Site Map

Site Search



19th Century influences

Ballroom Dances
Ballroom Dances

find on this page
  • Circassian Circle
  • Circular Waltz
  • Highland Reel
  • Lancers
  • Polka
  • Quadrille
  • Schottische
  • waltz Cotillon
  • Glossary of dance terms

  • Looking through the manuscript books of 19th century fiddlers one will find not only reels, jigs and hornpipes, but also cottillons, quadrilles, waltzes and many other dance forms whose origins are to be found in the ballroom, rather than the hayloft or barn. It is important to remember that in days gone by, the role of the musician was less clearly defined and the gap between high culture and the common dances was often not very wide. The same musicians could be called upon the play the latest compositions from France, Italy and Germany as often as they would play the more local repertoire of reels, hornpipes and jigs for dancing.

    The William Vickers collection features many pages of cotillions. Most have French names such as Cottillon La Ballatt, Cottillon La Nanvine and Cottillon la Nouvelle Provence. Similarly, many other Northern collections feature German Waltzes, Russian dances and many Polkas. It is true that many of these melodies were imported from abroad, but it is equally likely that local composers adopted these fashionable and exotic styles to widen their repertoires and to keep up with current demands.

    That these newly imported dance trends had popular appeal, there is no doubt. The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend, July 1891, contains the following fascinating description of the introduction of the Polka to Newcastle:
    The polka, a favorite round dance, is of modern origin. It was first introduced into Newcastle about fifty years ago, when Thorne's show used to stand in the Spital. It was customary at that time for all the performers, both male and female, to appear in full theatrical costume on the stage outside the show, and, after promenading for a short time, wind up with the "Haymakers," "Speed the Plough" or some other popular country-dance. Large crowds used to assemble nightly when it became known that the Polka was to be danced. Mr. Henderson and Mrs. Grainger, dressed in full Hungarian costume, were the dancers, and they received unbounded applause for their performance.

    The information which follows is taken from Enquire Within Upon Everything, pub. Houlston & sons, London, 1875. This fascinating book contains information on Jam making, card games, home made soaps, medicines, and many other household matters. The fact that these ballroom dances should be published alongside such mundane matters is evidence of their popular appeal, just as their inclusion in the fiddler's manuscripts reveals that they were every bit as popular as those older and more localized dance forms which we now consider folk.


    Circassian Circle — The company is arranged in couples round the room — the ladies being placed on the right of the gentlemen, — after which, the first and second couples lead off the dance. Figure. Right and left, set and turn partners—ladies chain, waltz. — At the conclusion, the first couple with fourth, and the second with the third couple, recommence the figure, — and so on until they go completely round the. circle, when the dance is concluded.


    Circular Waltz. — The dancers form a circle, then promenade during the introduction — all waltz sixteen bars—set, holding partner’s right hand, and turn — waltz thirty-two bars — rest, and turn partners slowly — face partner and chassez to the right and left — pirouette lady twice with the right hand, all waltz sixteen bars—set and turn — all form a circle, still retaining the lady by the right hand, and move round to the left, sixteen bars — waltz for finale.


    The Highland Reel. - This dance is performed by the company arranged in parties of three, along the room in the following manner: a lady between two gentlemen, in double rows, All advance and retire — each lady then performs the reel with the gentleman on her right hand, and retires with the opposite gentleman to places — hands three round and back again — all six advance and retire — then lead through to the next trio, and continue the figure to the end of the room. Adopt the Highland step, and music of three - part tune.


    Lancers.— i. La Rose. — First gentleman and opposite lady advance and set — turn with both hands, retiring to places — return, leading outside — set and turn at corners. ii. La Lodoiska - First couple advance twice, leaving the lady in the centre — set in the centre — turn to places — all advance in two lines - all turn partners. iii. La Dorset. — First lady advance and stop, then the opposite gentleman — both retire, turning round — ladies’ hands across half round, and turn the opposite gentlemen with left hands — repeat back to places, and turn partners with left hands. iv. L’.Etoile. — First couple set to couple at right-set to couple at left — change places with partners, and set, and pirouette to places — right and left with opposite couple. v. Les Lanciers — The grand chain. The first couple advance and turn facing the top; then the couple at right advance behind the top couple; then the couple at left, and the opposite couple, do the same, forming two lines. All change places with partners and back again. The ladies turn in a line on the right, the gentlemen in a line on the left. Each couple meet up the centre. Set in two lines, the ladies in one line, the gentlemen in the other. Turn partners to places. Finish with the grand chain.


    Polka. — In the polka there are but two principal steps, all others belong to fancy dances, and much mischief and inconvenience is likely to arise from their improper introduction into the ball-room. First step. The gentleman raises the left foot slightly behind the right, the right foot is then jumped upon, and the left brought forward with a glissade. The lady commences with the right, jumps on the left, and glissades with the right The gentleman during his step has hold of the lady’s left hand with his right. Second step. The gentleman lightly hops the left foot forward on the heel, then hops on the toe, bringing the left foot slightly behind the right. He then glissades with the left foot forward; the same is then done, commencing with the right foot. The lady dances the same step, only beginning with the right foot. — There are a variety of other steps of a fancy character, but they can only be understood with the aid of a master, and even when well studied, must be introduced with care. The polka should be danced with grace and elegance, eschewing all outré and ungainly steps and gestures, taking care that the leg is not lifted too high, and that the dance is not commenced in too abrupt a manner. Any number of couples may stand up, and it is the privilege of the gentleman to form what figure he pleases, and vary it as often as his fancy and taste may dictate. First Figure. Four or eight bars are devoted to setting forwards and backwards, turning from and towards your partner, making a slight hop at the commencement of each set, and holding your partner’s left hand; you then perform the same step (forwards) all round the room. Second Figure. The gentleman faces his partner, and does the same step backwards all round the room, the lady following with the opposite foot, and doing the step forwards. Third figure. The same as the second figure, only reversed, the lady stepping backwards, and the gentleman forwards, always going the same way round the room. Fourth figure. The same step as figures two and three, but turning as in a waltz.


    Quadrilles. — The first set. First Figure, Le Pantalon - Right and left. Balancez to partners; turn partners. Ladies chain. Half promenade; half right and left. (Four times.) - Second Figure, L'Eté. - Leading lady and opposite gentleman advance and retire; Chassez to right and left: cross over to each other’s places; chassez to right and left. Balancez and turn partners. (Four times.) Or Double L'Eté. - Both couples advance and retire at the same time; cross over: advance and retire again; cross to places. Balancez and turn partners. (Four times.) Third Figure, La Poule. — Leading lady and opposite gentleman cross over, giving right hands; recross, giving left hands, and fall in a line. Set four in a line; half promenade. Advance two, and retire (twice). Advance four, and retire; half right and left. (Four times.) Fourth Figure, Trenise. — The flrst couple advance and retire twice, the lady remaining on the opposite side; the two ladies go round the first gentleman, who advances up the centre; balancez and turn hands. (Four times.) Fifth Figure, La Tastorale. — The leading couple advance twice, leaving the lady opposite the second time. The three advance and retire twice. The leading gentleman advance and set. Hands four half round; half right and left.* (Four times.) Sixth Figure, Galop Finale. — Top and bottom couples galopade quite round each other. Advance and retire; four advance again, and change the gentlemen. Ladies’ chain. Advance and retire four, and regain your partners in your places. The fourth time all galopade for an unlimited period. (Four times.) Or, All galopade or promenade, eight bars. Advance four en galop oblique, and retire, then half promenade, eight bars. Advance four, retire, and return to places with the half promenade, eight bars. Ladies’ chain, eight bars. Repeated by the side couples, then by the top and bottom, and lastly by the side couples, finishing with grand promenade.


    The Schottische. — The gentleman holds the lady precisely as in the polka Beginning with the left foot, he slides it forward, then brings up the right foot to the place of the left, slides the left foot forward, and springs or hops on this foot. This movement is repeated to the right. He begins with the right foot, slides it forward, brings up the left foot to the place of the right foot, slides the right foot forward again, and hops upon it. The gentleman springs twice on the left foot, turning half round; twice on the right foot; twice encore on the left foot, turning half round; and again twice on the right foot, turning half round. Beginning again, he proceeds as before. The lady begins with the right foot, and her step is the same in principle as the gentleman’s. Vary, by a reverse turn; or by going in a straight line round the room. Double, if you like, each part, by giving four bars to the first part, and four bars to the second part. The time may be stated as precisely the same as in the Polka; but let it not be forgotten that La Schottische ought to be danced much slower.


    Waltz Cotillon. — Places the same as quadrille. First couple waltz round inside; first and second ladies advance twice and cross over, turning twice; first and second gentlemen do the same; third and fourth couples the same; first and second couples waltz to places, third and fourth do the same; all waltz to partners, and turn half round with both hands, meeting the next lady; perform this figure until in your places; form two side lines, all advance twice and cross over, turning twice; the same, returning; all waltz round; the whole repeated four times.


    Terms used to describe the movements of dances.

    Balancez —
    Set to partners.
    Chaine Anglaise —
    The top and bottom couples right and left.
    Chaine Anglaise double —
    The right and left double.
    Chaine des Dames —
    The ladies’ chain.
    Chaisse des Dames double —
    The ladies’ chain double, which is performed by all the ladies commencing at the same time.
    Chassez —
    Move to the right and left.
    Chassez croisez —
    Gentlemen change places with partners, and back again.
    Demie Chaine Anglaise —
    The four opposite persons half right and left.
    Demie Promenade —
    All eight half promenade.
    Dos-à-dos —
    The two opposite persons pass round each other.
    Demi Moulinet —
    The ladies all advance to the centre, giving hands, and return to places.
    La Grande Chaine. —
    All eight chassez quite round, giving alternately right and left hands to partners, beginning with the right.
    Le Grand Rond —
    All join hands and advance and retire twice.
    Pas d’Allemande —
    The gentlemen turn the partners under their arms.
    Traversez. —
    The two opposite persons change places.
    Vis-à-vis —
    The opposite partner.


    IN DETAIL...

    19th Century influences
    19th Century influences
    Ballroom dances

    Dance Technique
    Dance Technique
    The Rant Step

    The Dancing-Master
    The Dancing-Master
    learning to dance

    Social dance
    Social dance
    traditional dancing in Northumbria

    Gateshead Central Library
    Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4LN
    Tel: 0191 433 8430