Tag Archives: Quadrille

Cotillon Steps and Quadrille Steps

The Cotillon

Cotillion Dance 1771 (2)

A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the cotillon steps recorded by London’s dancing masters in the 1760s. In 1762, De la Cuisse (who began the cotillon craze by publishing these dances) listed six steps in his Le Repertoire des bals ou theorie-pratique des contredansesbalancé, rigaudon, contretems, chassé, pirouette and pas de gavotte (the demi-contretems, which he described as ‘un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse’). All are familiar from the dance manuals of the early 1700s. Between them, Gallini, Gherardi and Villeneuve added another six – assemblé, glissade, ‘brizè à trois pas’, ‘chassé à trois pas’, double chassé and sissonne.  Three of these were also described in the earlier manuals, while three – the brizé and chassé ‘a trois pas’ and the double chassé were apparently more recent.

The Quadrille

Quadrilles - Practising at Home

The step vocabulary for the early 19th-century quadrille was more extensive and some of the steps were certainly more challenging than any used in the cotillon. One of the earliest works to deal with the quadrille was Notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse by J. H. Gourdoux-Daux, published in Paris in 1804. The second edition was titled Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse pour la ville and appeared in 1811. It was presumably this edition that was translated into English for publication in Philadelphia in 1817 as Elements and Principles of the Art of Dancing as used in Polite and Fashionable Circles. This translation describes nine steps for use in quadrilles – the ‘change of foot’ (changement de jambe), assemblé, jeté, sissonne, échappé, temps levé, grand coupé, chassé and glissade. Only one, chassé, is among the cotillon steps prescribed by De la Cuisse, while three more appear in the collections published in London – assemblé, glissade and sissonne. The last of these occurs only in Villeneuve’s Collection of Cotillons and he does not describe it. By the time Gourdoux-Daux was writing, the sissonne had become a spring from two feet to one, beginning in third position and ending with the free foot either extended to second or fourth position or brought into the ankle. It is recognisable as the second part of the pas de sissonne recorded in the early 1700s.

Gourdoux-Daux published a third edition of his treatise titled simply De l’art de la danse in 1823, which is accessible digitally. It adds a tems du balonné, pas de bourrée, tems de cuisse, demi-contretems, brisé and entrechat. His third edition is described as ‘revue, corrigé et augmenté’, indicating that it contains new material. However, without access to Gourdoux-Daux’s earlier editions, it is not possible to know whether he included any of these steps before 1823 or whether his American translator simply omitted them as either not generally used or, perhaps, not appropriate for social dancing.

In 1822, Alexander Strathy published his Elements of the Art of Dancing in Edinburgh. His list has twelve quadrille steps – assemblé, jeté, glissade, sissonne, temps levé, chassé, échappé, pirouette, changement de jambe, pas de Zéphyre or pas battu, jeté tendu and jeté du côté. His vocabulary overlaps with that of Gourdoux-Daux, but both have steps not included by the other.

The only other treatise I will look at here is Charles Mason’s A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société published in London in 1827. His vocabulary overlaps with both Gourdoux-Daux and Strathy and also includes steps they do not list. Mason’s list has twenty of what he calls ‘Les Mouvemens’ – changement de jambes, assemblé, jeté, sissonne, tems levé, chassé, glissade, jeté ballonné, tems de Zéphyre, coupé, pas de basque, pas de bourrée, tems de ‘coudepied’, jeté brisé, pas tombé, fouetté, contretems, pirouette, emboîté and petits battemens. Some of these may have been embellishments to steps, rather than steps in their own right, and some may have been used only within the ‘Differens Enchainemens de Pas’ Mason refers to on his title page.

In the following table I have tried to set out the steps recommended for the cotillon and quadrille respectively, with the name of each dancing master to include it listed in order of the date of their first publication in which it appears. For the purposes of this investigation, I have omitted the Allemande step used in so many cotillons – it is probably worth another post of its own (although I did write about it a few years ago). There were, of course, several other works on dancing – and the quadrille – published in the early decades of the 19th century, so my list of steps is probably far from complete and it is certainly not definitive. How and why did the step vocabulary change and expand so much as the cotillon gave way to the quadrille?

Table of Cotillon and Quadrille Steps


Pas de Zephyr: the Step

I first came across the pas de Zephyr a few years ago at a workshop on early 19th-century quadrilles. The name, as well as the step itself, caught my attention. It was taught as part of a dance vocabulary, drawn from contemporary sources, that was very like ballet. I wanted to know more and recently I’ve finally found time to do some research into this step.

So far I have found the pas de Zephyr described in four manuals of social dancing:

  • Edward Payne, The Quadrille Dancer (London, 1818). I discovered this version transcribed on the Regency Dances website and I have yet to look at a copy of the original manual;
  • Alexander Strathy, Elements of the Art of Dancing (Edinburgh, 1822), this was the version I first encountered;
  • Charles Mason, A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société (London, 1827);
  • Giacomo Costa, Saggio analitico-practico intorno all’arte della danza (Turin, 1831).

There may well be other sources that also include it, although I have not found it in the manuals by Carlo Blasis or in Théleur’s 1831 Letters on Dancing. It doesn’t seem to appear in 18th-century dance manuals either.

The four sources I have been able to consult all describe the step slightly differently. Here is Payne’s description, as transcribed on the Regency Dances website:

‘Pas de Zephyr

To perform this step with the right foot behind, in the 4th position sink on your left foot, at the same time making an opening, or half circle with the right, to the 4th position behind, rising with a gentle spring on your left, at the same time making a half circle with the right, to the 4th position before, then bound forward on your right foot, with the knees perfectly extended, and make a battment [sic] with the left, finishing in the 4th position off the floor, repeat the same with the left foot before, to this add two Jettés on your right foot, two on the left, one on your right, one on the left, and finish with a Jetté et assemblé.

This step is applied when you advance, huit measures, tout seul, in la Pastoralle, and occupies eight bars, four advancing and four retiring.’

The pas de Zephyr is presumably not the entire enchainement, only the step Payne explains in detail.

Strathy’s version goes like this:

‘Pas de Zéphyre or Pas Battu

To perform this Step forward with the Right Leg.

Place the feet in the fifth position, the left foot before; balance the body entirely on the left leg; bend on it, and at the same time slide the right foot, on the point, back to the fourth position; rise on the point of the left foot, bring up the right foot to the third position behind, and, sustaining yourself still on the point of the left foot, pass the right foot by the first position into the fifth position before; then gently place the heels.’

By ‘rise on the point’ Strathy presumably means a rise onto the ball of the foot and not onto the tips of the toes. He offers several variations of the pas de Zephyr, beginning with those which have an extension of the free foot to second position rather than fourth. Strathy’s pas de Zephyr is notable for its use of a rise instead of a jump.

Mason writes as follows:

‘Jeté Ballonné et Tems de Zephyre

Make a jeté before with the right foot, disengaging the left to a fourth position behind; then ballonné or sissonne upon the right, pointing the left to a fourth before; reverse it; if, as you make the ballonné, a little battement forward and back be made with the other foot, it becomes a tems de zephyre.’

Although he gives it a different name, Mason’s version is similar to Payne’s.

I don’t have access to a good translation of Costa’s version (and my Italian is not up to a reliable translation of my own) but here is what he has to say in the original Italian:

‘Passo dello Zeffiro

Il piede destro che sta in quarta avanti per aria, gettasi a terra piegando, e distendendo il piede che sta addietro, s’incava alla quarta in aria avanti; gettando a terra il sinistro, piegando, s’incava nuovamente il destro alla quarta in aria avanti, e si avranno fatti due passi di seguito, sempre avanti.

Contiene esso due tempi soltanto, uno piegato, l’altro disteso. Il primo nel gettare a terra il piede che sta alla quarta in aria, piegando le ginocchia; il secondo, uscendo avanti il piede che trovasi addietro nell’atto che distendonsi le ginocchia, e che il piede che sta per terra fa il salticello, che discesi jeté.’

Costa’s explanation is notable for omitting the battement, which seems to me to be a fundamental element of the pas de Zephyr.

A very basic analysis of these four versions of the pas de Zephyr suggest that it is a pas composé which brings together a jeté, a sissonne and a battement (the last two performed either sequentially or simultaneously). Strathy omits the opening jeté called for by Payne and Mason, while Costa (apparently) substitutes a second jeté for the sissonne. Looking at modern technical dictionaries of classical ballet, I wonder if the pas de Zephyr relates to the brisé or the brisé vole. I suggest that all the versions in social dance manuals are modifications of a more demanding step for the stage. I will discuss a possible choreographic source for that stage step in a later post.

Strathy’s Elements

Alexander Strathy’s Elements of the Art of Dancing was published in Edinburgh in 1822. In his introduction, Strathy observes ‘Dancing may be said to be to the body, what reading is to the mind … It embellishes and perfects the work of nature, and enables us to present ourselves in society with an amiable and becoming ease’. He ends by explaining ‘Although the elementary steps described in this essay apply to dancing in general, I have more especially in view that style of dancing denominated La Danse de la Ville, or the Quadrille’. Despite his emphasis on social dancing, Strathy’s treatise makes considerable demands on amateur dancers.

A first clue to these demands appears in the second plate, showing a young lady ready to dance. The positions of the feet at the bottom of the page are recognisably derived from ballet, and require a full ninety-degree turnout.

Strathy Plate Lady

Strathy. Elements of the Art of Dancing (1822), plate II.

Strathy does indeed describe these positions (which had been established in the mid-17th century) and emphasises the importance of proper turnout of the legs. He goes on to describe several training exercises, from bends and rises to various grand battements and petit battements while holding on to a support for balance. Many of these still form part of the barre work in a ballet class today.

Strathy’s steps include assemblés, jetés, glissades, sissonnes, temps levés, chassés and changements. Some of these relate closely to their modern ballet equivalents while others differ in certain respects. One important difference is the omission of the jump from assemblés and jetés. These are performed with a sink and rise, which provides a similar effect but makes them more elegant and provides a contrast with the other jumped steps. Some steps seem to have been taken from the stage, for example the pas de Zéphyre (which I will explore further in a later post).

Strathy’s little treatise is a good place to start for dancers willing, and with the skill, to add more demanding steps to their quadrilles. It is also a great introduction to early 19th-century dance for those with some background in ballet.