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Nineteenth Century Social Dance

The dance of society: a critical analysis… William B. De Garmo. Published 1875.
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Group dances continued to dominate ballrooms during the early nineteenth century, especially the quadrille that evolved from the eighteenth-century contredanse française (also known as the cotillon). The ten or twelve changes that alternated with the figure, as was required in the contredanse française, were replaced by combining the figures, now called sets, to create a single dance. Performed by four couples facing a square, each set of figures, usually five, was performed to its own music, consisting of eight-bar phrases. A brief pause would separate each set. During the early nineteenth century, the dancers were required to bow to each other and their corners during the first eight bars of each set. By the middle of the century, the dancers simply waited for the eight bars to pass before starting the figures. Examples of some of the components that made up figures included: Forward and Backward; Going to the Right and Left; Crossing Over; Balance (also known as “set to partners”); Hands Around, English Chain (also known as Right and Left), Ladies’ Chain, and Moulinet. Often, the components were described by their French names; for example, the English Chain was called chaine anglaise. An example of a popular figure, known as Le Pantalon, consisted of the following components:

English chain
Balancé
Turn partners
Ladies’ chain
Half promenade
Half English chain
8 bars
4 bars
4 bars
8 bars
4 bars
4 bars

After the preliminary bows to partners and corners, the entire figure was performed first by the head couples, then repeated by the side couples. Many manuals and pamphlets were published to provide a repertory of sets of quadrilles. One of the most valuable of these treatises was by the English dancing master Thomas Wilson, c.1818 The quadrille and cotillion panorama (this online collection contains the 1822 edition). In this work, Wilson analyzed the figures and components of the quadrille and suggested hundreds of combinations. Barclay Dun’s 1818 A translation of nine of the most fashionable quadrilles, is an example typical of a manual that was devoted to the description of quadrille sets. (See Video Clip 20, and Video Clip 21 to view sample step sequences)

Late eighteenth-century contredanses were performed with a series of step sequences, and this tradition continued into the early nineteenth century. The most frequent combination of steps performed in quadrilles consisted of three chassés, a jeté, and an assemblé, used for figures such as the English Chain, Ladies’ Chain, and Half Promendade. An 1817 manual, Elements and Principles of the art of dancing, described step sequences that also required sissoné, two varities of échappé, temps levé, and glissade. Alexander Strathy, in his 1822 Elements of the art of dancing, adds more steps including changement, coupé, pas de zephyre, jeté tendu, and pirouette. Other authors, including Carlo Blasis (The code of terpsichore, 1830), suggested additional ornamental steps, which had an enormous range of technical difficulty; after the 1830s, many of the steps were simplified or dancers would simply walk through the figures. (See Video Clip 10 for an example of some waltz quadrille figures, sometimes called the waltz cotillion.)

An analysis of country dancing… Thomas Wilson. Published 1808.
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The English country dance continued to enjoy popularity during the early nineteenth century. This online collection is represented by four manuals written by Thomas Wilson. His An analysis of country dancing, published in two versions, in 1808 and again in 1811, utilized text, tables, and diagrams to explain the dance figures. The complete system of English country dancing, originally published in 1808 was an expanded version of An analysis of country dancing. In his last work on the subject, The treasures of terpsichore, Wilson lamented that English country dancing would “be perverted into a chaos of riot and confusion.” Referred to as “those never ending still beginning performances” by Philadelphia etiquette writer Eliza Leslie, the informal structure of the country dance–where everybody had opportunity to dance with everybody else–proved difficult for a growing middle-class urban population. Social concern about the lack of appropriate introductions and an increasingly assumed familiarity among the dancing public became a growing scandal. However, country dances maintained some popularity in rural New England and, in 1863, The ball-room manual of contra dances was published in Belfast, Maine, to provide dancers with “the good old contra dances of our ancestors.”

The code of Terpsichore. Carlo Blasis. Published 1830.
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Although Italian dancer and choreographer Carlo Blasis’s 1830 Code of Terpsichore was primarily a treatise on early nineteenth-century ballet, the manual included a chapter on “private dancing.” Likewise, E. A. Théleur’s 1832 Letters on dancing, another important source for early nineteenth-century ballet, included a section on social dancing called “La Danse de Société Francaise.” Théleur utilized his unique notation system to record the steps for the quadrille figure “L’Été,” which he dedicated to Lady Francis, one of his students.

The Scotch reel was a group dance that was performed in small groups of three to eight dancers and was popular in Britain and parts of the United States. It was rarely seen by mid-century, but descriptions of some of the lively ballroom steps (See Video Clip 49), such as kemshóole, kemkóssy, and lematrást were recorded in Francis Peacock’s 1805 Sketches relative to the history and theory, but more especially to the practice of dancing. Published in Aberdeen, the treatise is today also important for its description of the early nineteenth-century minuet.

Mid-nineteenth century practices. By the 1830s, dance and etiquette manuals began to pay closer attention to the growing ceremonial details of the home and ballroom. Rules and rituals were encouraged for a range of activities, including the proper fork to use while eating, the correct mode of delivering calling cards and issuing party invitations, and the right way to give parties and balls. Also of importance was the etiquette of asking a partner to dance, appropriate conversation while dancing a quadrille, the way to learn the latest steps and, of course, the importance of wearing the latest ballroom fashions.

In the United States, where society was beginning to grapple with the Industrial Revolution, the establishment of large urban areas, an expanding and upwardly mobile class system, these manuals were considered to be “self-helpers.” Manuals dictated categories of precise rules which, directed at the uninitiated, left nothing to chance. Diatribes on such themes as dirty linens and hands, spitting, and picking the nose were found in many mass-produced manuals, aimed at the growing middle class, who wished to better themselves and, of course, to learn the rules that would make them acceptable in “good society.” Often, these manuals were paperbacks and were parts of self-help series, available for as little as ten cents as, for example, Beadle’s dime ball-room companion and guide to dancing, published in New York by Beadle and Company in 1868.

By the 1840s, the sphere of a woman’s domain centered around the home, so much self-help literature, including information on dance and balls, was aimed at women. Emily Thornwell’s The lady’s guide, published in New York in 1857, covered subjects ranging from dressmaking to deportment, hints on conversation, and behavior at parties. As late as 1894, publishers continued to produce such manuals for women, and The perfect art of modern dancing was part of a series that included other home-centered subjects–canning, preserving, pastimes for children, and nursing for invalids. The author, Mrs. Edna Witherspoon, stressed the heathful benefits of dance and encouraged her women readers to send their children to learn the art by the age of five.

To reinforce the seriousness and importance of their subjects, book publishers often used creative means, sometimes by conferring “legal” status or (as is common in today’s climate of celebrity endorsements) by utilizing the names of popular figures. Published in 1836, The laws of etiquette; or, short rules and reflections for conduct in society was written “By A Gentleman,” thus giving authority to its contents. Oliver Ditson, a Boston publisher of innumerable books aimed at a mass market, released the Complete ball-room hand book in 1858, claiming the famous inventor, Elias Howe, to be its author. A popular American urban philosophy seemed to be, if a little ingenuity was applied, anyone could better themselves without formal assistance or, in the case of dancing, without the services of a professional dance teacher. An excellent example of this was the 1872 Ball-room dancing without a master. The manual How to dance, published in 1878, answered the needs of those who never learned to dance because of bashfulness, lack of time, or insufficient funds.

Publishers often issued small, pocket-sized manuals as if to encourage their readers to have the rules and regulations close at hand. Examples include the 1841 New York publication The ball-room instructer [!]; the 1841 Philadelphia published Leaflets of the ball room; and Professor C. Brooks’s 1866 The ball-room monitor. Similar trends were noticeable on the other side of the Atlantic. In Paris, the publishing company Roret issued the 1866 Nouveau manuel complet de la danse and claimed the author to be famed Italian dancer and choreographer Carlo Blasis. The manual did contain a version of Blasis’s comments on “private dancing,” from his earlier works, including the 1830 Code of terpsichore;.in fact, the dance instructions were credited to M. Lamaitre. The London publisher Jullien & Co. similarly issued the pocket-sized Coulon’s hand-book, suggesting that it was written by famed French dancer and dancing master Eugène Coulon.

La danse des salons. Henri Cellarius. Published 1847.
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Indeed, several quite important European dance manuals had been published during the 1840s, including Henri Cellarius’s La danse des salons, published in Paris in 1847. (This online collection contains a copy of the 1849 edition.) This manual has provided important information on mid-nineteenth-century ballroom dance; it described the quadrille and gave an excellent description of the waltz (See Video Clip 58), (waltze à trois temps), the most famous of the century’s round dances. (See Video Clip 47Video Clip 58, and Video Clip 62 for examples of early, mid, and late nineteenth-century waltzing.). Also covered was a discussion on the polka and on the cotillon (later known as the German), a popular group dance that consisted of a series of party games. The beautiful plates, created by Paul Gavarni, greatly enhanced the manual. Cellarius’s work was translated and published in London, also in 1847, as The drawing-room dances. Text from Cellarius’s work was incorporated into many manuals subsequently published in Europe and the United States.

Other popular manuals published during the first seventy-five years of the nineteenth century were issued by well-known dancing masters. For example, there were manuals by well-known Philadelphia and New York dancing masters: Charles Durang’s 1856 The fashionable dancer’s casket; Edward Ferrero’s 1859 The art of dancing; Thomas Hillgrove’s 1863 A complete practical guide; William DeGarmo’s 1865 The prompter; and the 1867 Brookes on modern dancing by Lawrence DeGarmo Brookes. Allen Dodworth published a series of pamphlets for the students at his New York City dancing academy; this online collection contains the 1873 and 1878 editions of his Assistant for A. Dodworth’s pupils.

Dancing and its relations to education… Allen Dodworth. Published 1900.
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Late nineteenth-century practices. Dance manuals published during the last quarter of the nineteenth century devoted less and less space to ballroom etiquette. For example, Lucien O. Carpenter’s J.W. Pepper’s universal dancing master, published in Philadelphia in 1882, contained only a few simple rules. The anonymous The way to dance, was not only aimed at those who could not hire a professional teacher, but proclaimed that respectable etiquette was nothing more than self-denial. In 1870, E. B. Reilley apologized for the brevity of the etiquette section in The amateur’s vademecum but noted that he “aimed at the general principles … leaving their practical application to the good sense and nature of our readers.” The etiquette section of Charles A. White’s 1884 Dancing and prompting was reduced to a short section of “hints.” C.H. Rivers’s 1885 A full description of modern dances contained only one-third of a page of etiquette. M.B. Gilbert’s 1890 Round Dancing contained no etiquette at all. Likewise, Allen Dodworth’s Dancing and its relations to education contained no ballroom etiquette, although he did supply numerous illustrations showing the “proper” and “vulgar” manner of holding one’s partner. (This online collection contains a 1900 edition of Dodworth’s 1885 manual.) Eugène Giraudet’s La danse of 1885 was one of the few dance manuals that still included an extensive section on etiquette, with hints for appropriate behavior at weddings, baptisms, and balls.

Manners and Social Usages. Mrs. John Sherwood. Published 1887.
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Most readers would have turned to any one of the vast numbers of “pure” etiquette manuals published during the end of the nineteenth century. In 1887, the American writer Mrs. John Sherwood published a very popular book entitled Manners and Social Usages, that went through at least seven editions between its publication and 1918. It was typical of the books published for those who were part of the new urban middle class, those with growing wealth and accumulations of material objects. Mrs. Sherwood’s massive, fifty-nine chapter tome devoted sections to subjects such as “Laying the Dinner Table,” How to Treat a Guest,” “How to Treat English People,” as well as two chapters devoted to dancing and giving balls. William E. Greene’s etiquette manual The terpsichorean monitor, published in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1889, covered many aspects of American social life including weddings, balls, mourning, etiquette for “elderly girls,” how to manage the fork and the spoon, and hints for the household with one, two, or many servants.

Although the primary focus of this online collection of nineteenth-century social dance manuals is on those published in the United States, the collection also contains a number of foreign publications, including Rudolph Radestock’s 1877 The royal ball-room guide, published in London in 1877; several manuals published in Paris by Eugène Giraudet, such as his 1870s Traité de la danse and his 1885 La danse; Czech writer Anna Lorenzová’s 1890s Elegantní tanecník; Aleksandr Dmitrievich Chisteilakov’s 1893 Russian manual, wonderful photographs, Metodicheskoe rukovodstvo and J. R. Bosshardt-Strübi’s 1897 Leitfaden für den tanz, published in Zurich, Switzerland.

Popular group dances: quadrille (See Video Clip 002), grand march, and the German. The quadrille retained its popularity to the end of the nineteenth century and virtually every instructional book contained some detail on its performance. The entire contents of Luis Papanti’s 1878 De Witt’s “ball-room” call book and Frank Leslie Clendenen’s 1899 Fashionable quadrille call bookcentered around quadrille figures, with instructions for calls. To aid in calling figures, Charles Link’s Unique dancing call book, published in1893, was printed in very large type, making it easier for the quadrille prompter to read.

Another form of quadrille drew popularity not only because it included familiar figures but also because it provided opportunity to perform the waltz (See Video Clip 62, and Video Clip 63), polka (See Video Clip 50), schottish (See Video Clip 56), Esmerelda (See Video Clip 51, and Video Clip 52), or mazurka. Numerous manuals presented directions for these quadrille variants, including Edward Ferrero’s 1859 The art of dancing; Charles Durang’s 1856 The fashionable dancer’s casket; E. B. Reilley’s 1870 The amateur’s vademecum; and Eugène Coulon’s 1873 Coulon’s hand-book. The Paris publisher Roret’s Nouveau manuel complet de la danse of 1866 also included a Varsovianna Quadrille, after the popular waltz variation of that name. In 1889, Herman A. Strassburg, Jr.’s Call book of modern quadrilles described three waltz quadrilles, including a curious example for three couples (rather than the usual four).

Cotillion figures. Joel H. Watkins. Published 1911.
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The grand march, or polonaise (See Video Clip 1), a solemn processional in 3/4 time, was frequently used to open a nineteenth-century ball. Similar to the Renaissance pavan, lines of couples wove their way around the ballroom in intricate patterns. H. Meyen’s The ball room guide of 1852 noted that “every well-arranged ball should commence with this graceful dance in a conversational character.” Meyen also suggested that the carriage of the dancer should be serious and grave and that the figures should go “either in a circle, a straight, or serpentine line, either across or round the ballroom” (page 17). He warned that dancers should not participate in figures that might “endanger the head dress of the ladies … and cause them to be offended, which must be by all means avoided.” Excellent sources for the grand march include Papanti’s De Witt’s “ball-room” call book and Dick’s quadrille call-book, both published in 1878; Carpenter’s J.W. Pepper’s universal dancing master of 1882 (See Video Clip 6 for a choregraphy of turn of the century waltzing.); H.J. Harvey’s 1889 Wehman’s complete dancing master and call book; Professor N. Grant’s 1893 How to become successful teachers of the art of dancing; the 1896 The American prompter and guide to etiquette; and Bosshardt-Strübi’s 1897 Leitfaden für den tanz. Although titled Cotillion figures, Joel H. Watkins’s 1911 manual actually presents a series of grand march figures. (See Video Clip 1),

A new category of group dance swept the ballroom after 1840. Called “cotillion” (also spelled “cotillon”), the dance was also known as the “German cotillion” and, eventually, as the “German.” (See Video Clip 3Video Clip 4Video Clip 5, and Video Clip 16), Performance consisted of a series of party game figures, led by a conductor or leader. Performed predominately to waltz music, many German figures had originated in quadrilles; but others were games, in the sense that there frequently was a “winner” or a “loser.” While dance and etiquette manuals throughout the century stressed the importance of decorum and deportment, execution of the German often included possible humiliation for the performers–as can be observed in Cellarius’s description of the “Fan” (See Video Clip 004), (in his 1847 The drawing-room dances), in which the “losing” gentleman was required to hop around on one foot while fanning a dancing couple. Rough play was inevitable in a figure described by Ferrero in his 1859 The art of dancing; called “The Sea During a Storm,” it was a version of today’s familiar children’s game, Musical Chairs.

The popularity of the German increased during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and it almost always appeared on the programs of private balls. Mrs. John Sherwood in her 1884 Manners and Social Usages described the elaborate favors and props utilized in these party games. Directions and figures for the German can also be found in virtually every manual published after 1850; including several publications devoted entirely to the subject, such as F. Paul’s 1877 Le cotillon; the anynomous 1879 The german; and Harris B. Dick’s 1895 How to lead the german. Significant numbers of German figures were included in some manuals: Allen Dodworth’s 1885 Dancing and its relations to education (this online collection contains a 1900 edition of this work) described 250 figures; and volume 2 of Eugène Giraudet’s Traité de la danse claims to include an astonishing 3,333 figures. (See Video Clip 3Video Clip 4Video Clip 5, and Video Clip 16 for examples of German figures).

Round dances. The biggest revolution in mid-nineteenth-century social dancing was the growing popularity of the waltz, danced in triple meter. Until the late 1840s, waltzing couples turned clockwise with partners while traveling counterclockwise around the room. This constant spinning, never reversing, could and did produce a feeling of euphoria, which resulted in one of the many criticisms leveled at it throughout the century. Excellent descriptions of the waltz a trois temps, which consisted of five steps performed in six counts, can be found in Cellarius’s 1847 The drawing-room dances; Ferrero’s 1859 The art of dancing; Hillgrove’s 1863 A complete practical guide; and Gawlikowski’s 1858 Guide complet de la danse.

Nineteenth-century dance manuals described a myriad of round dance variations–also danced to triple-meter music–including the polka redowa (See Video Clip 59), polka mazurka (See Video Clip 57), gitana (See Video Clip 57), zingerilla (See Video Clip 60), and varsovienne (See Video Clip 59). Instructions can be found in the above-named manuals, as well as in Howe’s 1862 American dancing master; Durang’s 1856 The fashionable dancer’s casket; Hurst & Company’s 1872 Ball-room dancing without a master; and Brooks’s 1866 The ball-room monitor.

Popular duple-meter round dances included the polka (See Video Clip 50) and, as with the waltz, virtually every manual published after 1845 also contained instructions for the polka. Other popular duple-meter dances included the galop, schottisch, zulma l’orientale, and gorlitza, which were described by Ferrero in The art of dancing and by other authors.

By the 1850s, waltzing couples were reversing, and the standard waltz step (See Video Clip 62), (See Video Clip 63), then consisted of six steps. Instructions for turning to the left can be found in C.H. Rivers’s A full description of modern dances, published in 1885. During the last quarter of the century, many authors, including Allen Dodworth in his 1885 Dancing and its relations to education and social life (this online collection contains a 1900 edition of this work), were complaining about kicks, slides, and swayings that had become part of waltzing. One of these popular waltzes was known as the Boston Waltz, and its instructions can be found in numerous manuals, including C.H. Cleveland’s Dancing at home and abroad, published in 1878, and Carpenter’s J.W. Pepper’s universal dancing master, published in 1882.

M.B. Gilbert’s 1890 manual Round dancing was devoted to descriptions of more than 150 round dances, including waltz, galop, schottische, redowa, mazurka, and polka variations. Included are dances with such names as the Loomis Glide Mazurka (See Video Clip 69Video Clip 70, and Video Clip 9), cross step polka (See Video Clip 66), Star Schottische (See Video Clip 72, and Video Clip 73), the Eugenie, (See Video Clip 10), and the Carlton.

By the end of the 1890s, the most popular dances were the German, the quadrille, the waltz ,and a new dance, the two-step, then often called the Washington Post (See Video Clip 7, and Video Clip 8), after John Philip Sousa’s famous march. G. Desrat in his c.1900 Traité de la danse included instructions for a Washington Post step, as well as the cake walk and the Berlin, a polka variation. (For further reading on Nineteenth Century social dance, see the bibliography.) (See Video Clip 20, and Video Clip 21 to view sample step sequences)

 

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