Moving right along from my first post in the Sixdrilles series, here are the reconstructions of the next two figures:
Figure Two: L’Été (8b introduction + 24bx4)
4b First gentleman and two opposite ladies en avant and en arrière.
4b Same three chassez-dechassez (à droite et à gauche)
4b Same three traversez, gentleman crossing between the two ladies
4b Same three chassez-dechassez
4b Same three traversez/balancez [see note below] while partners balancez
4b Same three rond de trois
The figure is then repeated by the second gentleman and the two opposite ladies, the third gentlemen and two opposite ladies, and the fourth gentleman and two opposite ladies.
It's been years since I've written about dos-à-dos sequences for the Regency-era quadrille, but I've been working on new ones on and off for most of that time. Over the last year I've had more chances to teach them, both to my New York classes and in various cities in Russia, most recently Kirov, where I wedged a spontaneous dos-à-dos lesson into one evening's workshop.
One of the key points in my current "basic dos-à-dos concepts" class involves examining the meaning of the phrase "present the right shoulder", as found in sources like Principes et Notions Élémentaires sur l’Art de la Danse Pour la Ville (Paris, 1811) by J. H. Gourdoux and Elements and Principles of the Art of Dancing, a translation of Gourdoux with some changes and added material published by Victor Guillou in Philadelphia in 1817. Both texts use the same phrase (highlighted):
Pour remplir ce trait, un cavalier et une dame de vis-à-vis se présenteront l’épaule droite, et s’avançant, ils passeront dos-à-dos, en exécutant les trois chassés comme pour traverser, et rentreront à leur place, faisant le jeté et l’assemblé. (Gourdoux 1811)
To dance this trait, the opposite lady and gentleman will present their right shoulder to each other, and perform the temps levé and chassé three times as for crossing over; and, turning around each other, they return to their stands doing the jeté and assemblé in the third position. (Guillou)
I hadn't paid close attention to this phrase when working with basic dos-à-dos sequences long ago, but for the last few years I've been quietly studying more advanced step-sequences, which have given me some new insights. The "right shoulder" detail should not be ignored.
There seems to be a mistaken impression that because setting your own figures is permitted in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century ("Regency") English country dancing, it must be required, and people who want to dance authentically need to stop using their favorite tunes and give up all their favorite figures in favor of learning to make them up on the spot.
That's not actually true. Assuming you have good reconstructions, which admittedly is a rather large assumption given how many dreadful (in a historical sense) ones are floating around, it's perfectly possible to keep right on doing the same figures to the same tunes forever and be historically correct. It's boring, and it's not displaying high-level ballroom skills for a dancer of the era (if you can consider "able to choose a different tune now and then" a suitable bar to clear to have "high-level ballroom skills"; it seems like a pretty low bar to me), but not incorrect.
What has to change is not what you do, but how you do it and how you think about it.
Incorrect: "This dance is called [name]. Its figures are [figures]"
Correct: "Here are the figures: [figures]. We're going to dance them to the tune [name]."
See what I did there? You can do exactly the same figures to exactly the same tune. Just...say it differently. Think about it differently. Understand the difference between a tune (music; the thing with a name) and dance figures (a selection from a limited repertoire of "glossary figures" put together in mostly-predictable ways).
And when you internalize that mindset rather than the modern one, the varied world of historical Regency dancing opens up to you.
If one is not lucky enough to have musicians available for balls and classes, finding usable recordings of Regency country dances can be a bit of a challenge. While there are quite a few CDs on the market billed as Regency or Jane Austen-era music, they are often made up mostly of music from other eras. Even the ones that are actually suitable selections for the time period frequently include only a few country dances. And it is, alas, very typical for those tunes to be recorded at the lengths used for modern English country dance: three to seven times through the music.
Since historical country dancing needs the length of the music matched to the length of the set, and the lengths can be quite lengthy, most of these recordings are not very useful without substantial work with music editing software to add a substantial number of repeats.
So I am very happy to note that the UK band Green Ginger, whose album Music for Quadrilles is one of my very favorites for the Regency era, has very considerately offered for online purchase a set of extended-length versions of seven of the country dance tunes from their Grand Waterloo Ball 2015 album, namely:
I'm especially excited that this batch includes "Waterloo", which is a tune I use regularly at balls but for which I have never had a good recording. Along with "Lord Dalkeith's Reel", it is one of two twenty-four-bar arrangements in this set of tunes. That length is fairly rare compared to the quantity of recordings made for thirty-two-bar dances.
Six of the seven tracks are twelve times through, which is the proper length for a four-couple set for a triple minor dance or a five-couple set for a duple minor one. The last is a sixty-four-bar (!) waltz offered six times, which will work for a three-couple set either duple or triple minor. It could also be thought of as thirty-two bars twelve times or used for a (very lengthy) waltz.
As usual for Green Ginger, the sound is rich and the instrumentation is lovely: fiddles and piano, mercifully free of out-of-period accordions.
The seven tracks are available for individual download only on the page for the Grand Waterloo Ball 2015 album. They are at the very bottom of the list of download links. Note that they are not included if you just buy the whole CD (online or otherwise). You have to purchase them individually and separately. The CD has only the shorter versions.
I'm hoping that Green Ginger will do long versions of other tunes from their current and future CDs, so I would like to encourage everyone who does Regency-era country dance to purchase these extended tracks for your own use and to demonstrate to the band that it is worth the trouble to make them.
One of the critical elements of serious dance history is cross-checking what the dancing masters says in dance manuals against the evidence we have -- if any -- of what people actually did. Those two things aren't always the same. Dancing masters generally explain what people ought to be doing, sometimes interspersed with lengthy complaints about what people are doing instead. Both rules and complaints are useful guides, depending on whether one wants to strive to dance well and politely by period standards, or dance badly and rudely, as no doubt happened plenty in practice.
But the very best evidence comes from the letters and diaries of people who actually lived in the relevant era. Here's a great example of how a letter supports something that dancing masters wrote about in the Regency era: people of the same gender dancing together.
I reconstructed Regency dancing master Thomas Wilson's Royal Scotch Quadrilles ten or so years ago and have taught them off and on ever since, eventually with music custom-recorded for me by the dance band Spare Parts. But though I put the basic calls for the figures online years ago, I've never done a detailed write-up of my reconstruction. One reason for that is that while I have long-since solidified my reconstruction of the figures, I've never been satisfied with the step-sequences I've used for one of the last figures of the dance, the chassé-croisé.
Chassé-croisé is a very common figure in Regency quadrilles: partners both face the center of the set, slide sideways to the corners (the gentleman passing behind the lady), balance, slide back, and balance again. Each part takes two bars for a total of eight. There are also four-bar versions that skip the balancing. A couple of years ago I wrote a series of three posts covering different ways to perform the sequence with the French steps which are normally used in quadrilles, the first of which breaks down the figure in detail for those unfamiliar with it.
The problem for me has been that Wilson specifically said about The Royal Scotch Quadrilles that they were "adapted to Scotch steps", and my interpretation of that comment is that the figures should be performed using the best information we have on native Scottish dance steps of that era, the set of steps described by Francis Peacock in 1805, even if the Scots themselves were happily dancing French quadrilles with French steps by the early 1820s. And that presents a problem with this particular figure.
Unlike the French step repertoire, Peacock's does not include any equivalent of the jeté-assemblé combination that often concludes French step-sequences and has the handy effect of "resetting" the feet, leaving the weight balanced evenly so that either foot can be freed to start the next step. That is particularly useful in setting up for chassé-croisé, since while the gentleman moves to the right and therefore can easily start with his right foot in the standard fashion for this era, the lady is moving to the left, and step-sequences call for her to start on her left foot, as may be seen in the sequences I have described previously. If there is no jeté-assemblé, then the lady cannot easily free her left foot instead of her right. And if she starts the sliding sequence with her right foot (there is a Scottish step that makes that a viable option) she ends up with her left foot free for the balancing, which is also non-ideal. What to do?
Over the past decade or so I've experimented with adding "foot fudges" (extra changes of weight), started whole series of figures on the left foot, and sometimes allowed the dancers to balance in mirror image or left-first. None of this is good period practice. There are documented ways to cheat in historical quadrille footwork, but adding extra weight changes is not one of them. There are occasionally step-sequences that start on the left foot, but doing a whole quadrille figure on the opposite foot from one's partner is just wrong. And balancing is generally done with both dancers moving to the right, or on the right foot first, not to the left, and definitely not in mirror image. It's been a constant irritation to me that I couldn't get this one element of this quadrille up to my own standards, to the point where I stopped teaching it unless specially requested.
So I'm particularly grateful to one of my students, who during a private tutoring session this afternoon made an offhand remark that abruptly solved the problem for me. The answer has been right in front of me all along.
One of the better-known dance illustrations from the Regency era is the 1817 "Group of Waltzers", an engraving by Jean Alexandre Allais (1792-1850) published in the February 1, 1817, issue of the ladies' magazine La Belle Assemblée. At left is a black and white scan (click to enlarge). A photograph of an uncolored original may be seen in the Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.
There are also some beautiful individually-colored versions floating around the net, which were probably pulled out of actual issues of the magazine (ouch!) A very nice one from the collection of author Louise Allen may be seen at the blog Jane Austen's London (scroll down), where it is mistakenly described as a picture of a waltz class, an error I have seen elsewhere as well. I'm not sure how the "waltz class" idea got started, but let's look at what was actually said in the pages of the magazine about this particular engraving:
The festive season of Christmas ushered in that period when Terpsichore leads her light footed and youthful votaries to the gaily-lighted up dome; and Britain's daughters, unrivalled in accomplishments as in virtue and beauty, tread the mazes of the intricate dance to the sound of the melodious harp, the well-toned violin, and full martial band. The season for dancing, thus joyfully commenced, is now in its prime, and we have not only presented our fair readers with the most elegant dress for such an occasion, but we have added a group of dancers as an embellishment to our present Number.
--- from "General Observations on Fashion and Dress", La Belle Assemblée, February 1, 1817, p. 34
Weirdly, that little introduction is actually given after the description of the plate. Someone wasn't thinking when they did the layouts!
Going beyond simple rudeness in the ballroom, here's a wonderful account of a French-American culture clash turned violent at a ball in New Orleans on January 23, 1804. Aside from showing what people of that era would fight over and how hair-trigger tempers were in New Orleans in particular at that time, it also usefully documents some ballroom dance practices of the era. Slowly piecing together such tidbits eventually allows me to draw larger conclusions.
I'm not going to explain the whole background of the Louisiana Purchase, which transferred an enormous swathe of North America from French to American control in 1803, but it is worth noting that the formal transfer of New Orleans itself took place on December 20, 1803, only a month or so before the incident described. There is a suggestion earlier in the article that feelings were running high among the French in the wake of (perceived?) American disrespect during the replacement of the French flag with the American one. There had already been a "slight misunderstanding" at a previous assembly on January 6th. The fight on the 23rd is a small example of the sort of cultural conflicts that would be a problem in New Orleans society for decades afterward.
I've recently been reminded by some discussions on a mailing list that there are plenty of people who don't really have much grasp of the social context of dance in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century or that a ball could be a much more complicated and socially perilous event than just a bunch of folks getting together and having a nice time dancing.
Here's an interesting example of rudeness on the dance floor wielded as a social weapon.
A Gentleman of vast agility,
Who teaches capers and civility
And whose whole life consists of play days,
Informs the gentlemen and ladies
Of this good town and other places,
That he's Grand Master of the Graces --
Professor of the violin,
And hopes to suit them to a pin
In teaching arts and fascinations,
Dancing and other recreations;
When life is stressful I need a little bit of silliness, and where better to find it than in bad Regency verse full of double entendres? "Other recreations" indeed!
It's always helpful to put one's problems in perspective. It's downright amusing to watch a writer of 1806 put the minor woes of people of early-nineteenth-century England in perspective.
James Bereford devotes an entire book to this theme in The Miseries of Human Life, a satirical work that still holds up rather well today.
To quote the review which appeared in the Supplement to La Belle Assemblée, or, Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine, for the Year 1806:
It is a raillery of those minor miseries, those petty disappointments, those minute obstructions of comfort which constitute the character of life, and occasion many to imagine themselves as superlatively miserable as those who are suffering under objects of more dignity and magnitude.
In October, 1807, a Boston magazine, The Monthly Anthology and Boston Review, published a letter dated February 7, 1805, from an anonymous American traveller in Europe to his sister. The letter was one of a series from the same traveller published by the Review. Mostly, they are enthusiastic travelogues filled with descriptions of cities and antiquities. But one letter was rather different, and makes an interesting companion piece to "Proper Dress for Cotillons", which was likewise published, a year or so later, in The Monthly Anthology.
Entitled "Morals of Italy. -- The Waltz", the tenth letter contains the writer's "observations on the state of morals and manners in Italy." He admitted first that it was not really fair for a traveler make judgments about any foreign society:
I would observe, that I think it extremely unfair in a traveller, who visits a foreign country, to whose language he is in a considerable degree a stranger, into whose society he can only have a limited and partial admission to draw general and illiberal inferences as to the state of their morals, and the nature of their domestick relations. The very illiberal representations which we have seen made of the manners of our own country by Chastellux, Weld, Parkinson, Liancourt, Bayard, and that execrable German, whose travels were republished in the Port Folio, ought to lead us to be very cautious how we venture upon general descriptions, especially unfavourable ones, of foreign nations.
Naturally, he wasn't about to let any such concerns stop him from so reporting on Italy:
But although general comments on national manners are, for the reasons I have assigned, improper, unjust, and illiberal, still there are certain leading traits, which he who runs may read, and which he may without risk report.
When I watched the BBC's general excellent documentary Pride & Prejudice: Having a Ball last year, one of the things that caught my negative attention was this rather astonishing assertion at about the 1:07 mark:
"The Savage Dance was a craze back in 1813, taken from a song-and-dance routine in a musical based on Robinson Crusoe."
Let me note first that this assertion was not made by the documentary's dancing master, but by a narrator. That's a good thing, because I can give the narrator a pass on the assumption that she doesn't actually know anything about early nineteenth century dance. It's a shame the BBC let this statement slide in, though, since as far as I can tell it is, shall we say, completely unsupported by any actual evidence. I expect BBC documentaries to have higher standards than Hollywood movies.
Let's take that statement apart.
Getting useable music for Regency-era dancing is a chronically frustrating problem, and there are very few albums I can recommend wholeheartedly. Many of the recordings advertised as "Regency" or "Jane Austen" suffer from a weirdly expansive idea of "Regency era" that goes back to the 17th century or forward to the 20th. Almost all have an incorrect number of repeats of the music for period dancing, which matches repeats to set length in a specific way that does not accord with modern recording habits.
Dance and Danceability is an Austen-themed album of country dance tunes from the Scottish dance band The Assembly Players (Nicolas Broadbridge, Aidan Broadbridge, and Brian Prentice). Aidan Broadbridge is a name that may be especially recognizable to Austen enthusiasts -- he was the fiddler for the 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice as well as the fictionalized pseudo-biopic Becoming Jane (2007).
Sadly, this is one of the frustrating CDs.
Mentions of dance in men's magazines are somewhat rarer than in women's, but in 1800, The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle twice briefly mentioned country dancing by the royal family at Frogmore, a royal country estate in Berkshire that is best known today as the burial place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Frogmore House (left; click to enlarge) was built in the late seventeenth century and purchased by (or for) the queen in 1792. It was updated by the architect James Wyatt during the early 1790s; among his improvements was the front Colonnade, which in 1800 was open to the gardens.
In 1800 the royal family consisted of George III, Queen Charlotte, and their thirteen surviving children, most of whom were unmarried and still lived with their notoriously strict parents. Their oldest son, the future George IV, would become best known to history as the Prince Regent from 1810-1820. Their second son, Prince Frederick, and his wife, Princess Frederica, held the titles of Duke and Duchess of York.
Among their guests was the exiled William V, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, and a refugee from the spillover of the French Revolution.
Their third-oldest daughter, the Princess Elizabeth (right, in 1797), who would turn thirty in the May of 1800, seems to have served as organizer and hostess for her parents in the events at Frogmore. While there is no detailed description of the dancing, there are some intriguing tidbits of information in the description of the first event and appearances by noted performers of the era in the entertainment preceding the ball in the second.
This short satire is really a commentary on early nineteenth-century fashion. My excuse for posting it here is that it pertains to dance history by making it clear that cotillons were still sufficiently fashionable in Boston in 1808 as to allow them to be part of a bilingual joke.
Also, it's funny, and I like it, and I'm feeling self-indulgent this month.
The excerpt below is taken from The Monthly Anthology and Boston Review, Vol. V, 1808. It is found in the December section under a column called "Silva", which seems to be a sort of literary miscellanea with a title shortened from a supposed Cicero quote starting "silvia rerum" (forest of things). "Cotillons" starts on page 657. I will include it in its entirety below with a short explanation for anyone who doesn't get the joke.
The Cotillon, or under-petticoat dance, received its name from that garment, which, to the exclusion of others was appropriated to its use. It is painful to observe that the ladies of Boston, are so far backward in the ranks of fashion, that, on those days of battle array, when they are drawn up to near and warm engagements, they have not yet ventured to assume their uniform. Is there no one of sufficient publick spirit to stand forward, and, like Ulysses, throwing off her useless rags, assume the majesty and simplicity of the Cotillon. An objection, indeed, may be raised, that, provided the external finery be removed, the expected substitute would not appear : that fashion has long since deprived a lady's person of that useless incumbrance. Without pretending to enter into the merits of this objection, or to decide, whether the garment, next but one to the skin, whatever be its quality and texture, be not the one in question, we would, with all humility, beg leave to inquire, whether Mrs. Cruft, and Miss Brown, and Mrs. _____, and Miss _____, &c. ad infinitum, are not sufficient to supply any demand, which this town and its vicinity can create. Away with such frivolous evasions.
I've collected a fair number of albums over the years in the optimistic hope that art recordings might somehow be usable for dancing. Often, that doesn't work out terribly well. But after teaching a Regency waltz class last weekend and deciding that I absolutely had to have new waltz pieces for this era, I dug up one of my really old CDs, Mozart: German Dances by Capella Istropolitana under the conducting of Johannes Wildner. This is a 1990 CD from Naxos that features no fewer than twenty-five Mozart "danses allemandes" dated from 1789 and 1791, all between one and four minutes long. I can't say whether they were specifically intended for waltzes rather than for ländlers or other 3/4 time dances, but they certainly make dandy waltzes.
Sometime between first edition of An Analysis of Country Dancing in 1808 and the third edition in 1811, London dancing master Thomas Wilson started creating his own original country dance figures. Not sequences of figures, which anyone could do, but actual new floor patterns:
As novelty in Dancing as in every other amusement, is the author and promoter of an enlivening vivacity...it is equally irksome for good Dancers to be always using the same Figures, as for a professed musician to be continually playing the tunes of “God Save the King,” and “Foot’s Minuet;” and from the repeated suggestions of several good Dancers, and at the particular request of a great number of the author’s Friends and Pupils; and in order to answer the purposes of novelty and variety...The author has been induced to compose and arrange a variety of New Figures...
I wouldn’t take the “particular request” part too seriously; almost every nineteenth-century dancing master who comes up with something new modestly attributes its publication to requests by his students. I suspect Wilson himself was the one finding it “irksome” to use the same figures over and over again.
Most of Wilson’s new figures are not terribly exciting. Overwhelmingly, they involve only the active couple making increasingly elaborate loops and circles around the other couples, leaving four dancers with nothing to do for eight or even sixteen bars. There are only a few which I’ve found worth bothering with over the years. The latest of these is the True Lovers Knot, shown at left (click to enlarge).
Let me be perfectly clear: this is not a typical Regency-era country dance figure. It is very specific to one dance teacher and his students and customers. Wilson himself rarely used it in his published works, and I have never seen it used by any other author or publisher.
That said, it’s a really lovely figure. So I finally decided to work out how to dance it.
Calling these three sequences "Scottish" is really a bit of a misnomer, since the sources are Alexander Strathy's Elements of the Art of Dancing (Edinburgh, 1822), which is in large part a translation of a French manual by J. H. Goudoux, and an anonymous Scottish manuscript entitled Contre Danses à Paris 1818. All three sequences are certainly French in their steps and style and quite possibly in origin. They probably would not have caused anyone in Paris in that era to bat an eyelash. But technically, they are documented to Scotland, not France, in the late 1810s-early 1820s.
Several years ago I posted eight easy setting sequences for Regency-era French quadrilles and said in the comments I'd try to post more "soon". That has now stretched to more than five years, but, better late than never, here are a couple of others, this time directly from a trio French manuals by J. H. Gourdoux (or Gourdoux-Daux):
Principes et Notions Élémentaires sur l’Art de la Danse Pour la Ville (2nd edition, 1811)
Recueil d’un Genre Nouveau de Contredanses et Walses (1819)
De l’Art de la Danse (1823)
Once again, these are easy sequences, but a bit more interesting than the previous set.
Continuing my mini-series of Regency(ish)-era figure reconstruction...
The figures that appeared with "Mutual Love" (and a couple of other tunes) are a good example of tune/figure interchangeability -- specifically, of figures being reused with multiple pieces of music. The other half of that interchangeability is tunes being recycled for different figures. For that, I'm going to move on to the figures that appeared with "Wakefield Hunt'. And the other figures that appeared with "Wakefield Hunt". Yes, two figures, both alike in dignity (but completely different otherwise), in the fair 1770s and 1780s, where we lay our scene. Two is actually a very small number; very popular tunes didn't go out of style and might be found with a dozen or more different figures over the years.
I get a lot of requests to tell people what dance figures to do to a particular piece of Regency-era country dance music. The correct answer is "any historical figures that you like", since dance figures and tunes were mix-and-match during this period rather than locked together into tune-figure pairings with specific names. So it's rare for me to do a through dissection of any particular set of figures.
But most people nowadays don't want to (or can't) call their own figures, and even people who don't want to try for that level of historical accuracy often do want to do figures in historical rather than modern style. So I'm going to do a little series of posts doing historical reconstructions of the figures set to various tunes, which can then be used for that tune or any other tune of suitable length.
First up: the figures that appeared in the 1770s with the tune "Mutual Love".
I'm accustomed to finding duplicate dance figures in the little country dance tune books of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. That's why I've taken to calling them tune books, since calling them dance manuals implies that the dance figures themselves are new, unique, or special. What was exciting about them was the music; the figures were repetitive and uninspired. In the little tune books, with twelve or twenty-four tunes, I'll often notice that the same dance figures (the complete sequence given for a tune) appear with two different tunes. In the larger books, with two hundred or more tunes, I'll find several instances of repetition without much effort, with some figures being used several times.
And sometimes I find a doozy of a tune book whose publisher repeated so many dance figures -- even by the low standards of the era -- that more than half are duplicates. That's unusual enough to be worth talking about by way of an example of how blithely indifferent dancers of this era were to originality in their country dance choreography. And it can serve as Exhibit A for any future discussions of the interchangeability of Regency dance tunes and figures, which many present-day dancers have trouble accepting.
In a post a while back on the Regency "figure eight" and the many meanings of the term "figure" in that era, I mentioned a joking suggestion made by a guest at one of my Regency balls that a half figure eight should be called a "figure four". Much to my astonishment, while pursuing some research on American country dance of this era, I actually found a figure four!
The figure is in an American manual published in 1808 in upstate New York, in the figure given for the tune "Flowers of Glasgow":
Flowers of Glasgow
First couple figure four with second couple, cast down two couple, back again, cross over, down one couple, balance, lead up, hands round with third couple, and right and left at top.
-- A Select Collection of the Newest and Most Favorite Country Dances, Otsego, NY, 1808.
I had a few minutes of excitement there, but further digging suggests that rather than inventing a new dance figure or a new way of phrasing a "double figure eight" done by four dancers, or perhaps using an odd term for some sort of reel for four, the editor or typesetter seems to have simply made a mistake.
Colonial dance specialist Kate Van Winkle Keller noted in her bibliography of American dance sources that the 1808 manual "seems to be derived from almost every dance book printed in the [previous] 15 years, including some English ones." I've observed this as well; there are a number of figures in it that go back to English manuals as far back as the 1770s. The figure given for "Flowers of Glasgow" is one of many copied directly from an 1807 Boston manual, which is itself copied extensively from other sources:
Flowers of Glasgow
First couple four hands round with second couple, cast down two couple, back again, cross over, down one couple, balance, led up, four hands round with third couple, right and left a top.
-- "Saltator", A Treatise on Dancing..., Boston, 1807
Since the other figures copied from Saltator are word-for-word the same, I suspect the editor or typesetter of the 1808 manual accidentally substituted "figure four" for "four hands round". The previous figure in the 1808 manual begins with "First couple do the figure of eight round, the second", so it would be easy to mix them up visually.
There is not an iota of evidence that Regency dancing master Thomas Wilson intended his new reel of four to have any sort of progression (dancers moving from one starting location to another for each iteration of the reel), and, indeed, his lack of inclusion of a progression argues against one. But it turns out to be remarkably easy to progress this reel, and my dance students, who have spent much of the last month patiently working through my experiments with reels, have been enthusiastic about this new variation.
The concept of a progressive reel was not unfamiliar to Wilson; he mentions progression in his description of the classic reel for three and uses it in his new reels for five. Here's how to do it in his new reel of four:
Peacock's description of the Aisig-thrasd:
This is a favourite step in many parts of the Highlands. You spring a little to one side with the right foot, immediately passing to the left across it; hop and cross it again, and one step is finished; you then spring a little to one side with the left foot, making the like passes with the right. This is a minor step; but it is often varied by passing the foot four times alternately behind and before, observing to make a hop previous to each pass, the first excepted, which must always be a spring, or bound: by these additional motions, it becomes a single step.
Like his new reel of six and new reel of three, this reel of four is another of London dancing master Thomas Wilson's attempts to create variety in the dancing of reels in the early nineteenth century. While this reel keeps the classic interweaving pattern of the standard reels for three and four, it contains no setting at all, which makes it a particularly accessible dance for those whose strength is more in floor patterns than complicated steps.
The earliest source I have for this reel is the third edition of Thomas Wilson's An Analysis of Country Dancing (London, 1811), from which the diagram at left is taken. The same diagram and description appear in Wilson's The Complete System of English Country Dancing (London, c1815). The 1808 edition of An Analysis... included a different reel for four, which also appears in the fourth edition in 1822.
This simple choreographed reel is another of English Regency dancing-master Thomas Wilson's attempts to create new and interesting dances in the Scottish style, centering around the characteristic figure-eight pattern known as a reel or hey. It is an easy and delightful little sequence, and it is one of the few Regency-era dances that can be done with only three people.
Wilson notates this as a reel for two gentlemen and a lady or two ladies and a gentleman, but there is no reason it can't be danced by three dancers of the same gender.
Moving on from what ought to be the rock-bottom minimal standard for anything calling itself a "Jane Austen ball", even in the modern English country dance community, let me talk a little about higher standards, and what you'd want to do if you were interested in actually approaching as close as is practical to period practice. I've made two lists, one of what I consider to be important and one of elements that I do not consider as critical. Some items are characteristics of the dancing itself, and some have to do with ball format, because the latter is just as important as the former in establishing a period atmosphere and breaking people out of the modern mindset.
Modern English country dance groups are unlikely to want to try most (or any!) of this, but I hope it's interesting to see how different an experience a ball would have been two hundred years ago. Some people have the bizarre idea that by suggesting that using "dances" (in the modern sense) from Jane Austen's lifetime for something called a "Jane Austen ball", I am somehow trying to impose actual historical practices on them. No, really, not!
For simplicity's sake, I've limited this to just things pertaining to country dancing, rather than trying to cover the entire range of possible dance forms for either Austen herself or the actual decade of the Regency.
First off, let me note that the title of this post is not a comment on anyone's intellect. It's a riff on the titles of the popular series of "For Dummies" books, which are intended simply as accessible how-to guides for people who are not familiar with a topic. I have a couple of them myself. Neither I nor this post have any actual connection with these books, and no copyright infringement is intended.
It's been pointed out to me that negative critiques of historically ludicrous "Regency" ball programs, however justified, are not actually helpful for people who are not dance scholars and whose audience is not interested in serious study of historical dance, but who would like to do a decent job programming such a ball, or at least avoid making obvious idiots of themselves by calling seventeenth-century dances at a Regency- or Jane Austen-themed event.
That's a reasonable complaint. It's always easier to criticize than to be constructive. And most of Kickery delves too deeply into the details for a modern country dance caller who just wants to do their gig.
I'm not going to write a modern caller's guide to doing such balls (not as a blog post, anyway!) But I can at least give some basic help to people who don't have the time (or motivation) to go for higher levels of authenticity.
I went with "Jane Austen" in the title rather than "Regency" because I think the name recognition and audience are higher for the author than for the era and because the single easy-to-find reference I'm using has more dances drawn from sources published in Austen's lifetime than from the years of the actual Regency. But everything below would be acceptable, if not exactly the latest fashion, for country-dance-focused Regency balls as well.
A while back, a friend sent me a flyer and the dance program for a "Regency ball" (the organizers' term, not mine) in their area. I'm not going to tell you where, or when, or who the caller was, because there are plenty of similar events going on all over (at least) the English-speaking world. But I am going to tell you one thing:
This program is utter bullshit.
After their first and second Pride and Prejudice Collections, I knew just what to expect from the Pemberley Players' Pride and Prejudice Collection Volume III: a very beautifully performed set of dance tunes, of which many are considerably out of date for Jane Austen's lifetime, let alone her novels, and of which none of the reasonably period tunes are played in a useful repeat pattern. I was actually wrong about one thing: two of the tunes are played in a historical repeat pattern! What luck!
Otherwise, this CD is about what I expected: eighteen tunes, of which eleven are way too early for a Austen-oriented collection. Despite the name, these CDs are really mixes of tunes covering a century and a half or so, mostly before the Austen era. The Pemberley Players are superb musicians and extremely nice people who let me use some of their tunes in our stage production of Pride and Prejudice back in April, but I do wish they would make an all-Austen-era recording rather than a modern English country dance mix.
When I discussed the Regency-era figures "Swing Corners" and "Turn Corners" a few years ago, I touched briefly on an earlier source, Nicholas Dukes' A concise & easy method of learning the figuring part of country dances (London, 1752) that contained an earlier version of "Turn Corners" which used single hands (right, left, right, left) rather than two hands for the turns but had a different pattern than the Regency version of "Swing Corners".
For the sake of completeness, I need to add one more version to my little timeline.
A dozen years after Dukes, the anonymous "A. D. Dancing Master" published Country Dancing Made Plain and Easy(London, 1764), another figure manual which contains a "Swing Corners". A. D. makes a clear distinction between "swinging" and "turning" that anticipates that of the dancing masters of the early nineteenth century:
(Swinging) is when any two persons being face to face, and joining both right or both left hands, each moving forwards round. This is properly done by hooking at the elbows; tho' the modern way is by the hands. Under this denomination may be tht of four-hands-across, as each person swings their opposite corner: and also turning, though with joining both hands, as each moves forwards round.
A. D.'s figure is almost identical to Dukes' "Turn Corners right hand & your partner with your left", but obedient to the distinction between "swing" and "turn", it is called "Swing Corners":
To Swing Corners
This is performed by three Couple, thus: the dancers being in the second CU's place, the man advances to the third woman, and the woman to the second man at the same time, and swing them by the right hands, parting before you have completed a full round, or as soon as you face partners, whom you must swing in the middle by the left hand, rather more than a full round, or till the man faces the second woman and the woman the third man; whom you are again to swing by the right hands, till you again face partners; who are to swing again, by the left hands in the middle, so far round as to end proper.
The only real difference is that A. D. specifies that the dancers end proper, back on their own side of the set, where Dukes' figure leaves them offset up and down the set and still in the center. Otherwise, the sequence of turning corners by the right, partners by the left, corners by the right, partners by the left is the same.
A. D.'s explicit recognition of a difference between "swing" and "turn" was obviously not universal, since "turn" continued to be used for right- and left-hand turns in dance figures. But this does mean that when reconstructing dance figures in the last few decades of the eighteenth century, one must carefully consider whether any "turn corners" figure that does not specify hands involves single-hand turns (per Dukes) or two-hand turns (per A. D.'s and early nineteenth century dancing masters' distinction). It also suggests that when "swing" is used in a mid-eighteenth-century figure, it might well mean hooking elbows rather than hands.
My new and improved timeline for the swing/turn corners figures:
1752: "Turn corners" = pass partner by left shoulder, turn corners by right hand, partner by left, corners by right, partners by left; end center of set with lady nearer top and gentleman nearer bottom
1764: "Swing corners" = same as above, but ending on proper sides
early 1800s: "Turn corners" = pass partner by right shoulder, turn corner two hands clockwise, pass partner by right shoulder, turn corner two hands clockwise, pass partner by left shoulder back to places
"Swing corners" = turn partner by right hand, corner by left hand, partner by right hand, corner by left hand, pass partner by left shoulder back to places
Special thanks to Eugenia Eremina-Solenikova for giving me a digital copy of Country Dancing Made Plain and Easy!
Along with the standard traveling step for early nineteenth-century Scotch reels, the Kemshóole, Scottish dancing master Francis Peacock, in Sketches relative to the history and theory, but more especially to the practice of dancing (Aberdeen, 1805), also describes a possible variation:
...if you wish to vary the step, in repeating the measure, you may introduce a very lively one, by making a smart rise, or gentle spring, forward, upon the right foot, placing the left foot behind it: this you do four times, With this difference, that instead of going a fourth time behind with the left foot, you disengage it from the ground, adding a hop to the last spring. You finish the promenade, by doing the same step, beginning it with the left foot.
This is very much like an extra-lively version of the "four-slide galop" of the later nineteenth century: spring-close-spring-close-spring-close-spring-hop. Dancers should be careful not to turn it into a simple shuffling along.
As in the basic Kemshóole, lead with the shoulder matching the lead foot.
While Peacock recommends this step for the "promenade", the reeling (hey) part of a reel, this extended Kemshóole actually does not always work as well as the regular version.
For a non-progressive reel of three with all three dancers returning to their original places, four extended Kemshóole steps work splendidly and feel graceful to the dancers. The four changes of place match up nicely with the longer step. It works equally well in a "corner reel", such as those found in London dancing master Thomas Wilson's first new reel of six.
For a progressive reel of three, however, there are five changes of place, and the dancers must move further on each step, and the extended Kemshóole becomes rather awkward; the dancers will end up taking tight curves on the ends in mid-step.
For a reel of four, it doesn't work at all. There are six changes of place, resulting in faster and sharper turns, and there just isn't enough forward motion without the extra momentum provided by the hops in the standard Kemshóole.
Despite its limited utility, it adds some pleasant variation to a figure which doesn't allow for much. Lately I have been encouraging its use whenever practical.
My third and (so far) final sequence for an eight-bar chassé-croisé comes from Elements and Principles of the Art of Dancing, a translation of J. H. Gourdoux published by Victor Guillou in Philadelphia in 1817. The translation, presumably of the 1811 Principes et Notions Élémentaires sur l’Art de la Danse Pour la Ville, is inconsistent in how closely it hews to Gourdoux's original. This step sequence for chassé-croisé does not appear in the 1811 manual at all and may have originated with Guillou himself.
Even more than Gourdoux's own sequence, this one features different footwork for the gentlemen and the ladies.
(This is the second post in a mini-series covering Regency-era step-sequences for the quadrille figure chassé-croisé. See the first post for a general introduction to the figure.)
My second sequence for chassé-croisé actually comes from a French source, the second edition of Principes et Notions Élémentaires sur l’Art de la Danse Pour la Ville (Paris, 1811) by J. H. Gourdoux. The same sequence reappears in his later manual, De l’Art de la Danse (Paris, 1823). It is similar to the Strathy sequence described in my previous post, but the differences are quite intriguing.
I won't cover steps in this post, since I just summarized them in the previous one and no additional ones are required for Gourdoux's sequence.
By far the most common sequence variations to be found in quadrille manuals of the early nineteenth century are those for setting, forward and back, chassez-dechassez, and crossing over. But a few manuals give sequences for more elaborate figures such as chassé-croisé, in which two dancers, side by side, change places and back. There are quite a few ways to perform the figure, but the most common is probably that danced with one's partner in eight bars as follows:
2b Change places, gentlemen passing behind ladies
2b Change back, gentlemen again passing behind ladies
This can be performed just by two couples (heads or sides) or by all four at once, as in the classic Finale figure of the first set of French quadrilles.
There are many, many sets of early nineteenth-century quadrilles, most of which are simply new music for the First Set or include only minor variations on the standard figures. While I don't normally publish reconstructions of the figures for random sets of quadrille music, this set is of particular interest because a high-quality recording of it is available on The Regency Ballroom CD by Spare Parts.
The music is from the first series of T. Simonet's Fashionable Parisian Quadrilles, Performed by the Bands of Messrs. Michau, Musard and Collinet, with their appropriate Figures as danced at Almack's, the Argyll Rooms and at the Bath & Cheltenham Assemblies. The manual is undated, but in February, 1823, the fashionable magazine La Belle Assemblée reported the publication of "Nos. 42 and 43" of the series, commenting positively:
This is really an elegant little work both in its contents and its typography. We recognize many of the quadrilles as being great favorites in the French metropolis, and the whole of them are composed in a very characteristic and original style.
The typography of this edition is certainly eye-popping by modern standards of design; the front cover alone features a dozen different fonts. The first series includes only sets one through six and presumably is dated somewhat earlier.
After my experience with the first Pride & Prejudice Collection from the Pemberley Players I wasn't in a big hurry to get their second CD, The Pride & Prejudice Collection Volume II, which is subtitled "The Jane Austen Dance Kit". Once again, the music is beautiful and the playing expert...and the selection of tunes bizarre (though better than the first collection) and the repeat structures unusable for actual historical dancing without modification. Since I knew what to expect this time, I was not as disappointed as before, but I remain exasperated at the gap between the advertising and the actual music. This is a nice collection for modern English country dancers doing dances modern-style from a wide range of eras, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination a "Jane Austen Dance Kit".
An instruction that turns up repeatedly in late 18th and early 19th century country dance figures is some version of "the three ladies lead round the gentlemen, then the three gentlemen lead round the ladies." I've selected this particular figure to discuss because it's one in which a straightforward-looking title omits an important performance detail and also because a closer look at its use in dance figures illustrates how country dancing evolved in subtle ways even over a relatively short period of time. It's also a fun, lively figure that I use fairly often myself, so it's nice to examine how "mainstream" my style is for the Regency era.
Almost four years ago, I discussed the quadrille figure "chassé out", or chassé ouvert, in a post discussing the reconstruction of a mid-century quadrille. I've revisited the figure occasionally since then, both in its Regency-era context and in its unusual mid-19th century appearances in the quadrille calls of American dancing master Elias Howe, and found enough new information to be worth a fresh post on the topic and to make me reconsider how I would reconstruct the figure both for early quadrilles of the 1810s-1820s and for the quadrille sets published by Howe in 1858 and 1862.
My old dance buddy Chris Imershein of the North Carolina group Triangle Vintage Dance writes:
Just curious if you have any historical sources for the proper "spelling" of The Lancers Quadrille(s). Spare Parts has it as "Lancers" on the original [Civil War Ballroom] CD, but as "Lancer's" in their sheet music book. I've also seen it as Lancers' on the web. Any thoughts?
It's not unusual for new sources to turn up that make me go back and reconsider a reconstruction. It's a little irritating for it to happen less than a month after I finally get around to publishing one here on Kickery, and doubly irritating for it to be not a new source but old sources I simply hadn't looked at recently. Fortunately, this is less a change in my reconstruction than further background and options.
In reconstructing the fourth figure of the Mid-Lothians, an early 1820s quadrille, I wrote in my reconstruction notes that "I've never found any description of what step sequence to use for this figure," referring to the grand chain. Actually, I had come across such, many years ago, and they had simply slipped my mind. But I was looking through quadrille sources for a different project and found them again, so here is a little more information about performance options for the grand chain.
This is the sixth and last in a series of six posts covering the six figures of the Mid Lothians, a set of quadrilles from the 1820s. Previous posts: The first figure; background information; and sources, second figure, third figure, fourth figure, fifth figure.
The sixth and final figure of the Mid Lothians is set to a combination of two similar Jacobite tunes, "Lewie Gordon" and "Over the Hills". My ear isn't sophisticated enough to sort through Evans' arrangement and figure out which (or whether) individual strains are drawn from each tune. Lewie Gordon was a son of the Duke of Gordon who fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie and was exiled after Culloden. "Over the Hills", also known as "O'er the Hills and Far Away" and "Over the Seas and far away", has a complex history and may have originally been from England. It is familar to many today as the theme music for the Sharpe television series based on the Bernard Cornwell novels about a British rifleman during the Napoleonic Wars.
Lyrics and background on each tune as well as MIDI files for listening may be found at Christian Souchon's collection of Jacobite songs; there are individual pages for both "Lewie Gordon" and "O'er the Hills". Note that all Souchon's pages play music immediately upon opening! More lyrics for "O'er the Hills" may be found on the song's page at The Compleat Sean Bean, a Sean Bean (Sharpe in the television series) fan site created by writer Winona Kent.
This is the fifth in a series of six posts covering the six figures of the Mid Lothians, a set of quadrilles from the 1820s. The first figure, background information, and sources are discussed in the first post in the series. Second figure here. Third figure here. Fourth figure here.
The fifth figure of the Mid Lothians is set to the famous march of Clan Campbell, "The Campbells are Coming", with its rousing chorus, presumably not sung while dancing a quadrille:
There are many, many recordings of this tune available. Though the lyrics were partly rewritten by Robert Burns in the late eighteenth century, the tune dates back at least to the Jacobite rebellions of the first half of the century.
This is the fourth in a series of six posts covering the six figures of the Mid Lothians, a set of quadrilles from the 1820s. The first figure, background information, and sources are discussed in the first post in the series. Second figure here. Third figure here.
The fourth figure of the Mid Lothians is set to a combination of "Peggy's Love" and "Auld Robin Gray", though my ear is not good enough to pick out which strains are from each tune when filtered through Evans' arrangements.
"Peggy's Love", or "Little Peggy's Love" is a strathspey which has also been used for a Scottish Country Dance. It is said to have been composed by William Marshall and published as "Lady Louisa Gordon's Strathspey" in 1781. It was apparently used as the musical basis for a ballet at the King's Theatre Opera House (the professional home of Regency-era dancing master Thomas Wilson) in the 1790s. Evans mostly retains the strathspey rhythm in his arrangement.
"Auld Robin Gray" was written in 1772 by the Scottish poet Lady Anne Lindsay, with a tune by Reverend William Leeves. The song is something of a sequel to the classic Jacobite song "Logie O'Buchan" (note: music plays immediately upon opening this page) which mourns for the Old Pretender under the guise of a woman missing her lover Jamie while being pressured to marry someone richer. In "Auld Robin Gray", she actually ends up married to Robin Gray before her true love Jamie returns for her. The tune may be heard in a MIDI file created by Christian Souchon (plays immediately upon opening). An arrangement by Hadyn may be found at Ball State University's Digital Music Repository.
This is the third in a series of six posts covering the six figures of the Mid Lothians, a set of quadrilles from the 1820s. The first figure, background information, and sources are discussed in the first post and the second figure here.
The third figure of the Mid Lothians is set to "Riggs O'Barley", previously known as "Corn Rigs are bonie" but taking on a new name after being used by Robert Burns for his 1783 poem, "The Rigs O' barley". Numerous recordings (with the Burns lyrics) are available. It is also found on the sound track of a classic 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man, under the title "Corn Rigs".
Evans' arrangement consists of three eight-bar strains (ABC), with the A strain having an alternate second ending as well. The thirty-two-bar figure is noted on the sheet music as starting on the A strain, so I would expect a repeat structure of A (ABACx4) with the initial A using the first ending and subsequent ones the second.
This is the second in a series of six posts covering the six figures of the Mid Lothians. The first figure, background information, and sources are discussed in the previous post.
The second figure of the Mid Lothians is set to a highly simplified arrangement of the "Lassie wi'the Lint-White Locks", a tune actually called "Rothiemurchies Rant" but so strongly associated with the Robert Burns poem from 1794 that Evans seems to have adopted the poem's title for the tune. It is also known today as "The Graf Spee". The tune is traditionally used for a Scottish Country Dance and can be heard on numerous recordings. Some interesting background may be found at The Mudcat Café.
Evans' version is in a different key and consists almost entirely of relatively sedate eighth notes, unlike the dotted strathspey rhythm of the original, which is given below the quadrille arrangement for comparison.
Evans trims the four strains of the original tune to three strains (ABC) of eight bars each, with the third strain being a repeat of the first with a slight variation in the last bar. The figure is repeated four times. Instructions on the music indicate the that the (thirty-two-bar) figure begins on the A strain, which also has repeat markings. so a repeat structure of A (ABACx4) or possibly A (AABCx4) seems indicated, which leaves the figures concluding on the same music (since C = A) as they began, as is typical for a quadrille figure. Either way, the A strain ends up getting repeated three times in succession multiple times. A (ABBCx4) would also be a possibility, albeit a somewhat odd one for a quadrille, and somewhat reduces the repetiiveness. If not for the figure instructions on the music, I'd be inclined to go with A (BABCx4) just for a bit more variety.
The Mid Lothians, A new Set of Quadrilles, was a set of traditional Scottish tunes selected by J. S. Pollock, "Professor of Dancing / late of Paris /", with the tunes arranged by R. W. Evans and new quadrille figures (given in French and English) choreographed by Pollock. The undated music was published in London in the early 1820s (Google Books dates it to 1821), and the figures additionally appear in Pollock's La Terpsichore Moderne, Ninth Edition (London, c1824) and in Henry Whale's Hommage à Taglioni, A Fashionable Quadrille Preceptor and Ballroom Companion (Philadelphia, 1836). The English-language instructions in all three sources are extremely consistent, though there are a few discrepancies between the French and English versions given on the sheet music.
The set is cannily dedicated to Lady Gwydir, more familiar to students of upper-crust Regency society as one of the famous Patronesses of Almacks under her former name, Mrs. Drummond-Burrell. Born in 1786, Lady Sarah Clementina Drummond, heiress of Lord Perth, married Peter Burrell in 1807, whereupon they both hyphenated their names to Drummond-Burrell to preserve the prestigious Drummond name. In 1820, the couple succeeded Peter's parents to double honors as Baron and Baroness Gwydir (or Gwydyr) and Baron and Baroness Willoughby de Eresby.
The Mid Lothians refers to the area of Scotland around Edinburgh. The title of the set and the use of well-known Scottish tunes may be an attempt to play off the success of Sir Walter Scott's popular 1818 novel, The Heart of Midlothian, or simply a reflection of the popularity of all things Scottish at the time. Some of the tunes used are versions of those famously used by Robert Burns for his poems in the late eighteenth century.