Quadrille (Form)

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QUADRILLE... A single quadrille is a dance in which couples form four sides, each pair of dancers facing the center from the side of a square. The form originated in France where it was known as the quadrille de contredanse, a term used as early as 1760 to denote a group of country dances performed in succession. By 1800 the form became standardized to a series of five separate figures or contredanses in square formation. The quadrille became popular in the British Isles after the Napoleonic Wars, when it was said to have been introduced in 1815 to the leading London dance assembly, Almacks, by Lady Jersey. Captain Gronow, a Guards officer who was stationed nearby and who attended the dances that year, remembered: “I recollect the persons who formed the very first quadrille that was ever danced at Almack’s: they were Lady Jersey, Lady Harriet Butler, Lady Susan Ryder, and Miss Montgomery; the men being Count St. Aldegonde, Mr. Montomery, Mr. Montague, and Charles Standish.” Flett and Flett (1964) state that the form was introduced to Scotland directly from Paris in 1816, after the end of the war. In that country the dance originally consisted of four, five or six figures drawn from a pool of available figures, but set combinations emerged, the most popular of which became known as The First Set of Quadrilles (which Flett & Flett say is "undoubtedly because it is essentially the same as the first set of quardilles ever to be performed in Britain"). Paul Tyler records that in Great Britain only sixteen sets of the quadrille were performed, which meant that the entire dance repertoire was quite small and proscribed. Typically in a quadrille set the figure called the Pantalon was first, followed by L'Eti, La Poule and La Trenis (later supplanted by "La Pastourelle), and finally "La Finale."

Bayard (1981) states, in regard to the term in America, that quadrilles are "untraceable as melodic entities, often plainly composite but well organized, shapely, and instinct with grace and gaiety" (pg. 489). As Bronner (1987) describes it, the dance (at least in New York State) was particular in that it had a series of five or six prescribed but different sequences which required many different eight bar melodies to signal each different figure within those sequences. Since many airs had only two or three parts it became common (and necessary if confusion were to be prevented and boredom precluded) for many different strains from several tunes, often recombined, to be strung together to serve as the vehicle for the dance. Bronner notes that in the 19th century music for the quadrille was published in four parts which had at least three of those parts (or more) in different tempos and keys; Paul Tyler remarks that the original quadrille suite became known as the 'Plain Quadrille', though by the 20th century the form had been processed and only the first change of the original set survived intact in American repertoire (interestingly, he finds the custom of square and country dancers remaining in place on the floor for a few different dances to be a survival of the old sequence of quadrille figures in which dancers stayed in place for the whole suite). Musically, a variety of tunes in both 2/4 and 6/8 time were used for the main figures, with waltzes employed for the waltz movements. In parts of America and Canada (e.g. the American Mid-West) in modern times the term quadrille is used exclusively to describe 6/8 tunes, generally a set of two strains in one tempo (much like a jig, though the structure can be more complex, harkening back to the old form of the dance); the tune may be in different keys, especially in the Canadian tradition. Henry Ford "revived" the form in the 1920's, though it had never entirely died out.

Another quadrille set was called the "Lancers Quadrille," the name derived from the 'Quadrille Des Lanciers' which was introduced in 1817 in Dublin by the dancing master John Duval. The Lancers sets were revived in the mid-19th century and became one of the three most popular quadrille dances of the era. At that time the "First Set of Quadrilles" became popularly known in Scotland simply as "The Quadrilles," while the other two sets were known as "The Caledonians" and "The Lancers."

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