Almost six and a half years ago, I reconstructed and briefly discussed the Flirtation Figure, which appeared in William Lamb's How and What to Dance (London, 1903 or 1904) as a separate figure after the usual five figures of the first set of quadrilles. My slightly revised reconstruction of Lamb's figure:
Flirtation Figure (8 bars + 32 bars x4 + 8 bars)
8b Introduction (not repeated)
4b Grand Circle: all take hands and forward and back
4b All turn partners two hands
4b All four ladies forward and back
4b All four gentlemen forward, turn, and bow to lady at their left (their corner lady)
4b Facing corners, all balance by stepping right, close left behind, step right, touch toe of left in front (1, 2, 3, 4); repeat to left
4b Turn corners two hands, ending in gentleman's original place and taking closed hold
8b All galopade around the set (four-slide galop to each position, alternating over hands/over elbows)
Repeat previous thirty-two bars three more times. After last repetition:
8b Grand Circle and turn partners two hands
I recently noticed that versions of the Flirtation Figure appear as the fifth figure in a number of "old time dance" manuals published in England during the 1940s, including:
- Francis & Day's Ball Room Guide of Old Time Favourite and Modern Dances (London, c1940)
- Cecil Taylor, Old Time and Novelty Dances (London, 1944)
- Victor Sylvester, Old Time Dancing (London, c1949; 4th impression 1951)
Taylor and the Francis & Day book referred to it as the "Grand Circle" and danced it with a galop at the end of each figure, as in Lamb. Sylvester gaves it no special title and had the couples promenade instead. All three had the ladies curtsey in the center before retiring to places and gave very precise instructions that the gentlemen should advance, bow first to each other, then step back on the right foot, turn to the left, and bow to the corner lady.
Francis & Day also gave an adapted version of the figure in the "present day" version of the quadrille, which replaces turns and promenades with waltzing. But I more interested in the history of the figure and how at least some writers in the 1940s considered it not an alternative figure but actually the standard Finale figure for the first quadrille.
Ellis Rogers, in his comprehensive study, The Quadrille (2003), included two essentially identical reconstructions of the Flirtation Figure: from William Lamb's How and What to Dance on p. 205 and from Edward Scott's Dancing as an Art and Pastime (London, 1892) on p. 262. On p. 204 Rogers makes the laconic comment that in Lamb we "find a description of the Flirtation Finale that began to supplant the normal L'Eté Finale."
That supplanting appears to have been limited to the United Kingdom, since I can find no trace of this figure in continental European dance manuals and its only appearance that I am aware of in America is in M. I. Quick's Complete Guide to Dancing (Chicago, c1903), which borrows very heavily from English sources. Quick uses the promenade rather than the galop and omits the gentlemen's bow to each other.
The supplanting was also not universal, even in the U. K.; the Flirtation Figure does not appear at all in the version of the quadrille given in Geoffrey D'Egville's How and What to Dance (first edition: London, 1919).
Where the figure does appear is in works of the cluster of noted London dancing masters and writers of the 1890s and 1910s, including Scott, Lamb, and R. M. Crompton. The earliest source for the figure from this group is the first edition of Crompton's Theory and Practice of Modern Dancing (London, 1891), where he gives it as "Fifth Figure (The Flirtation)" with the gentlemen's bow to each other and the option of either a promenade or a galop.
Scott describes the figure in several of his books, including Dancing as an Art and Pastime (1892), How to Dance or The Etiquette of the Ball-Room (c1892 and c1902 editions) and The New Dancing As It Should Be (1910). His description in The New Dancing As It Should Be is especially amusing:
After the first eight bars of music all the dancers join hands, as in the figure just described, and form a circle. Advance to the centre, retire, and turn partners. The four ladies advance, courtesy, and retire. Now you and the other three gentlemen advance. Turn round so as to be facing the corner lady -- the one who was on your left as you stood first -- and bow. Be very careful. It is she, the corner lady, not your partner, to whom you must set. Now turn and promenade with her (the corner lady) right round the figure till you arrive again in your own place. Your partner has left you; she is with the next gentleman. Never mind, she is all right. Advance in a circle again and turn the lady who is with you...
Scott regarded the Flirtation Figure as an alternative to the usual Finale figures, describing it in Dancing as an Art and Pastime as "by far the most frequently danced" and "the most usual and merriest way of dancing" a Finale. He also makes connections to the mixer elements in both La Boulangère (another common Finale figure) and the second figure of the Caledonians. Scott omits the gentlemen's bow to each other and gives the promenade at the end.
I discussed Lamb's version from How and What to Dance in my previous post. It has no bows for the ladies, only the second bow for the gentlemen, and a galop at the end. It is given after a full-five figure quadrille but whether it was intended as an alternate Finale figure or a sixth figure is not explained. Interestingly, the roughly contemporaneous expanded edition of Lamb's Everybody's Guide to Ball-Room Dancing (London, c1898-1905) gives a slightly different version of the basic quadrille and ends with the (unnamed) Flirtation as the fifth and final figure. The ladies curtsey, the gentlemen bow only to the ladies, and the promenade is used instead of a galop.
The Flirtation Figure was apparently common across the British Isles; it is found in, for example, T. Leggett-Byrne's Terpsichore - Her Votries and Fashions (Dublin, 1898) listed separately after the fifth figure of the quadrille. It omits the honors of both genders and has the couples promenade.
In two Scottish manuals, J. Scott Skinner's The People's Ballroom Guide (Dundee and London, 1905) and Eneas McKay's Ballroom Guide (Stirling, c1910), describe it in identical lanugage. In both, it is a 6th figure, "called Flirtation", includes no courtesies, and gives a galop rather than a promenade. Jig music is recommended, and it is noted that it is especially enjoyable "when there are eight couples in each set, as per the present arrangement". With more than four couples, the figure is simply repeated until each lady returns to her place.
With the amount of cross-pollination among dance teachers and writers in different countries it can be difficult to track down the origin of a particular figure, but I found an interesting path to follow by looking at some of my few older Scottish manuals. David Anderson's Ball-Room Guide (Dundee, c1886) actually includes two versions. The first is a slightly different version of the familiar Flirtation Figure and is listed as "Flirtation, or Sixth Figure as now danced" and noted as being for 6/8 music. It omits the opening advance-retire-turn partners figure and does the progression of the ladies slightly differently:
4b Ladies advance, courtesy, retire
4b Gentlemen advance, bow, retire
16b All set and turn partners and promenade round to places
The following times, the gentlemen set and turn the lady on their left. Four times through will leave each lady in the corner place relative to her original partner; it's not clear whether a fifth repetition is performed to get her back to her original place. Anderson notes that this figure is "now seldom danced", an intriguing hint that it was not as new in the late nineteenth century as Rogers and I had thought.
Anderson follows on with "Another Sixth Figure" which differs in that the ladies keep their places while the gentlemen travel round the set. In this version, in the second and following repetitions, the gentlemen set and turn the lady on their right and promenade with her to her place. Again, it repeat until partners are regained, which seems to require five times through, since it ends with a grand promenade with one's own partners.
Anderson notes that "the former", presumably meaning the one in which the ladies travel, is the most popular, though that seems to have been relative if it was indeed "seldom danced" by the late 1880s.
Having been made curious by Anderson's now seldom language, I started looking backward in time. My collection of Scottish dance manuals is not very extensive, but I found an older version of the figure, again only twenty-four bars, in H. D. Willock's Ball-Room Guide: A Manual of Dancing (Glasgow, revised edition c1860). It is listed merely as "Sixth Figure", after two different fifth figures, and goes as follows:
4b Ladies advance and retire
4b Gentlemen advance and retire
8b All set at corners and turn
8b Promenade round with corner
As usual, this was repeated until the ladies regain their places. This version makes more sense than Anderson's, since it doesn't require five times through to get everyone back to places.
Willock, like Anderson, noted that this figure was "seldom danced, not being considered fashionable." Considering that Willock was writing at least twenty years before Anderson, that's quite a long time for an "unfashionable" figure to hang on!
Those reconstructing an earlier (1860-1890) Scottish ball might want to use this shorter version of the figure, with or without the final Grand Promenade at the end.
I have not been able to find any other versions of Flirtation, with or without that name, but I now suspect that the figure may originally have been Scottish and moved from there to fashionable London, acquiring the name "Flirtation" and the opening eight bars of figures somewhere along the way.
There is clearly no single definitive version of the Flirtation Figure. Here are the points on which the dancers or caller must decide:
- Fifth (Finale) figure of the quadrille or sixth figure after some other Finale?
- Galop or a promenade at the end?
- How many courtesies, and which? (Any, all, or none of (1) ladies curtsey to each other, (2) gentlemen bow to each other, and/or (3) gentlemen bow to corner ladies.)
- Setting to partners and corners: Not all sources specify how to do this. Crompton gives a four-slide galop each way (slide-close-slide-close-slide-close-slide, 1&2&3&4). Lamb, Scott, and the 1940s sources give a slower "step-close behind-step-touch in front" (1, 2, 3, 4) each way. The slower version is the later version, so for a twentieth-century version I would stay with that, but for an early, c1890, version, I much prefer the faster slides.