Sunday 11 February 2024

Another Dancer Sparks a Riot

 The theatres of the eighteenth century often suffered from audience riots, and popular dancers failing to appear was often the trigger event.

An example is recounted in the 'Life of Mr James Quin', [1] Quin was a well-known actor-manager who retired to Bath.

"A new pantomime brought out at Drury Inne Theatre, which was to end with a grand dance; Madam Chateauneuf, the head dancer at that time was to have been the principal performer; but she being taken ill, the dance was necessarily set aside, though the managers published her name three successive nights, without making any apology for the omission.  The first night the audience remained pretty quict: the second, they only hissed; but on the third night, they ushered out the ladies and began demolishing the house. The first motion that was made, and by a noble marquis, was to fire it, but that being carried in the negative, they began with the orchestra, broke the harpsichord and bass viols, together with the looking glasses, scenes and chandeliers, pulled up the benches in the pit, broke down the boxes, and even the royal arms."

Madam Chateauneuf was born in France on 15 April. 1721 and was orphaned while very young. She was adopted and brought up by. a dancer named Chateauneuf, who later married her.

She first appeared in London under the name "Mlle" Chateauneuf, dancing in the French company managed by Francisque Moylin, which played at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket about 116 times from 26 October 1734 through 3 June 1735. How many times did Mlle Chateauneuf dance that season is not recorded

1. Quin, James. The Life of Mr. James Quin, Comedian, with the History of the Stage from His Commencing Actor to His Retreat to Bath Illustrated with Many Curious and Interesting Anecdotes of Several Persons of Distinction, Literature and Gallantry. To Which Is Added a Supplement of Original Facts and Anecdotes Arranged from Authentic Sources Together with His Trial for the Murder of Mr. Bowen. London: Reader, 1887. Print.

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Proper positioning for dancing or conversing

TOMLINSON, Kellom (ca 1690-1753). The Art of Dancing Explained by Reading and Figures 1735

"Let us, therefore, to draw nearer to the Subject in hand, inquire into the Nature of those Positions that must be observed, in order to attain this sine [sic] and becoming Presence: And that our Readers may be furnished with proper Directions to arrive at the fame, tho' perhaps, our Rules may not be so perfect as could have been wished, we flatter ourselves they will be of no small Use and Advantage; wherefore, without farther Apology, I shall enter upon the Description of Possum in general.

Position, then, is the different Placing or Setting our Feet on the Floor, whether in Conversation or Dancing; and those for Conversation, or when we stand in Company, are when the Weight rests as much on one Foot as the other, the Feet being considerably separated or open, the Knees straight [sic], the Hands placed by the Side in a genteel Fall or natural Bend of the Wrists, and being in an agreeable Fashion or Shape about the Joint or Bend of the Hip, with the Head gracefully turning to the Right or Left, which compleats [sic] a most Heroic Posture; and, tho' it may be improper, in the Presence of Superiors, among Familiars, it is a bold and graceful Attitude, called the Second Positions: Or, when the Heel of the right or left Foot is inclosed or placed, without Weight, before the Ancle [sic] of that Foot by which the Poise is supported, the Hands being put between the Folds or Flaps of the Coat, or Waiste-coat [sic] , if the Coat is unbuttoned, with a natural and easy Fall of the Arms from the Shoulders, this produces a very modest and agreeable Posture, named the Third Position inclosed [sic] Or, if the inclosed [sic] Foot be moved open from the other, sideways, to the Right or Left, about the Distance of half a Foot, or as far as, in setting it down to the Floor, the Weight of the Body resting on the contrary Foot is not disordered by it, with the Toes handsomely turning out, the Hat under one Arm, and the other in some agreeable Action, the Head also turning a little from the Foot on which the Poise rests, this we stile the Fourth Position open, and it may be very justly esteemed a most genteel and becoming Posture."

“The Positions, from which Dancing dates its Original, consist of five Principles: As, first, when the Toes turning outwards, the two Heels are equally placed together. Secondly, when both Heels are ”
confidently separated or open. Thirdly, when the Poise rests upon one Foot, the other being inclosed or placed before the Ancle of that Foot by which the Weight is supported. Fourthly, when the inclosed Foot is advanced upon a right line, about the Length of a Step in Walking. And, Fifthly, when, the Heel of the advanced Foot is so crossed and placed before the Toe of that Foot on which the Body rests, as that the Turning may be made, and yet one Foot not. in the lead, interrupt the other. 

Wednesday 6 September 2023

France in an Uproar

Published by Cahusac in 1790 [1]

Since 1789, France had indeed been in an uproar as the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille.

1. Twelve Country Dances, with their basses, for the year. 1790: with proper directions to each dance.
  • London : T. Cahusac, [1790]

Saturday 24 June 2023

Round Top and Bottom Couples

This diagram is taken from Thomas Wilson's "English Country Dancing", published in 1820.

Wilson describes this as one of the many "new" figures he is introducing to country dancing.

Sunday 14 May 2023


Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 19 September 1765

'Ther will be a ball as usual at Mr Simpson's Rooms on Monday next, being the anniversary of their Majestyies [sic] Coronation; subscribers of which are taken in at both Rooms No Ladies to be admitted to dance a minuet, without a lappetted head and full dress hoop; and such minuet dancers as chuse [sic] to dance country-dances must be attended by a woman servant to put the hoops off, as no hoops (be their size large or small) are allowed in country dances.'

The sheer size of hoops made them a problem when moving around, and carriages and doorways had to be modified; even then, women often had to enter rooms sideways; small rails were put in place around tables to stem the risk of small objects being swept off the top by entrant hooped skirts. For this reason, they were increasingly not permitted in country dances which at the Assemblies meant large numbers dancing in close proximity. At one court ball in 1780, the ladies were said to have worn such large hoops that they took up as much room as four people[1]. Mr Neal, the treasurer of the Charitable Musical Society of Dublin, made it a proviso for attendees at his new music hall that women remove the hoops from their skirts and men remove their swords so that 700 people could be squashed in.

  1. Peg Plunkett: Memoirs of a Whore by Julie Peakman

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Two Dances from 1795

Published by Cahusacs: Thomas Cahusac, Sr., and his two sons Thomas, Jr., and William Maurice were instrument makers in London during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Sunday 6 November 2022

Racing Women

In 1748, the Bath Journal of August 8th:

‘Advertisement, the following ASSES were entered to run on the Town-Common Thursday last; the Names they were enter’d by were, Merry Pintle, Spanking, Roger, Morecock, Turpin, Mouse, Perrdy, Spider, Picksey, Pug, Jan Parsons, Roger &c. They were rode by Boys, and the Plate was won by Jackey Skares’ Ass Merry Pintle - There were Six Thousand Persons on the course, and some of Distinction who came many miles to see the Sport - a Smock and Hat were run for at the same Time by Girls.’

There are a couple of things of interest here; firstly, how popular ass racing was and how well-known many of the asses were. The second is that it is an early Bath reference to the popular Georgian sport of smock racing. It probably also tells you something about contemporary attitudes toward working-class women: the Asses were the main attraction and were named.

Another advert for a similar event featuring asses and girls provides further information. The Smock race would consist of three heats; the winner would get the smock, the second would get the hat, and the third would get half a crown, which gives some idea of the considerable value of the clothing. Women who wished to compete were required to report to the Common-house by 3 p.m. on the day. The asses won a guinea for first, 5 shillings for second and half a crown for third. 

Smocks or shifts were the essential all-purpose undergarment for Georgian women worn beneath stays and gowns during the day and often also in bed at night. The smocks offered as prizes were usually made of high-quality linen and often trimmed with lace and ribbons. The prize smock was often displayed hanging from a nearby flag pole or tree branch. 

Rowlandson 1811

Smock races were popular entertainment throughout the Georgian period partly because they served the almost insatiable demand for opportunities for gambling but also, and perhaps primarily, because they allowed opportunities for the male spectators to see young women wearing loose clothing, which often became disarranged and flushed from physical exertion. This is amply illustrated in the above Rowlandson print.

From all the reports and the many prints, competition among the often desperately poor women was fierce. There do not seem to have been any actual rules, and the women freely tripped and barged over their rivals, often knocking them into the dust. The more violent the race became, the more audiences would roar their approval and acclaim the eventual victor would receive.

Smock races took place in various locations around Bath throughout the eighteenth century, including the Parades and Lansdown and were a feature of many fairs.