Tag Archives: J. G. Gourdoux-Daux

How Easy Are Regency Quadrille Steps?

In an earlier post, Jumping or Rising? Regency Quadrille Steps, I admitted that I had found it difficult to learn the step sequences used for the various quadrille figures in Strathy’s Elements of the art of dancing (1822) and Gourdoux-Daux’s Elements and principles of the art of dancing (translation, 1817). I’m still puzzling over the reasons for this. I’ve been dancing quadrilles for a good few years, admittedly using only a small range of steps, and my background in ballet (as well as my work on baroque dance) means that I can usually pick up step sequences quite quickly. So, in this post, I thought I would take a closer look at what made the new quadrille sequences so challenging.

I’ll begin with the upper body and the arms. Strathy advises:

‘The graceful display of the arms depends greatly on the manner in which the elbows and wrists are turned. The arms should be held in a rounded form, so that the elbows and wrists make the least appearance possible; the elbows turned forward in a small degree, and the wrists held in contrast with them; the hands gently rounded, and the thumbs placed on the joint, or rather over the first joint of the fore-finger, and turned towards the sides. In this position, the arms have a much more delicate appearance, than when the back of the hands are held foremost’.

The lady, of course, holds her skirt, and Strathy helpfully provides illustrations.

The arms are in what is nowadays called a bras bas position and this is where they stay, except when taking hands with another dancer in the quadrille set. Strathy places a lot of emphasis on the ‘proper deportment of the body’ and the ‘proper disposition of the waist’. It takes quite a lot of practice to control the upper body (including the head and the shoulders) and keep the arms still without becoming tense and looking stiff.

In my earlier post, I looked at whether regency dancers jumped or merely rose for their springing steps. With further experimentation, and advice from the dancing master who began this enquiry, I came to the conclusion that the answer was somewhere between the two and that some steps, for example the jeté, travel relatively little. This style of dancing is far more contained than modern ballet. Just as much as its baroque predecessor, it requires what Strathy calls ‘à-plomb,- that steadiness and facility of execution’ achieved by keeping the weight well over the feet.  At the end of each step, you must be ready to go in any direction (or none) – just as in baroque dance. I am beginning to master this, but it has taken quite a while.

My main struggles have been with the sequences used in regency quadrilles. As I tried, and failed, to learn these well enough to do them without repeatedly checking the notes, I attempted to analyse what was going on. I came to the conclusion that I was actually trying to replicate what was expected in modern ballet. I was just too used to sequences that were fully symmetrical as well balletic conventions for closing the working foot either ‘under’ or ‘over’. Baroque dance, of course, works differently but I’ve almost always been learning notated dances and not short step sequences.

I’ll give, as an example of how regency quadrille sequences work, one of Gourdoux-Daux’s alternatives for traverser – in which the dancer crosses the set to the other side. Most of us (myself included) generally use the sequence of three temps levé-chassé ending with a jeté and assemblé.  Here is what Gourdoux-Daux suggests (and this is only one of several alternatives offered by him and Strathy):

‘Presenting the right shoulder to your opposite dancer, perform the glissade above with the right foot, glissade under, jeté in the third position under the left foot, turning round on that side at the same time. Then do the assemblé with the left foot under the right. To complete this trait, rise sisone under with the left foot, glissade above with it, glissade under and assemblé with it under the right foot.’

The description does need a bit of interpretation, but it is an asymmetric sequence and you have to get the correct foot in front at the end of each glissade as well as finishing your jeté and assemblés ‘under’. You also have to be ready to change orientation, as well as direction, immediately after dancing to the right side and the left. It has taken me a while to get it right.

Perhaps my problems also related to the fact that I was trying to learn several different sequences (for dos-à-dos, traverser, chassé croisé and dancing right and left) all at the same time, as well as having very little time for practice each week. I’m sure that it would have taken regency dancers some weeks of careful tuition by an expert dancing master before they became proficient. Still, never underestimate the skills of even amateur dancers in history!

 

Jumping or Rising? Regency Quadrille Steps

I have been trying to get my feet around the steps and sequences used in regency quadrilles and finding it a bit of a struggle. I think there are two main reasons for this. One is that the ‘grammar’ of the sequences, the way in which the steps are put together, contradicts what I am used to in modern ballet’s petit allegro. The other is that the individual steps, which seem very similar to those of petit allegro, in fact need a different style and technique which I am still trying to work out.

I started to learn this material (in which I claim no expertise) for a project devised by a young teacher of historical dance with whom I have been lucky enough to work over several years. The source texts we are using are Strathy’s treatise of 1822 and the 1817 American translation of Gourdoux-Daux’s manual.

These provide descriptions of the temps levé, chassé, jeté, assemblé, échappé, glissade, sissonne, changement and grand coupé, which feature in the various quadrille figures and balances we have been exploring.

Looking through the two treatises, I was surprised to see that both use the word ‘rise’ where I expected to see ‘spring’ or ‘jump’. Gourdoux-Daux’s translator does use the word ‘jump’ occasionally and Strathy says ‘spring’ once, but the descriptions suggest that neither word really represents what they intended their dancers to do. When describing the landing from a step which I would assume (from my experience with ballet) leaves the floor, Strathy uses the word ‘fall’ while ‘V.G.’ says ‘alight’. I won’t go through all of the steps I have listed, but here are their descriptions of the changement, which I think illustrate the point I am grappling with.

Strathy says:

‘Of the step named Changement de Jambe.

Place the body as directed for the deportment, the feet in the fifth position; balance the body equally on both legs, bend low by folding the knees outward, rise without jerking, and make the feet pass by the first position, the one to the place of the other, the knees extended, and the points or toes turned down, so as the feet may be in a line with the legs, the points near the floor, where they will fall by the weight of the body: place the heels gently, the feet in the fifth position; keep the knees straight.’

While Gourdoux-Daux says:

‘On the motion called Change of Foot, in the third position.

To perform this step, place yourself in the third position, firm on the hips and knees, with the toes properly turned out. Bend down equally upon both knees and insteps, (without raising the heels from the floor) rise up gradually, just high enough to enable you to bend the instep so as to cause the toes to be in a perpendicular line with the leg, as much as possible. Cross your feet as in the first position, viz. the heels close together, and alighting on the floor on the toes, bring the heels gradually down in the third position and straighten up your knees.’

Both descriptions suggest a jump that isn’t quite a jump, since the dancer rises only high enough to fully point the feet. The motive force for the step seems to come from the feet as much as the plié, making it closer to the modern rélevé than a jump. So, in regency dancing, are jumps closer to the demi-jeté or perhaps the ‘relever en sautant dessus’ of the contretemps in baroque dance?

Another word that turns up regularly in these treatises is ‘slide’, used in the description of the assemblé (for the initial movement of the working foot) as well as in the glissade (which is obviously linked to the baroque step with its pas glissés). A sliding step does not, of course, leave the floor.

For another project, I have been re-reading a study of balls and assemblies 1660-1840 where I came across a short discussion of changes to the dancing floors around the regency period. The evidence was somewhat contradictory. Apparently sprung floors were being introduced at much the same time as floors became highly polished – the one facilitating springing steps while the other encouraged sliding steps. Did they indeed affect the dancing style and technique of the time – perhaps further research is needed?

So, to return to my original problem, was regency dancing full of small jumps similar to those taught in a modern ballet class? Or was it based on jumps that weren’t quite jumps, making it lively and bouncy but with the emphasis on controlled vivacity rather than aerial feats?