Minuet (Form)

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MINUET. The English spelling of the French Menuet, an exceedingly popular dance among society and on the stage in the 18th century and known as the "Queen of Dances." The dance had a long developmental history in France, but was imported to England soon after it gained international attention when it appeared in the operas of Lully, and several examples are to be found in publications of the latter decades of the 1600's, including Playford's Apollo's Banquet (ed. 6, 1690) and Musick's Hand-Maide (1678). The Minuet was French in style in England and Scotland up to around 1710, then become more Italianate in the next fifty years before developing into the galante style.

To dance the Minuet well became one of the marks of a gentleman, especially in Georgian England, as it was in France, however, the origins of the dance were quite humble. It originally appears to have been a rustic, lively, gay dance, probably derived from one of the forms of the Branle; however, by the time it arrived at court it had slowed considerably, and became more and more stately as time went on. Finally, the dance became effete, and the charm and grace that once adorned it more often showed signs of "the artificiality, the snobbery, the arrogance and the affectation of the Eighteenth Century" (Pulver, 1923). The first minuet was led by the person of the highest rank in the room, and woe to those who danced it poorly, for the minuet afforded the audience with a view of each couple in turn in a very public viewing. To fail to perform gracefully let one in for the butt of jokes and ridicule, and put their social standing in jeopardy. It is no wonder that well-to-do families sent their children to dancing masters to learn the graceful arts, for there was much at stake. Finally, the Republican social and political revolutions of the latter part of the century killed the dance, so associated with the nobility, though it survived as a movement of the Suite (between the Saraband and Jig). It has been called "the most mentally-taxing dance performed socially in the eighteenth century [1]. It could be tedious, especially for audiences; a character in Tobias Smollet's The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) complained:

I sat a couple of long hours half stifled, in the midst of a noisome crowd; and could not help wondering that so many hundreds of those that rank as rational creatures, could find entertainment in seeing a succession of insipid animals, describing the same dull figure for a whole evening, on an area not much bigger than a taylor's shop-board. [2]



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Back to Minuet (Form)[edit]

  1. Amy Stallings, Cabinet of Monkies: Dancing Politics in Anglo Culture, PhD. thesis, Fall 2016 , p. 69.
  2. ibid