In 1989 an original edition of the 'Ball-Room Companion' was seen in the window of an antiquarian book shop in central London. It was a very small double-sided uncut printer's proof, folded down from a single A2 sized sheet to about A7 size. It was very fragile, and unfortunately one side had been printed very lightly and the reverse very heavily. However with the use of an enlarging photo-copier and many bottles of white correcting fluid, it has been possible to rescue the text to this present re-published form.
Around the world, many museums and libraries have old ball programmes and/or formal dance-engagement cards dating from the early 19'th through to the early 20'th centuries. For example there is a superb collection in Auckland City Library in New Zealand, listing dances and partners from balls held at Government House in the 1800s (see photos below). Many of these were exquisitely printed, and from them the names of many of the popular contemporary dances have been confirmed. However finding an original printed copy of the instructions for these dances is now rare.
So popular were these dances in formal society, especially the quadrilles such as 'The Lancers,' that they quickly spread throughout most of Northern Europe, North America and Canada, and also to many other countries settled by migrants from Northern Europe such as to Australia, New Zealand, and even to the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad, etc.). These dances also quickly passed down through all levels of society and became absorbed into the traditional dance repertory of these countries. At the same time the styles of interpretation were imprinted with the characteristics of the respective cultures. These differing cultural styles meant that many local and regional variants of the same dances developed by means of the 'folk process.'
And so now-a-days the style of dancing these quadrilles - at least where they are still enjoyed - ranges from a formal and ballet-like French lilt to the lively 'stepped' or 'battered' Southern Irish sets, and from the frenetically 'walked' American squares to the energetic Scottish 'Eightsome Reel' and the pantomimic 'Moulin Dhu' or 'The Black Mill' (from North Uist in Scotland) . In Southern Ireland, and in the many of the communities of Irish extraction in both Quebec and Cape Breton, many of the quadrilles (or square sets) have an eight-bar phrase of music during which partners 'step-dance' to each other. In the Caribbean the figures are alternated between stiff and formal 'white colonial' style and the more flamboyant and exuberant hip-swaying 'black slave' style. In many cases, for example in England, the quadrilles have simply degenerated into single figures which have since become 'folk dances' in their own right, e.g. 'Cumberland Square Eight' and 'Westmoreland Square Eight.' Curiously neither the quadrilles nor country dances were never introduced into the Scottish Shetland Isles until the 1930s.
Many local variants of the quadrilles and other 19'th century dances existed throughout England up to the First World War, however these were largely ignored during the recent so-called 'folk dance' revivals and they have now been almost forgotten. Luckily one or two groups still perform some of the more interesting dances whose members display a few of the quadrille figures that were collected in the 1950's in the Westmoreland/Cumberland region. During these, 'clog steps' were executed by the more accomplished dancers, rather like the 'battering' in the Irish sets or the stepping in the Cape Breton sets.
Certainly in the U.S.A., Ireland and Australia the local variants of the quadrilles, and also many of the 'old-time' couple dances, are now being revived by historic dance enthusiasts. In October 1988 a full-scale Victorian Costumed Ball, based on research of Australian-style colonial dancing, was held at Cecil Sharp House to celebrate the Australian Bicentenary. Chris and Ellis Rogers of the 'Early Dance Circle' hold regular classes culminating in grand 'Victorian Costumed Balls' in and around the London area. And regular classes in the traditional Irish sets are held throughout Ireland and England. Indeed London has been called the traditional Irish set dance capital of the world!!
It is therefore hoped that the re-publication of "The Ball-Room Companion" will make a contribution to the revival of these 'old-time' dances and encourage more people to try them out. And it may not yet be too late to track down the old m.c.s and dance-band musicians in order to collect and record the local variants of such dances together with the tunes that were played for them.
Further information about quadrilles and other dances from the 19'th and 20'th centuries, the Irish set dance revival, and many local dance groups, etc., may be obtained from Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, London. This is the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society', the Folk Shop, and the Ralph Vaughan-Williams Memorial Library.
Bibliography and Notes:
(i) "Dancing" edited by Lilly Grove and published by the Badminton Library in 1895. This may be found in most large antiquarian book shops and is not expensive. It is particularly valuable in that it predates the formation of certain late 19'th and early 20'th century political organisations, religious movements, and/or dance societies who deliberately imposed their rigid interpretations and uniform styles onto so many of the old social dance traditions. This imposition effectively wiped out whatever remained of many of the more interesting local dances a few of which are only now beginning to be revived.
(ii) Local variants of many of the English and Scottish traditional social and step dances are kept alive by a few dance groups whose members have direct links with the original collectors of the dances. In particular a few local variants of figures from the quadrilles as collected in Westmoreland/Cumberland are regularly displayed during which the 'inactive' dancers performed 'clog-steps' whilst waiting for the 'active' dancers to finish executing a movement. Many of the dances in the various group's respective repertories have been described in "Traditional Dancing in Lakeland" published by the EFDSS, and "Traditional Dances of Scotland" published by Pan Books. Both of these are by Tom and Joan Flett, and both are in print.
(iii) "La Contredanse - A History of the Cotillion & Quadrille" by Mr. Guilcher and published in French by Mouton & Co., Paris, 1969.
(iv) "Grammar of the Art of Dancing" by F. A. Zorn, originally published in 1905 and republished by Dance Horizons, New York, USA, (date unknown).
(v) "Late 18'th & 19'th Century Ballroom Dances", which is vol. VII in the "Nonsuch Early Dance" series, edited by Peggy Dixon and published by Eglington Productions, Junella McKay, 97 Queensborough Gardens, Glasgow G12 9RY. The introduction and most of the extensive notes were written and compiled by Chris and Ellis Rogers, who have been instrumental in reviving these old social dances.
(vi) "Collector's Choice - of Old Time, New Vogue and Modern Ballroom Dances in Australia", volumes 1, 2 and 3 compiled by Peter Ellis, and published by The Victorian Folk Music Club Incorporated, Box 2025S, G.P.O., Melbourne 3001, Australia. These volumes are the result of extensive research and collecting of dances, music, and reminiscences of many m.c.s, band leaders, bands, musicians, and dancers in numerous communities throughout the State of Victoria.
(vii) "Set Dances of Ireland - Tradition & Evolution" by Larry Lynch and published by Seadna Books & Dal gCais Pub. of Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, Eire.
(viii) "I Never Played to Many Posh Dances - Scan Tester, Sussex Musician, 1887-1972" by Reg. Hall and published by Musical Traditions, 1990.
(xix) "The Story of Irish Dance" by Helen Brennan, (Brandon Books - ISBN 0863222447)
© Chris Brady, London, England, 1991.