Tag Archives: George Villeneuve

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.

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