Several years ago, I described the Royal Lancers (a.k.a. Horse Guards), one of the ways in which the famous Lancers Quadrille was adapted for a group of sixteen dancers. I mentioned then that this was only one of several different Lancers adaptations for larger sets. The Octagon Lancers is another take on the same idea, written about twenty years later by New York dancing master C. H. Rivers and published in his book A Full Description of Modern Dances. The linked copy is not dated, but there's another copy of the book with a different cover but precisely the same contents which is dated 1885. Rivers seems to have liked the octagon format; a few years later he created a non-Lancers octagon quadrille.
With the exception of the fourth figure, the Royal Lancers doesn't really take advantage of the larger formation. The Octagon Lancers does a much better job of this, though its fourth figure is not quite as good.
The formation, in case it was not perfectly clear, is an enlarged square, with two couples on each side, as shown in Rivers' diagram at left.
Unlike the Royal Lancers, which has the "first couples" (and each other matching-numbered couple) as a facing pair, Rivers has the two first couples as neighbors on the side of the set. He secondarily labels the two couples on each side the left couple and the right couple. The first and second pairs of couples are considered the head couples, the third and fourth, the side couples. Corner couples are, for example, the right couple of the first couples and the left couple of the third couples.
The first three figures of the Octagon Lancers are fairly simple adaptations, which I will cover below. The fourth and fifth figures will get a separate post.
The Octagon Lancers is deliberately choreographed to fit the standard Lancers repeat structure, so any recording of the Lancers can be used. A good one in mid-nineteenth century style is available on the Spare Parts CD Dancing by the Shore.
Figure One (8b + 24bx4)
8b Salutations to partners and then to corners (not repeated)
4b All couples advance and retire to corner couples
4b Same couples turn opposites (on corners) by two hands, returning to places
4b Corner couples tiroirs (drawers); head couples pass between side couples
4b Corner couples tiroirs back to places; side couples pass between head couples
8b All balance to neighbor dancer (ladies to right, gentlemen to left) and two-hand turn
On the second iteration of the figure, rather than dancing on the corners, the two couples on each side turn a quarter (as a couple) to face each other (right and left first couples face, etc.) and do the advance and retire. On the tiroirs, the right couple passes between the left couple and then the left between the right. The final balance and turn is in the same full-octagon format.
The third iteration goes back to the corner orientation of the first, but on the tiroirs the side couples pass between first, followed by the heads. For the fourth iteration, the formation of the second is repeated, and the left couples pass between first, followed by the right couples.
Rivers' instructions are very clear, and the reconstruction is utterly straightforward, but the figure a lot more interesting than the Royal Lancers. All the dancers are involved at once, rather than only four or eight, and the shift from dancing on the corners (Saratoga Lancers style) to dancing on the sides, interspersed with dancing with one's immediate neighbor, provides a lot more variety.
Rivers does not specify how to do the balance, but a typical style would be four small steps forward to the neighbor dancer, coming right shoulder to right shoulder, and four steps back.
Rivers also fails to mention an opening eight bars of introduction for the standard bows and courtesies, presumably because that is so well known as not to need saying. I've made it explicit above.
Figure Two (8b + 24bx4)
8b Wait (not repeated)
4b All forward to the center and back
4b All eight ladies to the center, face partners, and salute
4b All chassez right and left
4b All turn partners to places
8b All promenade half round (end in diagonally opposite places)
On the second iteration, the gentlemen move to the center. On the third, the ladies again. On the fourth, the gentlemen. The couples will travel twice around the set over the course of four times through the figure.
Once again, this is much more fun for the dancers than the Royal Lancers figure. Everyone gets to dance, and the chassez to the right briefly creates a wonderfully strange shape, something like this:
G1 G1 G4
L3 L1 L1 G4
G3 L2 L2 L4
G3 G2 G2
The ladies need to keep their chassez to the right under control so as not to collide with the pairs of gentlemen sliding to the left.
Once again, I've added the introductory eight bars -- no bows, since those were done before the first figure.
Figure Three (8b + 16bx4)
8b Wait (not repeated)
4b All couples advance and retire with corner couples
4b All couples advance, salute, and retire with corner couples
8b Ladies chains at corners
The second time, the dancers do the exact same figures but advancing to their neighbor couple on their side (first couples face, second couples face, etc.) The third time repeats the first, and the fourth, the second.
This improves on the Royal Lancers in having the interesting flip back and forth between the corner and neighbor orientations, as in the first figure, and again involves all sixteen dancers throughout, rather than only four dancers for the first eight bars of the figure. I've added the usual introductory eight bars.