Giving this blog a name was quite the challenge. I wanted something memorable and dance-related, but not obviously specific to any one era, since I post about dance across several centuries. I found the phrase "capering & kickery" in the chorus of a Regency-era song on the quadrille fad hitting London in the late 1810s. How could I resist any phrase that rhymes with “flirting with Terpsichore”?
The song is "Quadrilling", published in Birmingham in 1820. I am reproducing the complete lyrics below; you can see them reprinted (fairly legibly) here in the 1834 collection The Universal Songster, courtesy of Google Book Search, and can also see a facsimile of the original handwritten lithograph edition (with the music and hilarious illustrations!) at the wonderful Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music at Johns Hopkins University, which has webbed it here. There are minor variations, primarily in punctuation and capitalization, between the two editions which I have not bothered to mark; I have generally followed the 1834 printed edition below. I have also gone through and annotated the dance terms and other period references for your amusement and/or edification. The overall theme of the song is the wide range of people infatuated with the quadrille, referenced both in the chorus (lines 5-7) and in almost every stanza as noted below.
Run, neighbours, run, all London is quadrilling it,
Order and Sobriety are dos-a-dos.1
This is the day for toeing it and heeling it,
All are promenading it from high to low,
King Almack2 with his Star and Garter3 Coteries,
Never did anticipate such democratic votaries;
Courtiers and Citizens are flirting with Terpsichore,4
The town's an ampitheatre for capering & kickery.
1 The dos-à-dos, or "back to back", was a move in which the partners circled each other without changing the direction they were facing (at least for most of the move), so as to come briefly back to back at the halfway point. It survives in today's square and contra dancing as the "do-si-do".
2 Almack’s was the premier social club of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
3 The Star and the Garter are the insignia of a knight of the Order of the Garter, the highest honor in British society; this contrasts with the "democratic votaries" of the next line.
4 The ancient Greek muse of dance.
Dames, Cavaliers5 too, unwilling all to stand alone,
Thinking practice requisite to do things right,
Like Harlequin & Columbine, rehearsing with Lord Pantaloon,6
Meet slyly in the morning to prepare for night:
Paine's first set,7 invented to delight us, is
Danced at St. James', St. Giles' and St. Vitus's:8
Dandies, turning figurantes9, conceive they've made a clever hit;
And widows, weighing thirty stone, attempt to pas de Zephyr10 it
5 In instructions for quadrilles, the French terms “Dames” and “Cavaliers”, usually capitalized, were often used instead of ladies and gentlemen.
6 Harlequin, Columbine, and Lord Pantaloon were characters from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, which evolved into the "pantomime" theatrical form in England during the 18th century. Pantomime was highly popular during the Regency. Le Pantalon was also the name of the first figure of the first set of quadrilles, said to have been named after a dancing master who wore long trousers (pantalons in French) instead of proper knee breeches. It is at least as likely that the reference was to the the pantomime character. The contrast emphasized is between the gentry or nobility of the first line of the verse and these lowly denizens of the theater.
7 Paine’s first set was a popular set of tunes published in 1815 for the five standard figures of the French quadrille.
8 St. James was a fancy residential area and home to many of the famous clubs. St. Giles was the opposite sort of neighborhood; the pairing again suggests the extremes of society. St. Vitus, of course, was the patron saint of dancers.
9 Figurantes means female dancers who are "figuring" (performing dance figures). The turning reference is probably to a "Graces" quadrille figure in which a gentleman holds the hands of two ladies who pirouette under his arms simultaneously. This is not actually a clever figure to undertake unless the gentleman is taller than the two ladies!
10 The pas de Zephyr was a fairly difficult setting step used in quadrilles. Presumably the dancer should perform it as airily as the west wind (zephyr).
Now, not inanimate, who fatter or who thinner is,
So wonderful, so blunderful, is fashion's freak,
Baronets at Boodles11, money-lenders from the Minories,12
Are jumbled antithetically, jowl by cheek.
Trade stands still while tradesmen are chasse-ing13 it;
Brokers from the Stock exchange are busy ballote-ing14 it;
Commodores on timber-toes are driven from their latitudes,
While gawky lady may'resses are sprawling into attitudes.15
11 Boodles was a fashionable gentlemen's club located on St. James Street; among the members were Beau Brummell and the Duke of Wellington.
12 The Minories was a downscale neighborhood of London which in the late 19th century would become the haunt of Jack the Ripper. As with St. James/St. Giles, the Boodles/Minories pairing suggests a wide range of social classes.
13 The chassé step was the primary traveling step for quadrilles and country dances. It is used in today's English and Scottish country dancing under the name "skip-change".
14 The balloté was a setting step used in quadrilles.
15 The graceful positions taken by dancers were known as attitudes.
The three black Graces, Law, Physic, and Divinity,16
Walk hand-in-hand along the Strand17, humming La Poule;18;
Trade quits her counter, Alma-mater her latinity,
Proud again with Mr. Paine19, to go again to school.
If you want to go to law, you'll nothing get by asking it;
Your lawyer's not at Westminster - he's busy pas-de-basqu'ing20 it;
If you want to lose a tooth, and seek your man for drawing it,
He cannot possibly attend, he's demi-queue-de-chat-ing21 it.
16 These black-clad professions were known as the "Black Graces" after the three Graces of ancient Greek mythology.
17 The Strand is a major thoroughfare in Westminster, London.
18 La Poule was the third figure of the first set of quadrilles, literally translated as “the hen”.
19 Mr. Paine was the orchestra leader at Almack’s for many years.
20 The pas de basque was a setting step used in quadrilles and country dances. Modern Scottish country dancers use this step in a form very similar to its historical one.
21 The queue de chat (literally, “cat’s tail”) was a colorful name for a move in which couples simply promenaded around the set. The “demi” version simply meant to go halfway around only. The “t” in “chat” is silent, so “chat-ing” does actually rhyme with “drawing”.
Poor Haut-ton22, 'twould strike with horror dumb her set -
What mortal can consider it without dismay?
To see La Trenise23 to the kitchen make a summerset,
To keep her sister company, the lost L'Ete!24
E'en while you listen, unconscious to my ditty,
Queen regent of the scullery, the pretty Mrs. Kitty,
Holds her check'd apron up with simpering agility,
And thinks she is glissard-ing25 it as graceful as nobility.
22 “Haut ton”, literally “high fashion”, referred to the upper reaches of society.
23 La Trenise is the fourth figure of the first set of quadrilles, supposedly named after dancing master M. Trenitz.
24 L'Été is the second figure of the first set of quadrilles. Its literal meaning is “summer”, whcih probably makes it a punning reference to “summerset” in the previous line.
25 The glissade was a gliding leap sideways.