Most of us have a blinkered view of dancing in the eighteenth century: we think they walked around doing “Playford”. Wrong on several counts. They didn't walk; they danced, using a variety of steps, not just the ubiquitous skip-change step. Playford was dead and forgotten — they danced Country Dances published by John Young, Thompson, Walsh, Johnson, Welch, etc. But the Country Dances were not the important thing. They were done for fun at the end of an evening — the dancers letting their hair down, so to speak. Most of the dancing was performed by a single couple at a time while the others watched (and no doubt criticised). And the dance which was most highly thought of was the Minuet. It was known as the Queen of Dances, and was the dance for most of the eighteenth century. It was a social accomplishment of great importance: a lady or gentleman who couldn't display a passable minuet would be like someone today who couldn't use a telephone.
The minuet was considered the summit of grace, style and elegance, but if the refinement were taken a little too far it could easily turn into artifice and foppishness: the little mincing steps and overdone gestures were open to ridicule, and books of the period which explained how to dance the minuet warn the dancer to “take care of Affectation”.
The minuet wasn't a free-form dance like the later waltz, where you and your partner go where you like on the dance floor. There was a standard figure using a “Z” or “S” shape: the two dancers started at either end of the shape and moved along it, passing each other and finishing in each other's place, doing this a number of times. Before that was the formality of the gentleman approaching the lady, bowing, removing his hat, escorting her to her starting position, bowing to the audience, etc. All of this was laid down in enormous detail. As well as the standard minuet (which allowed some variation in the steps) there were figured minuets, devised by dancing masters of the day, where the dancers made various patterns as they moved. These were printed with the steps and floor patterns described in Feuillet notation. One of the best-known Dancing Masters was Pierre Rameau (not the composer) who wrote a book explaining how to dance the minuet, from which my description is taken: “The Dancing Master” (1725) translated into English by Cyril Beaumont in 1931. You can see the original French version here and the English translation by John Essex here with the Minuet description starting at page 43. Another book available on the Library of Congress site is The Art of Dancing by Kellom Tomlinson. He described four different ways of doing the minuet step, so I'll try not to be too dogmatic, but I'm just sticking to one. And as Anne Daye points out:
The phrasing of figures seems to be at the taste of the dancers: remember that there are other steps to be used, such as the contretemps, pas balance, 2 x fleurets, to cover ground or not.
Since the minuet was so popular, it surprises me that there weren't more country dances involving the minuet step; I've only found a few in the three volumes of The Dancing Master and one volume of Wright that I looked through. There are also some such as “The Marlborough” and “Drive the Monsieur from Flanders” which change rhythm to minuet part-way through. Perhaps people felt that the genteel refined step of the minuet didn't belong with the more boisterous style of the country dance.
Take a partner and face round the room in ballroom direction (man on the inside), inside hands joined. Just try a single on the right foot (Right, Close), followed by a double on the left foot (Left, Right, Left, Close). That's not difficult, is it? One minuet step takes two bars of music, and the “double” starts on the third beat of the first bar. Let's try going round the room, doing that to the music. Remember that every minuet step starts on the right foot.
But to make it a minuet step, instead of a Close you need a Sink — feet together, bend both knees (it doesn't have to be particularly deep) and don't actually put the closing foot on the ground — the toe should be up rather than pointing at the ground. This should also tell you which foot to use next — if your left foot isn't touching the ground it's pretty obvious that's the one to use! So it's Right, Sink; Left, Right, Left, Sink. Let's try it: if you get confused just go back to the previous version until you think you can risk sinking again. To be a little more technical, the first step of the single or double comes down onto a flat foot, whereas the second and third steps of the double are on the toes.
Let's put it into a dance, then we'll think more about the style. These dances are my interpretations from the originals of Young or Wright. Some I'm pretty sure about; some are modified because I can't make sense of the original, or to convert from the ubiquitous triple minor to duple minor or a three-couple set dance. We may even find that some don't work; it depends how many minuet steps you need to do a figure such as right-hand star or half figure eight.Dancing Master Volume 3, c. 1719: John Young.
Note: This dance must be done with the Minuet Step.
First all four Hands round the Minuet Step, and turn single . Then the other half round, and turn single : Then the first Couple cast off and turn Hands . Then lead through the third Couple and cast up :
No difficulties of interpretation here. The dance is triple minor, the threes doing absolutely nothing. This is true of a lot of dances of the period, not just minuets. I found one minuet where the twos and the threes both do nothing, except that the twos move up. I've converted Sabina to a three-couple set dance with each couple leading the figure twice, though I haven't altered the moves in any way. It seems natural to turn single to the left. The two-hand turn in two minuet steps may seem rushed while you're learning the step, but it really isn't. If you were doing it to a dance walk you would take 8 steps. One minuet step involves 4 walking steps, interrupted by two sinks, so you still have the 8 steps!
Format: 3 Couples longways
|A1:||Top two couples circle left half-way (2 minuet steps). Same four turn single left (2 minuet steps).|
|A2:||All that again.|
|B1:||Ones cast, twos lead up. Ones two-hand turn.|
|B2:||Ones lead down through the threes. Cast back up.|
|The second time through, the same ones repeat the dance with the bottom couple. The lead in B2 will be up through the couple above and cast down.|
I absolutely agree with your approach to teaching the steps: much as I do it. I suggest you don't emphasise the sink before the step as it tends to result in people emphasising it as an important movement. It functions exactly like the temps leve of the skip change, as you say. The key feature is the step itself. But gentle encouragement to step lightly on a quarter toe, initiated by the sink, then lower the heel ready for the next preparatory sink, would be productive.
Rameau mentions one version of the minuet step but says it is not so much used because it requires a very strong instep, so he devotes most of the description to an easier method, which he describes (in French) as:
…two demi-coupez, the first on the right foot and the second on the left foot, and two walks on the toes, one on the right and the other on the left, which is executed in the course of two measures of triple-time…Each demi-coupé takes two beats, each walk one beat, total 6 beats. The demi-coupé is a bend of both legs, followed by a step forward on a flat foot. I could quickly describe a minuet step as sink-step-sink-step-toe-toe. The minuet, like the rant, is very precise, made up of small movements; it's not a step for travelling long distances like the skip-change. And every minuet step starts on the right foot — even if you're moving to the left.
For some English Folk dancers the problem is that the step starts on the up-beat — the first sink is actually on beat 3 of the previous bar. In fact skip-change is the same: if you don't push upwards and forwards with the back foot on the up-beat you're doing a pas de bas. In a minuet it's a sink rather than a push, but the principle is the same. However, once you're moving I don't see any difference between thinking of the sink as the start of the step and thinking of it as the end of the step — they look exactly the same — so I can describe it as step-sink-step-toe-toe-sink.
The lady (says Rameau) should have her
head upright, shoulders back, which inlarges the breast, and gives a better grace to the body; the arms extended by the sides, (but remember she was wearing panniers)
so that the elbows touch the hips, but all naturally. Does he really mean “elbows touch the hips”, or does he just mean “elbows in line with hips”? Again there's the emphasis on looking natural, not artificial or affected. These days when people slouch and don't carry themselves properly it won't look natural, but that's our fault not Rameau's.
The two ist Cu. hands all four quite round . yn back again into their own places : then the ist Cu. cross over the 2d. Cu. and over the 3d. Cu. and turn behind the 3d. Cu. . then lead up thro' the 3d. Cu. and so thro' the 2d. Cu. and cast off into the 2d. Cu. place and turn :
Format: 3 Couples longways.
|A1:||(12 bars): Ones and twos circle left (6 minuet steps).|
|A2:||Circle right (6 minuet steps).|
|B1:||(20 bars): Ones cross, go below twos who move up (3 minuet steps), cross again, below threes who move up (3 minuet steps). Ones two-hand turn (4 minuet steps).|
|B2:||Ones lead up, others down outside and follow to invert set (4 minuet steps), ones cast to middle (2 minuet steps). All two-hand turn (4 minuet steps).|
|Reverse progression. Originally triple minor: the twos and threes would have taken no part in B2.|
Graham Knight has provided the following information:
Michael Christian Festing (29 November 1705 — 24 July 1752) was an English violinist and composer. His reputation is mostly as a violin virtuoso. He made his professional debut on 6 March 1723. Festing met a young Thomas Arne at the gallery of the Italian Opera . Upon befriending Festing, Arne became his pupil, studying violin for the first time and music composition. Festing, who was only four and a half years older, also broadened the young Arne's knowledge by taking him to numerous concerts, operas, and other performances. It is largely due to Festing's influence that Thomas's father allowed him to pursue a career in music instead of becoming a lawyer.
In the mid-1720s Festing began to compose music, firstly for the violin, but later works for orchestra, art songs, and a small amount of both sacred music and theatre music. The earliest mention of music composed by him is from a 1726 concert advertisement. That same year he helped found the Academy of Ancient Music, along with such composers as William Croft and Giovanni Bononcini, and participated in that group until 1731. Festing remained active in concerts throughout London, notably replacing James Moore as a member of the King's Musick on 4 November 1726. His position at court led to the performance of three sets of his minuets for the birthdays of King George II and Queen Caroline, each “perform'd at the Ball at Court” in 1734 and 1735. Festing also performed several solo concerts in London in 1729.
Festing became the director of the orchestra at the Italian opera house in 1737. The following year, along with Edward Purcell (eldest son of Henry Purcell), Thomas Arne, William Boyce, Johann Christoph Pepusch, and George Frideric Handel, he founded the Fund for the Support of Decay'd Musicians and their Families, later known as the Royal Society of Musicians; of which for many years he acted as honorary secretary.
In 1742 Festing was appointed musical director of the Ranelagh Gardens when they were first opened. While there he composed music for the entertainments in the pleasure garden and led the band there until his death in London in 1752.
Backwards: the step is the same, but all the steps are made backwards rather than forwards.
Let's try something that they probably never did with the minuet step: Up a double and back — two minuet steps forward, two backward.
To the Right: the right foot is moved sideways, the left sideways but not too close (second position). The left foot then goes behind the right both times in the double.
To the Left: it's the same steps and timing, it still starts with the right foot, and again the feet cross twice. The right foot goes in front of the left at the start of the single and behind the left in the middle of the double, as in a grapevine step. If you want it by positions: right crossed to fifth position in front, left closed to first position, right crossed to fifth position behind, left to second position.
Suppose you want to set and turn single. Playford describes a set (and it's about the only move he does describe) as a single to one side and a single to the other.
This is perhaps how Playford would have danced a set.
I know that we do it with more bounce, and Scottish dancers do it with a lot more bounce, but in essence it's a single in each direction.
I haven't found any books that explain how to fit country dance figures to the minuet step, so I've made assumptions. The minuet is a bit like a strathspey in that it's about half the speed of a normal jig or reel step; strathspey setting is again one step to the right and one to the left.
I will attempt to demonstrate 8 bars of strathspey setting.
My assumption is that a set in minuet time is one minuet step to the right and one to the left, but it seems there are other ways of setting. Anne Daye says:
Really it's the dancers' choice to convey the spirit of the movement. In the 1696 instructions for Mr Lane's Trumpet Minuet the instructions are 'set to the 2 wo. then fall back and turn S.' so the set bit could be done with 2 sideways minuet steps or, as I often do, one minuet step forwards and 2 balances, taking same amount of music.
and Valerie Webster (who was at the workshop in Lichfield and knows a lot more about minuets than I do) says that it can be one minuet step forwards and one backwards, which looks good and is easier for inexperienced dancers.
This is 8 bars of setting in minuet time.
Try Set and turn single. That's one step to the right, one step to the left, two steps rotating to the right.Dancing Master Volume 3, c. 1719: John Young. (Same instructions with different music)
Mr Lane's Trumpet-Minuet, to be Danc'd with the Minuet-Step.
The 1. Man sett to the 2. Wo. then fall back and turn S . The 1. Wo. sett to the 2. Man, then fall back and turn S : The 1. Man take the 2. Man by the Right-hand, and turn round till they come into their own Places again, then all four take Hands quite round, till they come into their own Places again ; then 1. Wo. take Right Hands with the 2. Wo. and turn her till she comes in to her own Place, and all four Hands round back again, till they come into their own Places ; then 1. Man take his partner and lead her into the 2. cu. Place. This to the second Strain played twice, and so far back as from the Repeat.
My thanks to Anne Daye for pointing out that I had ignored
and so far back as from the Repeat which means that after the second B you need to play the last four bars of the B again — there's a little “:S:” above this point in the music. So instead of rushing the circle right and throwing in the ones' lead down in the last bar, we can take the same amount of music as for the circle left and then the ones have four bars to meet and lead down as the twos move up the outside. For clarity I've notated this as the C-music.
Format: Longways duple.
|A1:||First man set forward to 2nd lady. Turn single to place.|
|A2:||First lady the same to second man.|
|B1:||(14 bars): Men right-hand turn (3 minuet steps). Circle left all the way (4 minuet steps).|
|B2:||Ladies right-hand turn (3 minuet steps). Circle right (4 minuet steps).|
|C:||Ones meet and lead down, twos move up the outside (2 minuet steps).|
Note : Each Strain is to be play'd twice over.
[ Note : This Dance must be done with the Minuet Step. ]
The two first men take Hands, and the two first women, and lead backward, the first couple cast off, and the second couple lead up. This to the first Strain play'd once. The first and second couple take Hands and meet each other, the second couple cast off and the first couple lead up. This to the first Strain play'd twice. The first couple cross over and turn Hands. This to the second Strain play'd once. Then lead up all abreast, and the first couple cast off. This to the second Strain play'd twice.
The above wording is for New Minuet. Trumpet Minuet has virtually the same wording, with underlined dots rather than references to the first and second strains, and the tune is one of Handel's minuets from the Water Music.
Format: Longways duple.
|A1:||Fall back with neighbour (2 minuet steps). Ones cast while twos move in and up, taking inside hand as they meet, then turn in to face down.|
|A2:||Lead partner towards neighbours. Twos move down the outside while ones lead up.|
|B1:||Ones cross and cast while twos meet and lead up (2 minuet steps). Ones two-hand turn half-way while twos cast to the ends of a line of four.|
|B2:||Lead up in line (2 minuet steps). Ones cast while twos move in to meet partner.|
My principle is that it you're already facing down or out you don't spin round if the instructions say “Cast”, you just go, so that's what I've said for the second half of A2 and that's also what I mean at the start of B1. As usual, the instructions don't mention the “inactive” couple moving up. If I find the whole set is shifting up I'll leave out the twos leading up in B1.Dancing Master Volume 3, c. 1719: John Young.
Note : Each Strain twice over.
First Hands all four quite round and cast off . Then Right and Left with the third Couple : Then the first Man turn the third Woman, and the first Woman with the second Man, and then his own Partner . Then the first Man turn the second Woman, and the first Woman the third Man, and then turn Partners :
Mrs Booth was a theatrical dancer of great distinction, and you can read about her here.
I'm not sure whether this one will work! If it weren't a minuet I'd be quite happy with the timing, but a minuet step is not designed for travelling quickly, so maybe the ones' first turn will need to be ¼ rather than 1¼. Does the final
and then turn Partners (in the plural) mean that everybody turns? That's unusual, but we'll try it!
Interestingly the wording is virtually identical to Draper's Maggot (even to the final “partners”) from the 13th Edition of 1706 — that's in 3-time but does not claim to be a minuet. The dance is interpreted by Douglas and Helen Kennedy in the Country Dance Book New Series, where they use two-hand turns, but I prefer alternating right- and left-hand turns.
Format: 4 couples longways, 3 working
I will use the RSCDS approach of three working couples in a four couple set, so that the dance goes eight times through and each couple has two turns of being active, then move down the outside to the bottom while the new ones are starting the next turn.
|A1:||Top two couples circle left (3 minuet steps), ones cast, twos move up (1 minuet step).|
|A2:||Four changes at the bottom (1 minuet step per change).|
|B1:||Ones with first corner, right-hand turn (2 minuet steps). Ones left-hand turn partner ¼ (or 1¼).|
|B2:||Ones with second corner, right-hand turn. All left-hand turn partner.|
You can see the original wording, my interpretation and a link to the music on my Interpretations page. The instructions don't say that it's all to be danced to a minuet step, but they start: “First Man dances the Minuet Step to the 2d Wo.” so it's a fair assumption. It also explains why there seems to be such a lot of music for the figures! So in this workshop we'll go back to the minuet step at the start (which I take to be setting) rather than the set and turn single I would use at a regular dance.Dancing Master Volume 2, c.1713: John Young.
Note: Each Strain must be play'd twice, and the Minuet Part must be done with the Minuet Step.
The 1st Man draw his partner into the 2d Cu. place, and the 2d Man put his Partner into the first Cu. place . The 1st Man draw his partner into the 3d Cu. place, and the 3d. Man put his Partner into the 2d Cu. place : The 1st Cu. being in the 1st Cu. place cast off, and the 3d Cu being in the 2. Cu place cast off at the same time; the 1st Cu. turn Hands up the middle into their own Places . The 1st Cu. go the half Figure and cross over : The 1st Man leads his Partner the Minuet Step behind the 2d Man into the 2d Cu. place . Turn her once round and cast up : Lead up all four abreadth, the 2d Cu. cast off round the 1st Cu. into their own Places, the first Cu. Sett and cast off :
Here's one which starts in reel time and then goes into minuet time. The original isn't too clear, and I'm assuming that it's a double dot after
Turn her once round and cast up. The music consists of A: 4 bars reel time, B: 6 bars reel time, C: 8 bars minuet time, D: 8 bars minuet time, and although I don't see any repeat marks in the music it's clear from the words that each section is repeated, though there's no underlined single dot in the final section.
The first section is a clear description of a half poussette, first man pulling, second man pushing. In these days of everything flowing we might well expect the second half poussette to start with the first man pushing, but that's not what it says. So the ones have got to the bottom of the minor set. But then it says,
The 1st Cu. being in the 1st Cu. place cast off which must surely be a mistake — It's the second couple who are now at the top. And indeed it then says what the third couple do and what the first couple do.
cast off at the same time means that the twos and threes cast individually down one place, rather than the twos casting as the threes lead up and follow them, so both couples finish in their original places as the ones do a two-hand turn moving up the middle to their original place. But this is the B-music which is 6 bars (12 walking steps) so how do we phrase that? I can't believe that the ones would wait for two bars before doing their turn; usually in triple minors the ones never stop moving — yes, there are exceptions but it's a good general rule! So the ones can take 12 steps for a leisurely turn up the middle. The twos and threes can do an 8 step cast and then wait for 4 beats, or wait for 4 beats and then do an 8 step cast; I don't think we can expect them to use up all 12 steps for the cast. Some unscrupulous interpreters might give them an 8 step cast followed by a turn single downwards, but that goes against the basic principle that a triple minor is all about the ones; the twos and threes are just there to join in figures which need them and otherwise get out of the ones' way, rather than doing a twiddle to say “look at me”!
The 1st Cu. go the half Figure and cross over and we know that “cross over” means “cross and cast”. That's a very standard move when it takes 8 bars, but can we fit it into 6 bars? Indeed we can, if we accept that in those days people danced rather than walking the figures. The ones have plenty of time at the end of their two-hand turn to be ready for this move — indeed the first man can hand his partner into it. And that makes for a dramatic change of pace as we switch to the minuet step.
We now have C1 of 8 bars — 4 minuet steps — for
The 1st Man leads his Partner the Minuet Step behind the 2d Man into the 2d Cu. place — but they're already in the second couple's place, with the twos above them. I take it that the ones face up, take inside hands, and the man draws his partner all the way round the twos and back to where they started the move. That's the ones saying “Look at me” — but they're allowed to, in fact expected to. In C2, the next 4 minuet steps, the ones two-hand turn once round and then cast up onto the ends of a line with the twos.
Assuming there should be an underlined dot after “places”, D1 is
Lead up all four abreadth, the 2d Cu. cast off round the 1st Cu. into their own Places. The line leads up two minuet steps (surely it wouldn't be just one) — but not very far, because the threes of the next minor set would be just above them. Then the twos (in the middle of the line) have two minuet steps to move up and cast round the ones to their original places, quite a long way from the ones. Would the ones move in to give them room? If they did, it would certainly be with a minuet step, not just an embarrassed shuffle. I'm not sure, and I'd need to try it with real people — which I will at Southam in August 2019. Finally in D2 the ones set to each other — one minuet step each way, or some acceptable substitute — and then cast into the twos' place, so the twos must move up into the ones' place at the same time.
Again I will use the RSCDS approach of three working couples in a four couple set, so that the dance goes eight times through and each couple has two turns of being active, then move down the outside to the bottom while the new ones are starting the next turn.
Format: 4 couples longways, 3 working
Music: 8 x Own tune (reel + minuet)
|A:||(Reel) Top two couples half poussette (first man pull). Same at bottom — first man pull again.|
|B1:||(6 bars): Top two couples cast (no overtaking) to original places (8 steps) ones slow two-hand turn up to place (12 steps).|
|B2:||Ones dance half figure eight down through twos (3 skip-change steps). Cross, go below them, twos lead up (3 skip-change steps).|
|C1:||(Minuet) Ones face up, inside hand, first man draw partner across, behind top man and round back to second place proper.|
|C2:||Ones two-hand turn, then cast up to the ends of a line with the twos.|
|D1:||Lead up two minuet steps; twos cast round ones to second place as ones meet.|
|D2:||Ones set. Ones cast to middle place, twos lead to top.|
If you want to know more about minuets and much other dancing from a historical perspective, I recommend that you contact the Historical Dance Society (formerly the Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society) at historicaldance.org.uk or the Early Dance Circle at earlydancecircle.co.uk.