Saturday, 17 October 2015

If possible I shall try to get a few dance lessons

This is a quote from Elizabeth Canning's letter to her mother on the 4th November 1798 when she was visiting Bath. At this time, she was in her early twenties and would have had a choice of teachers, among them[1]:

Anna Fleming proprietor of the long established Fleming family business which she ran with her assistant Miss Le Mercier in John Street.

Mrs Elliston and her partner Kitty Fleming, Anne's sister, who had set up their public establishment in Chapel Row in 1796 but in addition offered private lessons at 5 Pulteney street with the additional inducement of lessons in “art of reading and speaking with propriety” from Elizabeth's glamorous husband Robert rising star of the Bath and London Stage. 

There was also Charles Metralcourt who had returned to Bath in 1795 and who had been a ballet master at the London Opera House and offered his deep knowledge of the steps of the newly fashionable Scottish and Irish dances.

Susan Sibbald, a young boarder at the Belvedere school in Bath at the very end of the eighteenth century has left us a rare account of what a dance class of this period was like. The tall, erect, stoutish Miss Fleming would arrive at the school in her sedan chair to teach them minuets and figure dances while Miss Le Mercier concentrated on the basic steps and positions. A violinist came with them to
play the tunes. From time to time Miss Fleming would call out, 'Now ladies, do credit to Bath', and reward her best pupils with a bonbon from an amber box or a flower from her bouquet.

1. Letters Barnett Elizabeth (Bess nee Canning) - Bath Library Reference Collection

Harlequin and Mother Goose

In 1816, Thomas Wilson the London Dancing Master who had associations with the King's Theatre Opera House published 'The Treasures of Terpsichore; or, A Companion For The Ball-Room Being A Collection Of All The Most Popular English Country Dances, Arranged Alphabetically, with proper Figures to each Dance,"

One of the dances he includes illustrates further the links between theatrical dance and social dance. The dance was called Grimaldi's Dance In Mother Goose with the following figures and instructions:


Single Figure.

Hands across and hack again, down the middle, up again, and rig'ht and left.

Or thus:

Whole figure at top, down the middle, up again, and pousset.

Joseph Grimaldi (18 December 1778 – 31 May 1837) was an English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era. In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden theatres. He became so dominant on the London comic stage that the harlequinade role of Clown became known as "Joey", and both the nickname and Grimaldi's whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns. Grimaldi originated catchphrases such as "Here we are again!", which continue to feature in modern pantomimes.

Born in London to an entertainer father, Grimaldi began to perform as a child, making his stage debut at Drury Lane in 1780. He became successful at the Sadler's Wells Theatre the following year; his first major role was as Little Clown in the pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin's Wedding in 1781, in which he starred alongside his father. After a brief schooling, he appeared in various low-budget productions and became a sought-after child performer. He took leading parts in Valentine and Orson (1794) and The Talisman; or, Harlequin Made Happy (1796), the latter of which brought him wider recognition.

Towards the end of the 1790s, Grimaldi starred in a pantomime version of Robinson Crusoe, which confirmed his credentials as a key pantomime performer. Many productions followed, but his career at Drury Lane was becoming turbulent, and he left the theatre in 1806.

Grimaldi’s most famous role was as Clown in the pantomime of Harlequin and Mother Goose, first played at Covent Garden in London in 1806. It was set up at short notice, and, therefore, could not feature the elaborate machinery and scenes then typical of pantomimes. Perhaps because of this the performers’ skills, their ‘whim, humour and agility’ were more evident. When it opened on Boxing Day, European Magazine said, " was received with the most deafening shouts of applause, and played for ninety-two nights, being the whole remainder of the season." Despite its success, and despite his role in it, Grimaldi did not hold it in high esteem. In fact, he declared it to be one of the worst pantomimes he had ever played.

Grimaldi's association with Sadler's Wells came to an end in 1820, chiefly as a result of his deteriorating relationship with the theatre's management. After numerous injuries over the years from his energetic clowning, his health was also declining rapidly, and he retired in 1823. He appeared occasionally on stage for a few years thereafter, but his performances were restricted by his worsening physical disabilities. In his last years, Grimaldi lived in relative obscurity and became a depressed, impoverished alcoholic. He outlived both his wife and his actor son, Joseph Samuel, dying at home in Islington in 1837, aged 58

Friday, 16 October 2015

Rules for attending public balls in the first decade of the nineteenth century

In his book “An Analysis of Country Dancing” published in 1808 the London dancing master Thomas Wilson gives the following advice to those attending their first public assembly:

“The regulations of some well known assemblies are already before the public. As the Bath Guide contains the rules and etiquette of their balls, which for public balls are perhaps the genteelest and best conducted of any in England, I have in the following lines given only such general hints as ought to be observed in all assemblies whether public or private.

Every Lady on entering the ball room must be presented by the Master of the Ceremonies with a ticket, on which is inscribe the number of her call (except Ladies of title, who claim their precedence according to their rank or seniority), which she should pin in a conspicuous place, to prevent any confusion or misunderstanding respecting places."

By the 'number of her call' Wilson means her place in the set for the country dances so she would stand below ladies with a lower number but above ladies with a higher number. Gentlemen dancing together would always go the bottom. These rules in part reflect Georgian concern with social rank but were mainly introduce to avoid the disorder that otherwise broke out as people lower down the set fought for spaces or tried to intrude their friends.

"Any Lady or Gentleman wishing to dance a Minuet must, as soon as they enter the room, make known their intentions to the Master of the Ceremonies."

This is because the Master of the Ceremonies played a crucial role in managing the dancing of minuets. The minuet was a couple’s dance where one couple danced at a time before an admiring or more often critical company. After the first couple had danced the man retired and the Master of the Ceremonies would bring the woman a second partner. The minuets continued until all the ladies who had stood up for them had danced with two men. The succession of dancers was governed by strict rules of precedence arbitrated by the Master of the Ceremonies.

"No Gentlemen must enter the ball room with whole or half boots on, or with canes or sticks in their hands; nor are any pantaloons considered a proper dress for the assembly room."

"When Country Dancing has commenced, and the top couple have gone down three couple, the next couple must go off."

Unlike modern practice, the dances were called and danced by the top couple and the rest of the set waited for them to arrive before they started. While modern dancers might find such a way of operating rather tedious with long waits before dancing for contemporary young people it must have afforded a welcome and rare opportunity to talk and flirt. It is possibly also worth pointing out for those used to modern practice that both three and two couple dances were danced in continuous long sets, modern callers break up three couple sets to avoid the 2nd and 3rd couples having to cope with constantly changing their numbering.

"When every couple have gone down the dance, and the couple who called it have regained the top and gone down three couple, the dance is finished; for the next dance they stand at the bottom.
Number 2 calls the second dance, and so regularly on through the company”

Wilson refers to the rules of the Bath assemblies at this time which can be found in the Bath Guide of 1803.

For the Upper Rooms:

"The following are the rules and regulations entered into by the subscribers of the Dress Balls:

That the power of direction and control relative to the public amusements in the rooms, is in the subscribers to the Dress Balls, and them only.

That the weekly publick [sic] amusements in these Rooms, during the season be as follows:

Monday night ………………………………………..Dress Ball
Tuesday night ………………………………………..Card Assembly
Wednesday night……………………………………..Concert
Thursday night………………………………………. Fancy Ball"

Fancy Balls were, in Georgian terms, much more relaxed occasions Ladies could appear in hats or make any other elegant fashion statement they pleased, short of actual fancy dress costumes. Fancy balls started with a country dance, after which there was one Cotillion only, and then tea – after tea, a country dance, one Cotillion only and the evening ended with more country dances, and the Long Minuet famously illustrated by Henry William Bunbury.

"N.B. The Rooms to be open every day, Sunday excepted, for cards, and every other Sunday evening for a promenade.

The subscription of one guinea to the Dress Ball shall entitle such subscribers to admission every ball night, and also to two tickets transferable to ladies only.

That a subscription of half a guinea to the Dress Balls shall entitle such subscriber to one ticket each night not transferable. Young ladies and gentlemen at their school vacation will be admitted when introduced by a subscriber.

That a subscription of half a guinea to the Fancy Ball shall entitle such subscriber to one ticket every ball night; this ticket not transferable."

It is always difficult to attribute modern day equivalents to historic prices but in this context, a guinea would approximately equate to spending £1300 today.

"That the dress and fancy balls shall begin as soon as possible after seven o’clock, and conclude precisely at eleven, even in, the middle of a dance."

These timings are derived from the contract with the musicians.

"That in future every person, on admission to these rooms on dress and fancy ball nights, shall pay 6d for tea"

6d equates to about £30 today.

"That a reasonable time be allowed between the minuets and the country dances, for Ladies of precedence to take their places; and that those who shall stand up after the dance is begun, must take their place for that dance at the bottom.

That no lady do permit another to come in above her, after she takes her place in the set.
That ladies who intend dancing minuets do wear lappets; and it is requested that the rest of their dress be as conformable as possible to this distinction, regard being had to the prevailing fashion of the times. It is also hoped that the gentlemen will accommodate their dress to the ladies."

By this date, there was increasing resistance to conforming  to a dress code based on the formal court dress of many decades ago in an age of muslin and empire lines,

Ball Gown circa 1805

"That the three front seats, at the upper end of the room, be reserved for ladies of precedence of the rank of Peeresses of Great Britain or Ireland.

That the gentleman’s annual subscription for the use of the coffee and card room be one guinea; for two months half a guinea.

That the ladies subscription for the use of the room every Tuesday evening during the season for a card assembly be 5s.

That no gentleman in boots or half boots be admitted into any of these rooms on ball nights, public card or concert nights.

That no person be admitted into any of these rooms on dress ball nights without a ticket; but no ticket of admission to the card-room be required on fancy ball nights from such persons as subscribe to the walking subscription."

The walking subscription entitled you to promenade inside the rooms where you could be assured that you would only meet other members of fashionable society.

"That non subscribers be admitted to the promenades on Sunday evening: gentlemen paying one shilling and ladies six pence, tea included.

That the renters of these rooms having agreed with the subscribers to furnish twenty six dress balls on the guinea subscription and thirty fancy balls on the half guinea subscription, no annual account of the expenditure be required of them.

That the musical band of these rooms do consist of twelve performers, including an harp, tabor, and pipe; each performer to be allowed a sum not exceeding half a guinea on each ball night for his attendance, which money is to be taken from the subscription of the respective balls.

That the musical band at the Pump Room, in lieu of a former establishment; viz five guineas a week paid by each room taken from the subscription to the dress balls be allowed:

From the corporation ------------------------------------ 50l
From the Upper Rooms---------------------------------- 50l
From the Lower Rooms---------------------------------- 30l

Each party on rotation to let the band have the use of a room for an annual concert, gratis

That no persons be permitted to play with cards left by another party.

That no hazard, or unlawful game of any sort, be allowed in these rooms on any account whatever, nor any cards on Sunday."

Hazard was a dice based gambling game from which the modern casino game craps may have evolved

"That all future orders and regulations agreed to in general meeting be inserted in the subscribers’ book; and signed by the chairman of the meeting for the time being: such orders and rules not to be altered by any authority whatever, but at a general meeting of the subscribers; and that the said book be deposited in trust with the renters of the rooms, to be produced at any time when a meeting of subscribers to the dress balls be assembled, or when three or more subscribers shall desire the same.
That not less than nine subscribers to the dress ball be competent to call a general meeting upon any business relevant to these rooms.; the said nine to leave a summons signed with their names, upon the table for the space of one week previous to such meeting; which summons shall also express the particular purpose for which such meeting is called, and shall be published in the Bath papers.
That the master of ceremonies, on receiving information of persons acting in opposition to these resolutions, do signify to such person, that, as master of ceremonies, it is his duty to see the orders of subscribers properly enforced.

As the late great extension of the city puts it out of the power of the master of ceremonies to be regularly informed of the several persons who arrive here, he hopes they will be so indulgent to him as not to charge him with want of attention, if he should happen to omit visiting them; and that he publicly requests that they will, on their arrival, cause their names, with their places of abode, to be inserted in a book kept at the pump rooms for that purpose, which will afford him such information as will enable him to comply with his own wishes, and the expectations of the public."

The Master of Ceremonies played a vital role in arbitrating matters of precedence and controlled access to assemblies so he needed to know who he was dealing with as can be seen from the next clause.

"And as it is extremely desirable that all improper company may be kept from these rooms, he requests also, that strangers, as well as ladies and gentlemen, will give him an opportunity of being introduced to them, before they hold themselves entitled to that attention and respect, which he is ambitious and ever will be studious to show to ever individual resorting to this place"

For the Lower Rooms:

"The Master of Ceremonies very respectfully submits the following regulations to the company which are considered as the established rules of the rooms.

1st  that the balls shall begin as soon as possible after seven o’clock and conclude precisely at eleven.

2ndly That the seats at the upper end of the rooms be reserved for Peeresses.

3 dly That Ladies who intend dancing minuets do wear lappets and it is requested that the rest of their dress may correspond with this distinction.

4 thly That a reasonable time will be allowed between the minuets and country dances for ladies of rank to take their places; those who stand up after the dance is called, must go to the bottom for that dance, after which should they wish to take their precedence, on application to the Master of Ceremonies; he will put them in their place.

5thly That ladies do not permit other couples to stand above them after the set is formed; and they are particularly requested to continue in their places after they have gone down a dance, until the rest of the couples have done the same.

6 thly That gentlemen cannot be admitted to the room on ball nights in boots or half boots; nor are pantaloons considered proper dress for a ball.

7thly That no hazard or unlawful games will on any account be allowed in these rooms ; nor cards on Sunday

8 thly That each lady and gentleman on public nights pay six pence on entering the rooms =, which will entitle them to tea.

8tly The ladies may, if they please wear hats in the public rooms in the evening, except on ball or concert nights: Gentlemen are not to wear boots in the public rooms of an evening, nor spurs to the pump room of a morning

9thly That no Hazard or unlawful games will be allowed in these Rooms on any account whatever, nor cards on Sundays.

Lastly That Ladies or Gentleman coming to town, give orders that their names and places of abode be entered in the Pump Room books; and the Master of the Ceremonies thus publicly requests the favour of such Ladies and Gentlemen to whom he has not the honour of being personally known, to offer him some favourable occasion of being presented to them, that he may be enabled to shew that attention, which it is not more his duty than his inclination to observe."

The state of the quadrille in 1815

The London dancing master Thomas Wilson in his preface to his book The Quadrille Instructor gave the following assessment of the state of quadrille dancing in 1815.

"Quadrilles are of that Species of Dancing that at present claim a high precedence in Fashionable Circles  and from their partaking greatly of the style of Cotillions in their Composition may notwithstanding their more fashionable appellation and their more short and less complex Figures be properly considered as petite or short Cotillions."

It is interesting to see that in Wilson view the quadrille was a shortened and simplified type of cotillion. This fits well with the general trend for the fashionable company to choose simpler shorter dance with less strict dress codes. In Bath, this trend was marked from the late 1790s by the replacement of cotillion balls by the fancy balls with no minuets, fewer cotillions, more country dances and a relaxed dress code.

Interestingly in a letter to her niece in 1816, Jane Austen says " Much obliged for the Quadrilles, which I am grown think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day"

"The Figures in this set of Quadrilles will be found to differ from those already published and which have been copied (from their being well known and to save the consequent trouble of composing new ones) into almost every collection of recent date. It being the Author's intention to accommodate those persons who wish to dance these Quadrilles as well as the others he has -adapted his Music to suit both; thereby affording the choice of two sets of. Figures instead of one; added to a clear Elucidation of them by proper Diagrams on a principle in point of explanation that he trusts will be found very superior to any others-, as they not only describe the various positions of the dancers but also shew the lines in' which they are to move from one situation to the other."

"The Music may be composed either in triple or common time (the former is preferable) and the tunes adapted to this purpose should be either, of French Origin or composed in the same easy style. The only merit attached to the Music hitherto published as Quadrille. to be found in those parts that are taken from other Composers, for instance a part of the Overture in "The Lady of the Manor" is introduced in “Le Duc de Wellington;” a part of a drinking song in “The Siege of Belgrade” in “Le Cuirassier;” the Minor Part of the same Opera in “La poule Anglaise;” the first strain of an old quick March (which is also a part of the Ballet of “Tamerlane and Bajazet'') in one of the;”Trenise''of which there are several."

"The lady of the manor" was a comic opera performed at the Theatre-Royal in Covent-Garden from about the 1770s. The Siege of Belgrade was a comic opera in three acts it incorporated music by Mozart, Salieri, Paisiello and Martini. It premiered on 1 January 1791 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in London with a great success. Tamerlane et Bajazet was a grand heroic ballet performed at the King's Theatre Haymarket in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

"Another favourite Quadrille may be found wholly taken from the Overture in Lodoiska and one of the Finales has for its subject the old song of 'The Arethusa'. Many others are composed in the style of Hornpipes and in other styles either so obsolete or with droning Minors as to be altogether incompatible with modern taste."

Lodoïska was an opera by Luigi Cherubini first performed at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris on 18 July 1791.The Saucy Arethusa was a nautical song which was part of a "musical entertainment" titled The Lock and Key, performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1796.

"In the Composition of Quadrilles the number of strains are generally three, they may be made to consist of two three or four strains beyond which they seldom extend they are all however considered as Rondos and provided the Music be correct invariably finish with the first strain. It is customary in performing them for the Dancers to wait until the first strain is played and if it be not marked with a repeat the dance commences with the second strain."