In his 1818 dance manual, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama, Thomas Wilson provides a list of the ten essential steps for quadrilles (image at left from the second edition, 1822). The last of these is the "PAS DE BASQUÉ." Almack's orchestra leader James Paine (or his ghostwriter), in Paine of Almack's Quadrilles, Set I (n.d., probably late 1810s), agrees that:
"Every Lady and Gentleman desirous of Dancing Quadrilles should be Acquainted with the following Steps, which are but few in Quantity and Extremely facile in their performance."
Last on the list given is "Pas des Basques et Emboité en àrriere."
The anonymous manuscript Contre danses à Paris 1818 likewise lists the pas de basque performed twice (right and left) as a quadrille step.
The utility of the step is obvious: while setting sequences for quadrilles, such as those reviewed in a previous post, are typically a full four bars long (two bars in each direction, right and left), there are a number of quadrille figures which call for only two bars of setting. For such figures, the one-bar pas de basque performed twice (to the right and the left), is a useful option. This is made explicit in the fifth figure of The Lancer's Quadrilles, or Duval of Dublin's Second Set (n.d., but advertised in the Dublin Evening Post on May 1, 1817, according to Philip J. S. Richardson in his 1960 survey, Social Dances of the 19th Century). At one point in the figure the dancers have formed a column of couples (the distinguishing feature of the various Lancers sets) and perform a collective chassé-croisé, with all the ladies moving left and the gentlemen moving right to begin. The instructions for this move are given in French as "chassez partout pas de basque. dechassez pas de basque" and in English as "chassez all across twice, and pas de basque twice." This is not the only sequence given in period sources for a chassé-croisé, but it is particularly friendly in that it permits the dancers to use an easy or well-remembered step sequence (such as one of the ones given in my discussion of chassez-dechassez) for the actual traveling and just "plug in" the pas de basque on each end.
Although not specified in any source I have located, other figures in which a one-bar setting step are useful include setting in transverse lines (four bars, but typically done moving right and left twice, as moving in one direction for a full two bars is impractical in cross formation), as in the third figure of the First Set ("La Poule"); and the fourth figure of the Caledonians, in which the ladies and gentlemen take turns traveling for two bars and setting for two bars. It is also legitimate and easy, though not particularly exciting, to use the pas de basque to fill in a full four bars of setting, as Contre danses à Paris includes in its long list of possible four-bar setting sequences the pas de basque performed four times in sequence (right, left, right, left).
Use in country dances
There is some evidence that the pas de basque was also used in country dances, which have many figures requiring only two bars of setting, including:
- Set and change sides with second couple, set and back again.
- Set and hands across half round, and back again.
- Set and change places with second couple; set and back again.
- Set and half right and left with second couple; set and back again.
Thomas Wilson, in his Complete System of English Country Dancing (c1815), notes that in such figures the traveling part of the figure, "employs but half the time allowed in the music, and the setting the other half." Each of the above figures requires eight bars of music total and is split into two halves, with each half consisting of two bars of setting and two bars of travel. There are also figures such as "set three across; set three in your places" in which the traveling comes first and the setting follows, but the same division of two bars for each applies.
Wilson gives steps for only a few of the figures in that manual, and where setting occurs he uses not the pas de basque but the "back step" or "back, or Scotch setting step." Examples include "Retreat and advance" (p. 12) and "Foot corners, or set corners" (p.15). In "Set and change sides," Wilson further explains: "the setting should be performed with two back, or one Scotch setting Step, which requires two bars." Is "back" a misspelled reference to the pas de basque? Is "one Scotch setting step" a sequence of two pas de basque? There is no way to know, and there are certainly other steps that could be described as either "back" or "Scotch."
That dilemma aside, there is firm evidence for the use of the pas de basque in a country dance in another Wilson source. In L'Assemblée, or Forty-Eight Elegant New Dances for the Year 1819, a typical-for-the-period little book of dance tunes with "figures by Mr. Wilson," one tune, "The Bateuse," includes steps with the figures given, perhaps because the tune is an oddity, having a twelve-bar musical strain which does not lend itself to the interchangeable dance figures of the era. Notable is the following figure:
set contrary corners with chassez jette assemblé 2 pass [sic] de basque twice
While Wilson describes "set contrary corners" in Complete System, it is, alas, not one of the figures for which he gives steps, so no cross-check can be done. Given the 1819 date of L'Assemblée, it is possible that the pas de basque was adopted into country dancing from the quadrille.
One of the country dance figures given in the likewise quadrille-influenced Contre danses à Paris also includes the step. "Change sides and set; back again and set" is described as requiring
Two chasses across giving the right hand to your partner. Two Pas de Basque (having faced about). The same back again.
The figure is a rearrangement of the "set and change sides; set and back again" figure given by Wilson.
While I have not yet turned up any further mention of the pas de basque in country dances, its appearance in two different sources of the late Regency era convinces me that its use is at least acceptable, if not the only option.
Performance of the pas de basque
Three early sources (dated 1802, 1818, and 1827) describe the pas de basque. The descriptions, unfortunately, are not consistent with each other. With the significant differences between them, it is hard to know whether they represent different versions of the step (local variations?), errors on the part of one or more of the authors, or a combination of the two.
The clearest description is found in Contre danses à Paris 1818, which explains the step in two different places. In the list of quadrille steps is given:
Pas de Basque
Right in Pos. III or V before close.
Spring it off into Pos II a little back &
Next second, spring L. into Pos. IV before; and
Next second bring up R close into Pos. III or V behind.
Et e contra
The final command (et e contra) is standard language in this source
for "repeat to the other side." In the list of setting sequences an
even better description is given, this one actually correlating the
step with the music. Each "B" below represents a quarter of a bar:
"one and two and" would be B. 1-4 below.
Pas de Basque
B.1. In Pos. V Right before. Spring off right into Pos. II a little back.
Slide left into Pos. IV before
Slide up right into Pos. V behind
Rest one second.
Et E. Contra
4 times = 8b
Pos. III is often substituted for Pos. V in this step.
By comparison with other step and figure descriptions in the source, the "B.1." indicates that the sequence takes one bar (two beats); four times through would take eight beats or four bars of music. If one takes "spring off right" to mean "spring off to the right into Pos. II," matching the "spring it [right foot] off into Pos. II" the two descriptions are consistent, producing a sequence as follows:
1 Spring onto the right foot in second position, with the foot a little back
& Bring the left foot into fourth position forward
2 Close up the right foot in third or fifth position behind
This is then repeated once more for a two-bar sequence or three more times for a four-bar sequence. The "ONE-and-TWO" rhythm matches that of the chassé step that is the standard traveling step given in sources for both country dances and quadrilles of the era. The angling backward on the spring into second position prevents the dancer from drifting forward when performing two or more pas de basque, though it is still easy enough to do so when required by a figure where the setting needs to actually carry the dancer forward.
The other two descriptions are problematic relative to the above, though they may be more congruent with each other than they appear at first glance.
The earliest source I have located for the pas de basque is A Treatise on Dancing, published in Boston in 1802 and attributed to the pseudonymous Saltator. In a list of steps suitable for all sorts of dances, including country dances and cotillions, Saltator describes a step called "Le Pas et Basque" as a setting step composed of twelve movements: left foot fifth, right foot second, left foot third, right foot fifth, left foot second, right foot third; and all of that repeated. Unfortunately, no timing or correlation with music is offered, though since the movements given divide neatly into four equal parts, it seems reasonable to assume this is the same step (fifth-second-third) described four times in sequence and moving back and forth twice.
This description has the same move to second and close into third as in Contre danses à Paris, but it is preceded by the direction "left foot fifth," which would usually (in Saltator) indicate a move into fifth. This gives a sequence for the step of fifth-second-third, as opposed to second-fourth-third/fifth. It is possible that Saltator meant to indicate a left-in-fifth starting position or an upbeat move, though this is not the case in his other step descriptions and would leave the entire sequence short a step at the end. Or he may have meant to describe a genuinely different sequence of movements; his overall step vocabulary is only partially congruent with that of the later sources, and American dance after years of independence was evolving slightly differently from that in France, England, and Scotland. And, of course, it's possible that Saltator simply erred in writing the description (which I have expanded from his more cryptic original) and got his steps out of order.
The later source, also American, is Le Maitre de Danse, or the Art of Dancing Cotillons, of which I have a copy of the second edition, dated 1827. This is seven years post-Regency, and I do not know the date of publication of the first edition or whether the second edition was revised in any way. But it is close enough in time to warrant at least a look. Conway was a dancer with the Park Theatre in New York as well as a "Professor and Teacher of Dancing." He offers a list of steps including both "Pas de basque" and "Demi pas de basque." The latter, alas, is not described, and I have trouble making sense of his description of the pas de basque:
Place your feet in fifth position, the right foot in front, raise the left foot, put it down in the fifth position, at the same time raise the right, and spring the left foot over it, the same with the right foot.
Interestingly, both this source and Saltator lead with the left foot moving into fifth, though the two differ on starting foot in other steps (the forward chassé step is led left in Saltator, right in Conway). "Raise the right, and spring the left foot over it" is not a feasible sequence, however. Something has been left out of the description or some element of it is in error. A possible interpretation of the step that uses Saltator's version as a guide and interpolates a step onto the right foot after it is raised would be: step or leap into fifth position (left front) while raising the right, step or leap onto the right (sideways?), then spring onto the left foot in front ("over it"). While this is satisfying in that it reconciles the two American sources, it is speculative, and the incompatibility with Contre danses à Paris remains. Because these other sources are American, internally problematic, and dated (respectively) before and after the era (1810s) and places (England, Scotland, France) of my particular focus, I choose at present to follow the description in Contre danses à Paris, and use that version of the step in my teaching and dancing. I might well choose differently were I to be working with specifically American dances, however.
Connections with the modern RSCDS step
While the step given in Contre danses à Paris is not the same as the modern one used in the dances of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, today's version appears to descend from that version of the early 19th century pas de basque. The skeleton of the step is similar: step, forward, close, but the execution differs significantly in the details. The modern version replaces the sideways movement of the older step with a hop in place, has a touch of the toe in front with the heel slightly over the instep rather than the full step forward into fourth, and rather than simply closing the feet actually displaces the second foot into the air into a gently elevated fourth position forward. There is also more of "down-up-down" motion than is given in the 1818 description, but such bending and rising might simply have been left out, so it's hard to know whether that is a difference or a simple omission.
A full discussion of the evolution of the pas de basque and the relationship of the period step to its modern counterpart is beyond the scope of this post, but a thorough review of the topic by Yves Guillard, including information on early 20th-century versions of the pas de basque, may be found in the lengthy study "Early Scottish Reel Setting Steps and the Influence of the French Quadrille," which appeared in Dance Studies Vol. 13. (1990). Guillard suggests that the movement of the second foot into fourth position evolved into bringing it into a close fifth or third position, and that the final close evolved into a cut, or displacement, resulting in the characteristic extension of the foot at the end of the modern step.
Special thanks to Keira Sokolowski and Patricia Ruggiero for their explanations of modern RSCDS technique and to the late Patri J. Pugliese for providing me with copies of most of the sources mentioned above.