The Cotillion

The Cotillion is rarely seen in English ball-rooms, but on the Continent, especially in Italy, it is a great favorite. It occupies a somewhat similar position to our own Sir Roger de Coverley, being generally the concluding dance of the evening, in which every one joins. It can be prolonged at pleasure by the introduction of more figures, for it has no definite beginning or end. It is, in fact, more like a long game performed to the accompaniment of valse music than a dance.

We shall describe the Cotillion as we have seen it in the palaces of Italy, where it is danced with enthusiasm, and diversified by an innumerable variety of figures, only a few of which we can undertake to remember. It is never commenced till towards the close of the ball, at so advanced an hour that all the sober portion of the assembly have retired, and only the real lovers of dancing remain, who sometimes prolong this their favorite amusement till a late hour in the morning.

It is customary for gentlemen to select their partners for the Cotillion early in the evening, while the other dances are in progress; for, as it lasts so long a time, it is necessary to know beforehand how many ladies feel inclined to remain during its continuance.

A circle of chairs is arranged round the room, the centre being left clear; the spectators stand behind the chairs, so as not to interfere with the dancers. Each gentleman leads his partner to a seat, taking another beside her. To these same seats they return after every figure, it being the etiquette of the dance that no couple should appropriate any chairs but their own, taken at the commencement. When the dancers are arranged round the room, the orchestra strikes up the spirited music of the Cotillion, which consists of a long series of valse movements at the usual tempo of the Deux Temps. There are generally several leaders of the Cotillion, who decide upon the succession of the figures. If there are many couples dancing, one leader attends upon a group of six or eight couples, to ensure that all shall take part. We are aware of no fixed rule for the succession of the figures, which depends upon the caprice of the leaders. A good leader will invent new combinations, or diversify old figures; thus securing an almost endless variety. One of the most popular is the following:--

Several gentlemen assume the names of flowers or plants, such as the honeysuckle, woodbine, ivy, &c. A lady is then requested to name her favorite flower; and the fortunate swain who bears its name springs forward and waltzes off with her in triumph. It is usual to make one, or at most two, turns round the room, and then restore the lady to her own partner, who in the meantime has perhaps been the chosen one of another lady. All having regained their places, each gentleman waltzes with his own partner once round the room, or remains sitting by her side, as she may feel inclined.

Baskets filled with small bouquets are brought in. Each gentleman provides himself with a bouquet, and presents it to the lady with whom he wishes to valse.

Sometimes a light pole or staff is introduced, to the top of which are attached long streamers of different colored ribbons. A lady takes one of these to several of her fair companions in turn, each of whom chooses a ribbon, and, holding it firmly in her hand, follows the leading lady to the room. Here they are met by an equal number of gentlemen, likewise grouped around a leader who carries the pole, while each holds a streamer of his favorite color, or that which he imagines would be selected by the dame de ses pensees. The merry groups compare notes: those who possess streamers of the same color pair off in couples, and valse gaily round the room, returning to places as before.

Six or eight ladies and the same number of gentlemen form in two lines, facing each other. The leading lady throws a soft worsted ball of bright colors at the gentleman with whom she wishes to dance. He catches it, throws it back to the fair group, and waltzes off with his partner. Whoever catches the returning ball, has the right to throw next; and the same ceremony is repeated until all have chosen their partners, with whom they valse round the room, returning to places as usual. Sometimes a handkerchief is substituted for the ball; but the latter is better, being more easily thrown and caught.

Six or eight chairs are placed in a circle, the backs turned inwards.  Ladies seat themselves in the chairs, gentlemen move slowly round in front of them. Each lady throws her handkerchief or bouquet at the gentleman with whom she wishes to dance as he passes before her. Valse round as usual and return to places.

Sometimes a gentleman is blindfolded, and placed in a chair. Two ladies take a seat on either side of him; and he is bound to make his selection without seeing the face of his partner. Having done so, he pulls the covering from his eyes, and waltzes off with her. It is a curious circumstance that mistakes seldom occur, the gentleman being generally sufficiently clairvoyant to secure the partner he desires.

We have here described a few of the most striking figures of the Cotillion. We might multiply them to an extent which would equally tax the patience of our readers and our own powers of remembrance; but we forbear. Enough has been told to show the graceful, coquettish character of the dance, which adapts itself admirably to the Italian nature, and is as much beloved by them as the Valse by the Germans or the Cachucha by the dark-eyed maidens of Spain. We should rejoice to see this charming stranger naturalized in English ball-rooms. It is especially adapted to sociable gatherings, where most of the guests are friends or acquaintances.


This is taken from Routledge's Manual of Etiquette.





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