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Paper 1

The Allemande Figure in English Regency Dancing

Contributed by Paul Cooper, Research Editor

The Allemande figure can be a challenge for interpreters of historic dance. It first appears in English dance sources around 1770, and remains a staple figure throughout the greater Regency era. In this post we'll look at the history of the Allemande figure, and offer advice about how to interpret it.

Figure 1. The Baroque Allemande Dance, Caldwell 1772. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Let's start by reviewing the contemporary instructions printed in England that define the Allemande figure. I've found written decriptions for five different figures.

  1. Giovanni Gallini, writing c.1772: “this figure is performed by interlacing your arms with your partner's in various ways”1. I'll refer to this variant as the Baroque Allemande.

  2. James Fishar, writing c.1773: each Gentleman takes the Right and Left Hands of the Ladies with theirs, the Right Hand above and the Left under, and then make them turn under both Arms, as a Figure Allemande. I'll refer to this two-handed over-head variant as Fishar's Allemande2.

  3. Several writers mention a single-handed figure losely described as a Pirouette. A c.1830 work attributed (probably incorrectly) to Thomas Wilson names this figure the Pas d'Allemande3 (I'll call it the Pirouette Allemande). It says: “The gentleman turns the lady under his arm”.

    This figure is also described by G.M.S. Chivers in his 1822 The Modern Dancing Master. Chivers writes that the Allemande is to turn the lady under the arm. It also appears in Wilson's c.1818 Quadrille Fan, where Pas d'Allemande is described as Gent passes the Lady under either arm. Wilson explains it further in the Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama, he says it's a movement of the arms, where the Gentleman takes either Hand of the Lady and passes her under his arm, on either side.

    This figure differs from the Fishar Allemande by the number of hands that are joined, but both involve an over-head turn.

    James Fishar writing c.1773 described a second Allemande variant: each Gentleman makes the Allemande with the Lady that stands upon the Left, with the Right Hand, and turn quite round. This description is vague, but it seems to be a variant of the Pirouette Allemande; it's one handed, but perhaps the man walks around the lady (or they turn around each other).

  4. Thomas Wilson, writing in 1808: “The Lady and Gentleman pass round each other, returning to their situations”4. I'll refer to this as the Back-to-Back Allemande. The partners don't hold hands in this variant. It's this figure that Wilson documents for use in English Country Dancing.

  5. Thomas Wilson, writing c.1818: The Allemande “is performed by the Lady and Gentleman, each crossing their hands behind them; the Gentleman with his right and left hands taking the right and left hands of the Lady, facing different ways, and moving round in a complete Circle”5. I'll follow Wilson's convention, and refer to this as the Quadrille Allemande. Wilson explains that this figure is different from the figure used in Country Dancing, and that the two should not be confused (See Figure 5).

    This figure was also described by an anonymous American writer known as Saltator in 1807. He says: put one hand behind and reach the other out sideways, turning both palms backwards matching another persons presented in like manner, and arms interweaving with them6

    This figure is similar to the Fishar Allemande, in that the couples join both hands; but the hands are joined at waist height, and the couples rotate around each other, shoulder to shoulder.

It's clear that these figures can be quite different to each other, but they all share the same basic name.

Figure 2. The Baroque Allemande Dance, Guillaume 1770.

The History of the Allemande

The Baroque Allemande Dance

The Allemande came to England through France. The figure derives from the earlier Allemande Dance, a Waltz like couple-dance with intricate passing figures. This dance is understood to have originated in Germany, but was perhaps best documented by French writers. The National Library of France have a beautiful copy of a 1770 book containing 12 illustrations of The Allemande Dance7. If you follow the link, you can browse the illustrations for yourself. You'll notice that they all involve an interweaving of arms. One of these images is reproduced in Figure 2.

Monsieur Gherardi published his Twelve new Allemandes and Twelve new Minuets in London in 1770 (The Public Advertiser, 16th March 1770). It included an essay on the Allemande dance, including the hint that it had first been danced in London in 1768: The satisfaction, which every one expressed, who saw the Allemande Dances two Years ago, gave me room to hope a diversion, so much in fashion throughout the major part of Europe, would, at last, take place in the public, and private Balls of this kingdom also. He went on to describe his own tuition for this dance, including the need for a light grip: the Gentleman and his Partner must never close their hands, or fingers; they must, on the contrary, keep them almost disengaged so as to turn easily, and the Troteuse, Sauteuse (Trotting and Leaping) and Boiteuse Allemande variants. He expressed particular concern for the clothing and hair of the dancers: the passes to be rejected, are such as, where the Body being half bent, the Man turns three or four times round, under his own and the Lady's Arms; a Position which, besides the indelicacy of it, subjects her to the almost inevitable necessity of spoiling her cloathes by the Powder and Pomatum in his Hair; not to mention the consequent disagreable discomposure of that material part of the dress of the Gentleman; giving his Head the same elegant appearence as if he had just popped it out of a Sack.

Gherardi explained that the Allemande dance was popular in Strasburg and Paris, and he hoped it would become popular in Britain. I've not located any British references to the Allemande dance prior to 1768, one of the earliest references described it as a new Dance called the Allemande (Oxford Journal, 10th December 1768). The Allemande dance appears to have arrived in England around the same time as the Cotillion dance.

The wonderful Print collection at Yale's Lewis Walpole Library includes a 1772 image of an English Allemande Dance8 (See Figure 1). It shows a travelling figure where the couple intertwine their raised arms. It's unclear whether Gallini's description of the Allemande figure is an explicit reference to the Baroque Allemande Dance, but his Allemande Cotillion9 contains a travelling figure similar to that depicted in the 1772 print. Gallini was a nobleman (by marriage), and was writing for an aristocratic audience; it's likely that he intended his Cotillion to use similar figures to those of the contemporaneous Allemande Dance.

The Allemande Dance was a direct precursor to the Waltz. Figure 3 shows a 1797 Cruickshank illustration called The Allemande that depicts an Allemande variant similar to the later Waltz imagery10, perhaps inspired by the Waltz dance that was beginning to gain popularity in England from around the start of the 19th Century.

Cotillion Allemandes

The Allemande figure, distinct from the Allemande Dance, featured in French figure dances before it arrived in England. It appeared in many Cotillons of the 1760s. De La Cuisse described the Allemande figure in his 1762 Le répertoire des bals as: “Les Allemandes sont des entrelas de deux figurans, lesquels ainsi enchaines tournent ensemblent”11. With a little assistance from Google Translate, I've rendered it in English as: “The Allemande involves two intertwined dancers, who are chained and turn together”. This description is a little vague; it's compatible with Fishar's Allemande, and also with the Quadrille Allemande.

Figure 3. The Allemande as a precursor to the Waltz, Cruickshank 1797.

Fishar's Allemande was used in one of his own c.1773 Cotillions called Les Religieuses; or, The Nuns. He also described a second Allemande in a cotillion called La Favorite; or, The Favourite; he wrote each Gentleman makes the Allemande with the Lady that stands upon the Left, with the Right Hand, and turn quite round. This single handed allemande is presumably a variation of the Pirouette Allemande figure.

The earliest reference I've found to the Allemande in an English publication is in Longman's Allemande Cotillion. Longman published a collection of French Cotillions in London in 1768 (Gazetteer & New Daily Advertiser, 27th October 1768). Longman's figure is described as: “The four Gentlemen give their right Hand to the next Lady & turn her under the Arm in making a whole round”12. This figure isn't explicitly named as an Allemande, but the clue is in the title of the dance. Longman's Allemande appears to be the Pirouette Allemande; it differs from Fishar's Allemande in that only one hand is held.

It seems that several different Allemande figures were in use for Cotillion dances of the early 1770s, but they all involve intertwining of arms, and turning - just like the Allemande Dance. Indeed, one might almost distinguish the Allemande Cotillion as being a different dance form from the regular Cotillions, some of the early publishers of Cotillions did so.

English Country Dancing

The Allemande's first English appearance may be in c.1767 Cotillions, but it rapidly moved from there to English Country Dancing. The earliest reference I've found to the Allemande in a Country Dance is in the figures associated with a 1769 dance called The Scotch Lilt13. The earlier English writers, Nicholas Dukes (1752) and the anonymous A.D. (1764), didn't mention the Allemande figure, despite seeking to catalogue the entirety of English Country Dancing of their eras. It is therefore probable that the Allemande figure arrived in Country Dancing in the late 1760's; it went on to appear in many Country Dance choreographies from the mid 1770s onwards.

Aside: an intriguing undated document exists called A Variety of English Country Dances for the present year, by Cards published by Matthew Welch; it includes a dance called The Chamberlain Election which includes an Allemande figure, the publication is usually dated to 1767 (the date at which his academy opened, as printed on the cover) and so it could represent an earlier first use of the Allemande. The associated diagrams indicate that the Allemande is a turn in which the partners cross arms, perhaps as in the Quadrille Allemande. Welch published dozens of adverts for his academy in the London press over a period of 25 years, in most of them he quoted the 1767 date at which it started, and no other date... the presence of that date on the cover is not therefore a convincing date of publication. I suspect that this interesting work dates to late 1776 or early 1777. Welch did advertise new books for sale in 1777 (Public Advertiser, 6th November 1777), with Music, Plans, and Explanations of the figures, the surviving work was almost certainly one of those advertised.
Figure 4. The Allemande in Wilson's Complete System of English Country Dancing, c.1816

Early Allemandes in country dancing appear to require some variant of the figures that were used in Cotillion dancing, and not the much simpler figure described by Thomas Wilson in 1808. For example, Skillern and Straight's 1775 Bevis Mount includes the instruction “Allemand half round to the right, cast up 1 couple; Allemand half round to the left, cast down 1 couple”14. Wilson's 1808 figure is a simple Back-to-Back or Dos-a-Dos; a half Dos-a-Dos doesn't make sense, so a Quadrille Allemande seems more reasonable. Another 1769 dance called The King of Denmark's Favourite from Thompson's Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1769 includes the instruction the first Man take his Partner with his left hand behind and turn her quite round, this could be a description of the Quadrille Allemande figure. Charles Metralcourt in his 1793 Country Dance Love a la Mode featured the figure the six allemande with right and left hands, which clearly wasn't Wilson's figure. Wilson himself wrote c.1818 that “It must be remembered, that the Quadrille Allemande, and the Allemande now used in Country Dancing, are different Figures.” (See Figure 5). I've emphasised the word 'now'. This word hints that other Allemande variants had formerly been used in Country Dancing, but that the modern (for Wilson) convention had changed. I've also seen the phrase Allemand over the head used in country dances of the 1770s (such as The Feathers, from the Thompson collection of Twenty Four Country Dances for 1776), and Allemand with right hand half round (such as in Ashley House, from the Cahusac collection of Twelve Country Dances for 1795) and Allemand once round (as in The Youthful Frolick from the Cahusac collection of Twelve Country Dances for 1797).

If we assume that Wilson's interpretation of Allemande was representative of the entire industry at his date, then at some point the prevailing use of the figure must have changed. The Back-to-Back was an established figure in English Country Dancing long before the arrival of the term Allemande, the anonymous A.D. writer defined the Back-to-Back in 1764 as “This is no more than the man and woman both moving forwards, then a little sideways to the right, and again straight backwards”15. Wilson's 1808 description of the Allemande is a little vague, he explained it further in c.181616 (see Figure 4). It's clear that Wilson considered the Country Dancing Allemande to be equivalent to the Back-to-Back figure described by A.D., though perhaps with an emphasis on curved movement. Wilson made this even more clear in c.1818 when he described the Back-to-Back Quadrille figure as: “The movement of this figure is the same as the "Allemande" in English Country Dancing”17. Perhaps social dancers found the interlocking of arms a little too complicated and routinely simplified the figure, or perhaps the speed at which the music was played became too fast to accomodate fancy turns. It's likely that any such change was gradual, and that the word Allemande will have implied different meanings at different assemblys and over time.

This makes things difficult for an interpreter of historic dance - we don't know what the original choreographer intended to be understood by the Allemande figure. We know to use Wilson's Back-to-Back Allemande in Wilson's own dances, but it's less clear for other sources. A 1775 dance like Bevis Mount may use a Quadrille Allemande, but what about an 1802 dance like the Duke of Kent's Waltz18? Most reconstructions use a Pirouette Allemande figure in this dance; there's no way to know how the original Cahusac publishers intended the figure to be understood, it may have been an over-head pirouette allemande (they explicitly used an allemande with right hand and left figure in an 1803 dance called The Turnpike Gate), or Wilson's Back-to-Back Allemande, or something else again. Their 1797 The New Forest appears to have featured two different types of Allemande within a single choreography.

It's likely that there were further allemande variations in use for country dancing. I've encountered two dances in Thompson's Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1787 that use the term Allemande in additional ways; a dance called The Royal Grove includes the instruction Lead up with allemande passes, and a dance called The Romp contains the instruction the 1st couple go round with the allemand till they come to their places again, the 2nd and 3rd couples follow. These figures seem to involve travelling, rather than a complex turn in place. I'd be surprised if further examples can't be found.

The Waltz entered English Ballrooms from the start of the 19th century (though country dances were danced in triple time well before that date). This dance developed elsewhere in Europe, but had its origins in the complex intertwining of arms from the earlier Allemande Dance. Wilson published several collections of Country Dance Waltzes from 1815, including his Le Sylphe collection for 181819. These dances featured complex Waltz turns that are distinct from the Back-to-Back Allemandes of his other Country Dances; some choreographies even feature the instruction to waltz allemande with your partner (e.g. the 1815 The Chaplet), and Waltz double Alleme (e.g. the 1815 Duke of Sussex's Waltz); it's unclear exactly what Wilson meant by these instructions.

All of which means that there is no single correct Allemande figure to use in historical Country Dancing. We can instead speak of trends, and refer to the probability of a particular style of Allemande being used at a particular date. It's likely that the Wilsonian style was prevalent in the early 19th century, but a broader repertoire of Allemandes was clearly in use in the preceeding decades.

Figure 5. The Allemande in Wilson's Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama, c.1818

Quadrille Dancing

The four couple Quadrille gained popularity in England in the 1810s. Wilson described two figures for use in Quadrilles, his Quadrille Allemande, and the Pirouette Allemande. As we've seen, both of these figures have their origin in the Cotillion dances of the 1770s.

The anonymous author of the 1818 Maître a Danser, a guide to Quadrille dancing, described a figure called Passe d'Allemande. This figure is effectively the Pirouette Allemande, but an important additional detail is added: Passe d'Allemande; there are a great many of them - The Allemande being a kind of dance which consists only in what is called 'Passe', but the most generally performed in Quadrilles is the above-mentioned.. This hints that early French Quadrilles are more likely to feature the Pirouette Allemande, and that later English Quadrilles are likely to feature the Quadrille Allemade, and that other Allemande variations may be introduced.

One especially popular Quadrille of 1816 was called Les Graces. It was included in Sets published by James Paine and Edward Payne, and an 1817 Set by John Duval. It included a distinctive figure referred to in some sources as an Allemande that's depicted in caricature here. This allemande was an over-the-head pirouette, involving three dancers.

Quadrilles of the 1830s may have introduced yet another new meaning to the Allemande. The 1834 Quadrille Allemande published in New York by Thomas Birch20 makes use of Waltz turns, perhaps as seen in the Country Dances of Thomas Wilson.

Our Policy for Allemande Figures

We here at RegencyDances.org generally avoid specifying the specific type of Allemande to use in a dance. We instead write “Allemande turn” or “Allemande turn Right and Left”. Most of our Allemande figures are animated as Quadrille Allemandes, but you're welcome to interpret them in other ways. It's quite possible that contemporary dancers would have been uncertain about the Allemande figure too; the same dance may have been performed in different ways from one town to the next, or from one year to the next.

Finally, if you're reading this and know about some clues that we've missed, please do get in touch. We'd love for further evidence to be found!


1. Gallini, c.1772, A New Collection of 44 Cotillons

2. Fishar, c.1773, Sixteen Cotillons, Sixteen Minuets, Twelve Allemands and Twelve Hornpipes

3. Wilson?, c.1830, The Fashionable Quadrille Preceptor

4. Wilson, 1808, An Analysis of Country Dancing

5. Wilson, c.1818, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama

6. Saltator, 1807, quoted by Ralph Page in The History of Square Dancing

7. Guillaume, 1770, Almanach dansant, ou positions et attitudes de l'allemande, avec un discours préliminaire sur l'origine et l'utilité de la danse

8. Caldwell, 1772, The Allemande Dance

9. Gallini, c.1772, Allemande Cotillion

10. Cruickshank, 1797, The Allemande

11. De La Cuisse, 1762, Le répertoire des bals

12. Longman, 1768 Allemande Cotillon

13. Skillern & Straight, 1769, The Scotch Lilt

14. Skillern & Straight, 1775, Bevis Mount

15. A.D. 1764 Country-Dancing made Plain and Easy

16. Wilson, c.1816, Complete System of English Country Dancing

17. Wilson, c.1818, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama

18. Cahusac, 1802, Duke of Kent's Waltz

19. Wilson, 1818, Le Sylphe

20. Birch, 1834, The Quadrille Allemande











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