, for the cotillon dances’. He was equally reticent about his fees, saying only ‘For further particulars enquire’.

There was obviously a numerous regular clientele, of both adults and children, who needed or wished to learn the dances performed at assemblies and balls. If one was to succeed in Georgian society, one had to be able to dance. By the late 1760s the cotillon was the dance of choice.

[After John Collet. Grown gentlemen taught to dance. 1767. © Trustees of the British Museum]

[After John Collet. Grown gentlemen taught to dance. 1767. © Trustees of the British Museum]

[After John Collet. Grown ladies taught to dance. c1768. © Trustees of the British Museum]

[After John Collet. Grown ladies taught to dance. c1768. © Trustees of the British Museum]


Following a discussion about eighteenth-century dances for four with a fellow baroque dance specialist and I thought I would make a list of the surviving notations. I had classified them as ballroom dances, so I turned to La Danse Noble (1992) by Meredith Little and Carol Marsh and La Belle Dance (1996) by Francine Lancelot, the two catalogues of this repertoire. Between them, they provided a total of eleven choreographies ranging in date from 1705 to 1771.

One starting point for the discussion was Feuillet’s Le Cotillon, published in 1705. This choreography has the same structure, and uses the same steps, as the cotillons published in Paris in the 1760s. Even though it appears alongside ballroom dances in the IIIIe. Recueil de Dances de Bal and is notated in the same way, it is essentially a contredanse. It is nevertheless listed in both catalogues. However, another dance for four, Le Quadrille, published by Magny in his Principes de Choregraphie (1765), appears in neither catalogue though it too is notated in the same way. Magny tells us that he composed the dance simply to show all the steps used in contredanses, so it was presumably omitted because it was classed as a contredanse.

I couldn’t help pursuing matters a little further. Neither Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie (for eight dancers) from the XIIIIe. Recüeil de Danses (1716) nor L’Italiene (for four) from the XVII Recüeil de Dances (1719) both by Dezais, appear in the catalogues. Both these dances are recorded in the simplified form of notation used for contredanses. However, Little and Marsh include Mr Holt’s Minuet [and] Jigg for four, published in Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing (1711) even though the dance is written in simplified notation and is very similar to a country dance. (Lancelot covers French dances and dancing masters, omitting anything which is purely English).

I began to wonder if the distinction between ballroom dances and country dances was less clear than I had supposed. When I came across the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances (1725) by Dezais and discovered that it has at least five dances for four, I realised that drawing up my list was not going to be entirely straightforward. So many country dances and contredanses were published during the eighteenth century that no researchers have tried to emulate Little and Marsh and Lancelot by trying to catalogue them. There is no easy way to investigate this repertoire. Are dances for four ballroom dances or contredanses? How many more of them are out there?


Mr. Siret, A Set of Cotillons, c1770

A Set of Cotillons, or French Dances by Mr Siret is undated, but has been ascribed to around 1770. This places it among the collections published soon after the cotillon first became popular in London. The title page declares that Siret’s cotillons are ‘properly explain’d and illustrated, by Corographical Lines, drawn on a plan entirely new & far superior to those which have been before Published’, adding that both the tunes and the figures are by him.

Unlike the other treatises that appeared in London around this time, which all have verbal descriptions, Siret records his dances in a form of notation like that used in France for the publication of contredanses. He was probably French – he is very likely the Siret recorded as a musician in Paris around 1780 who had earlier published music in London. He may have been a relation of the French organist and composer Nicolas Siret (1663-1754).

Siret explains the notation he uses. He gives the same symbols to the ladies and the gentlemen, except that the ladies are shown in white and the gentlemen in black, with partners sharing identical shapes. He makes a mistake when he says ‘every Gentleman has his partner on his left hand’.  In his diagram of the couples standing in a square, Siret does show the ladies on the right according to convention.

He lists seven changes, plus the grand rond ‘all eight hands round and back again’. These, he says, are ‘the most fashionable’. Each dance has an ‘Explanation of the Plan’, which is a verbal description of the figures, and a ‘Plan of the Figures’, which notates them. The ‘Explanation’ names some steps, for which Siret provides no descriptions. His six cotillons all have French titles.

Siret obviously intended to make his mark among the dancing masters competing for attention, and dance students, in late 18th-century London. All these cotillon collections raise the question of dancing masters and their lessons, my next topic.

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, right hand side]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, right hand side]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

George Villeneuve Junior, A Collection of Cotillons, 1769

The 1769 Collection of Cotillons by George Villeneuve ‘Junior’ advertises its ‘plain and easy Directions’ on the title page. He lists seven steps and nine changes. His twelve cotillons all have French titles.

The epithet ‘Junior’ presumably distinguished George Villeneuve from his father. It is likely that he was the son of the Mr Villeneuve (also George) who danced at Drury Lane and then Covent Garden between 1734 and 1756. The elder Villeneuve married another dancer, Elizabeth Oates, at Lincoln’s Inn Chapel on 8 September 1735. George Junior was apparently born on 7 November 1738. Unusually for dancing masters at this period, his family tree can be traced a little further. George Villeneuve Junior married Susannah Smart on 20 May 1769 at St Mary in Marylebone Road, shortly before his book was first advertised. The couple had at least four children between 1770 and 1778.

There are no records to suggest that George Villeneuve Junior ever worked as a dancer on the London stage. He presumably taught ballroom dancing to amateurs, perhaps working with or in succession to his father. He may also have been a musician, as many dancing masters were, although the title page to the collection says nothing about the composer of the music. The collection was obviously designed to capitalise on the dance’s popularity and probably to draw attention to Villeneuve as a dancing master.

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, centre right]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, centre right]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Hurst, The Cotillons Made Plain and Easy, 1769

On the titlepage of his 1769 collection, The Cotillons Made Plain and Easy, Thomas Hurst describes himself as ‘Of  the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, Late Pupil and Assistant to Mr. Grimaldi Ballet-Master’. Giuseppe Grimaldi (d.1788) worked at Drury Lane from 1758 to 1785 and was the father of the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi. Hurst seems to have worked at Drury Lane from 1755, when he was a child dancer, until at least 1782.

Given his background, Hurst’s remarks in his preface are surprising. He refers to the many books already published on the cotillon, complaining that they ‘cannot be of service to any but great proficients’ and declaring that he will avoid the terminology and steps of theatre dancing. He offers no French tunes, preferring instead English, Irish and Scotch airs for his cotillons. Hurst dedicates his book ‘to the Dancing-Masters of these Kingdoms’. Perhaps he was just setting up as a teacher of social dancing.

Hurst provides a diagram of the ‘Dancing-Room’ which shows clearly the placing and numbering of the four couples. He briefly explains how to perform a cotillon – the bows, the alternation of changes and the figure, and the changes themselves. He lists fourteen changes, explaining that he has added ‘several new ones, to those now in use’. He says nothing about steps. Thomas Hurst’s sixteen cotillons all have French titles, which he translates into English.

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, centre left]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, centre left]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Giovanni Battista Gherardi’s Three Books of Cotillons, 1768-1770

Three collections of ‘Cotillons or French Dances’ were compiled by Giovanni Battista Gherardi and published in the late 1760s. Notices in the Public Advertiser for 9 March 1768 and 2 March 1769, together with the date 1770 on Gherardi’s dedication in the third volume, suggest that they appeared over two to three years. Gherardi himself dates the first volume to1767 and the second to 1768, a discrepancy which is worth further research although this is not the place for it. If he did not initially conceive them as a set, Gherardi obviously developed this idea as he went on, for each of the three volumes provides additional information about the cotillon.

Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances, of 1767 or 1768, lists nine changes and nine step sequences. The fourteen cotillons all have French titles, perhaps suggesting a Parisian origin for the choreographies. The book also has music for four allemandes, indicating the parallel growth in popularity of the allemande country dances (like cotillons, performed in a square formation by four couples) as well as the couple allemande.

The Second Book of Cotillons or French Dances, of 1768 or 1769, includes an additional explanation of twelve ‘Figures the most in Vogue’. It lists the same nine sequences of steps as the first volume, referring also to ‘the steps necessary for the Country Dance in Allemande’ although Gherardi does not list or explain these. This book has twelve cotillons, three of which are also titled ‘Allemande’. At the end of his introductory text, Gherardi proposes ‘to the Nobility and Gentry, admirers of these fashionable performances, a Subscription for a Cotillon Academy’. He intends to teach not only cotillons ‘of his own composing’ but also all other fashionable dances, including Allemandes. The beau monde would be protected from interlopers ‘as the Subscription shall be wholly confin’d to Ladies & Gentlemen of Rank, Fashion, & Fortune’.

In his A Third Book of French Country Dances or Cotillons, Gherardi explains ‘several Figures not much used’. There are nine of these. The nine step sequences are the same as before, but the nine changes differ from those in the first book. Does this suggest an evolution of the cotillon, or merely alternatives in use in London’s ballrooms? Gherardi provides twelve more cotillons, all with French names. He also advertises his ‘Academy … for the Winter’ to begin in the following January. He must have had to work hard to maintain his position as one of London’s leading dancing masters.

I will return to Gherardi’s explanations and descriptions later.

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, left hand side]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Henry Kingsbury. A Cotilion. [Detail, left hand side]. 1788. © Trustees of the British Museum

Cotillons in print

Apart from Gallini’s New Collection, the 1760s saw the appearance of a number of small books offering instruction in the cotillon along with several choreographies for enthusiasts to dance. Giovanni Battista Gherardi ‘some Time since principal Dancer at the Opera in Paris’ led the way with ‘A Collection of the most favourite Cotillons now in vogue in Paris’, announced for imminent publication in the Public Advertiser for 9 March 1768. This was presumably the Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances published by Welcker. Gherardi followed this up with A Second Book of Cotillons or French Dances, which appeared a year later, and then A Third Book in 1770. The Second Book was advertised as costing 2 shillings (10 pence, around £20 in today’s money although an exact equivalent value is hard to calculate).

Thomas Hurst’s The Cotillons, Made Plain and Easy was published in April 1769. It, too, cost 2 shillings. A Collection of Cotillons by George Villeneuve Junior came out in May 1769, at the slightly cheaper price of one shilling and sixpence (around 8 pence, say £15 today). There was also Mr Siret’s A Set of Cotillons or French Dances, perhaps published a year later in 1770.

All these books offered advice on dancing the changes, figures and steps in cotillons. For the dances, Gherardi, Hurst and Villeneuve followed the English practice of describing country dances in words. Siret adopted the French convention of a simplified form of notation. Between them, these manuals provide a detailed introduction to the cotillon when it first became fashionable.

I will look at each cotillon manual in more detail in later posts.