Tag Archives: Giovanni Battista Gherardi

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.

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.


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: 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: 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.



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.



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.