Quadrilles – Research in action

Dancing quadrilles through a rainy Sunday afternoon seemed like a good ploy and the class run by Frank McConnell and Sheila McCutcheon was great for trying out research in action.  The Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile was ours for the afternoon and we started with a bit of history. The name? Earlier generations have had educated groups of people for whom foreign and previous languages were no barrier. So, quadrilles is a result of Latin and French influence.


Mix in four couples, a square set and travelling dancing masters who either were French or had visited Paris to learn the figures, or patterns, of the various dances and there you go…

Now, we were learning South Uist quadrilles and then, from Sheila, The Lancers which contained a Cotillion figure. The afternoon rounded off on a quadrille choreographed by Frank.

Each dance comprised a few figures, but some were historically not performed on, for example, Eriskay. Why? Well, Eriskay didn’t have a hall big enough to send two couples dancing round the outside of the set. In fact, most of the island figures were practised in small, small spaces which may explain the shuffle-type steps and the ‘basket’ birls. ‘Swing your partner’ took on a whole new meaning as the afternoon progressed. As a person who avoids the Gay Gordons in case the birling makes me fall over, I was doing elbow turns and basket turns and turns in ballroom hold. Young ladies dancing The Lancers through a long night, must have been made of stern stuff.

And for me, that was the icing on the cake: discovering the qualities a dancer of the time needed. Looking at the opening plate for The Lottery dance in the Georgians Revealed exhibition is mesmerising, but really difficult to turn into a mental picture of dashing rakes and beautiful maidens. Actually performing the figures and listening to music provided by Fin Moore on his pipes, brought it much more into focus.

Research need not be waist expanding, it could be a little waist trimming.

Scottish Storytelling Centre

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4 thoughts on “Quadrilles – Research in action

  1. Anne, I recall learning a country dance called Haste to the Wedding when I was at school and it was the only one that had just three couples that we performed. I wonder if the space issue was the reason this dance was devised.
    There is nothing like hands on ( or in this case feet on) experience for getting a feel for things is there.


    • Hi Ann, no nothing at all, but I hope I never want to write anything medical or veterinary! Scottish country dancing has several 3-couple dances. Dashing White Sergeant actually needs the hall as it’s a progressive dance, but otherwise, it might be to do with space. Anne


    • Hi Rosemary, it was good fun, although I was exhausted and needed a quiet hour to recover. More research needed, though. Not convinced all the birling would have been acceptable m/f behaviour at that time. Anne


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