Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Giroux sisters dance academy on George Street or The long view of Moles

Through most of the nineteenth century, the White family ran a business selling musical instruments and sheet music in their shops at 1 Milsom Street and 3 George Street. They were also composers of music and publishers of music; especially dance music.

John Charles White, in particular, produced a lot of music for quadrilles between 1816 and 1820. The quadrille is a square dance for four couples and usually involved a set of five dances. Normally these dances consisted of a standard set of steps and the only variation was the music. At the peak of the popularity of the quadrille, John White attempted an innovation by inviting a local dance teacher, who operated an academy close to his George Street shop, to create new steps. The lady concerned was a Miss Giroux.

White's Music Warehouse in Milsom Street

This was probably Miss Louisa Giroux but may have been her sister, Cecilia, in 1820 Louisa was about 17 years old but had been dancing professionally for 9 years.

The 5 Giroux sisters, there may also have been a brother, were the children of Gabriel Giroux a dancer, choreographer, composer and dancing masters who claimed to have been a dancing master at the Paris opera but first appears on the record as a ballet-master at the King's Theatre London in 1786. He next appears in 1802 at the Haymarket dancing with his "pupils" the Misses Giroux and a Master Giroux. For the next 16 years or so the Giroux family performed as dancers, instrumentalists and singers in leading London and provincial theatres.

We have a description of one of these performances from 1809, a benefit night for Gabriel and Cecilia Giroux at the Royal Circus in London. At this show, which starred Jane Austen’s favourite actor Robert Elliston, Gabriel and his three daughters performed a strathspey and reel as part of a play. This was followed by a ballet composed by Gabriel then a piano duet performed by him and his daughter Cecilia, after which she danced a Pas Seul. In between these, the six-year-old Louisa made her first stage appearance dancing a hornpipe. The show ended with a harlequinade featuring a song by Miss Caroline and "the much-admired Skipping Garland Pas de Trois" performed by three Miss Giroux.

The Royal Circus at about the time of the Giroux's 

In 1811 Gabriel and his daughters were dancing on the Bristol stage and by 1818 four of the Giroux sisters had moved to Bristol and were performing without their father who seems to have stayed in London. It was in this year that we learn that Cecilia and Louse had set up a dance academy in Bath at 14 George Street and thrown the first of their annual balls designed to show off the skills of their pupils at the Upper Rooms. They particularly advertise their services for “Ladies who wish to perfect themselves in the QUADRILLES”.

Early Illustration of Quadrille Dancing

Around 1820 the sisters seem to have closed their academy while they planned an expansion so in 1821 Cecilia Giroux who is now residing at 52 Queen Square Bristol announces the reopening of their dance academy in Bristol, Clifton and Bath. While both sisters were teaching across the three locations it looks as though Cecilia focussed on Bristol and managing the overall business while Louisa managed the Bath academy in George street. We have a description from the Bath Chronicle of the Giroux pupil ball that year which “afforded the highest gratification to a numerous and fashionable company, assembled to witness the proficiency of the pupils of these accomplished females in the delightful art of dancing Waltzes, quadrilles and cotillions, with every other species of graceful movement, were executed by the useful and interesting groups, in a style of elegance which at once gained honour for themselves, and same for their instructresses.”

In addition to organising balls at the Upper Rooms Louisa was also performing there and local composers were creating music for and dedicating compositions to her. She was apparently particularly well known for dancing the hornpipes that had started her professional career. Throughout this period the sisters continued to perform in ballets and other entertainment at the Theatre Royal which put on an annual benefit performance for them.

When she was 25 in 1828 Louisa married a local drawing master and became Mrs Edwin Evans.

In 1829 Louisa seems to have broken her business relationship with her sister and set up on her own account at no 5 Union Street.

In 1830 Louisa held her pupil ball at the Sydney hotel which was very well supported.

In 1831 Edwin was declared bankrupt and it is probably at this time that Cecilia took her sister back into partnership.

By 1835 the sisters had added the fashionable exercises of callisthenics to their curriculum.

In 1844 a Music Warehouse selling instruments and sheet music was opened under the Girouxs’ dancing academy in George Street.

Sometime after 1845, the sisters seem to have drifted apart and by 1849 Cecilia was still active in Bristol but seems to have abandoned Bath for Weston super Mare.

In 1848 Louisa’s cousin’s husband the dancing and fencing master Thomas Moutre was using 14 as a base for the academy he ran with his wife Georgina. This arrangement does not seem to have worked well and 2 years later Thomas had moved to 31 Milsom street and Georgina and Louisa had formed a formal partnership.

Louisa while retaining her interests in Bath was by 1851 also teaching dance and callisthenics in Brighton.

The Giroux - Moutre partnership continued the tradition of annual pupil balls in the Bath assembly rooms and in addition held end-of-term displays at their George Street premises. The success of the partnership can be judged from the fact that in 1856 they announced that they would be holding their end of term festivities at the Upper Rooms rather than Miss Giroux's house in George Street as up to 500 people were expected to attend.

Cecilia’s Giroux died in 1856.

A Description of 14 George Street from 1859

Louisa’s died in 1860 but was teaching until within months of her death she announced her retirement in June. The premises in George Street continued as a dance academy under the proprietorship of Mrs Moutre and her husband who ran it until her death in 1887 when it passed to the dancing mistress Mrs Rolf.

Number 14 continued as a base for dance teachers right to the end of the 1960s when Miss Laura Starks A.I.S.T.D., G.T.B., cert B.B.O gave up her tenancy.

Miss Starks is on the left

After Miss Starks departure the building became a home to various businesses including a couple of short-lived nightclubs until in 1978 Phil Andrews created Moles which has occupied the building ever since.

Today Phil is still involved with Moles in partnership with the DJ Tom Maddicott and has become nationally famous for promoting live bands. Moles also continues the connection with dance and dance music started by the Girouxs hosting dance acts and DJ’s such as Annie Mac, Simian Mobile Disco and Groove Armada.

So in 98 years we have moved from dancing at number 14 to White’s Nightingale quadrille to dancing to Groove Armada’s I See You Baby "shakin' that ass".


The Standard figures of Pantelon:

La chaine Anglais [rights and lefts]
Balancez a vos Dames [Balancez & turn partners]
Un tour de mains [Ladies Chain]
La chaine des Dames entiere [Half promenade]
Demie queue du chat [Half right and left]
Demie chaine Anglais
Contre partie pour les 4 autre [The same for the 4 others]

or to give a modern interpretation:

Head couples Chaine Anglaise
Head couples Balancez to partners, then right hand turn
Head couples Chaine des Dames

Head couples Promenade to change places, then half Chaine Anglaise back home
Repeat for the other couples in the set

The Giroux figures of Pantelon given in the Nightingale Quadrilles:

Les Dames en moulinet de la main droite, un demie tour, tour de main gauche avec les Caveliers de vis-a-vis, continuez la moulinet et tour le main avec leurs Cavaliers a leurs places [The Ladies half hands across with their right hand, turn the opposite gentleman with their left, continue the hands across and turn partners to place] 
La chaine des Dames entiere [Half promenade]
Figurez a droite [The opposite couples figure to the right]
Chassez ouvert formant deux lignes [Chassez ouvert forming the line top and bottom]
En avent, en arriere, reprenez vos Dames et a vos places [Advance and retire, turn Partners in places]
Contre partie pour les 4 autre [The same for the 4 others]

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