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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.
It's clear that these figures can be quite different to each other, but they all share the same basic name.
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:
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
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.
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.
Fishar's Allemande was used in one of his own c.1773 Cotillions called
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.
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 appeared in many dance choreographies from the mid 1770s onwards.
Aside: I've read an intriguing document called A Variety of English Country Dances for the present year, by Cards by Matthew Welch. This document isn't dated, though it does reference March 1767 on the cover - the date Welch opened his academy in London. This document features a country dance called The Chamberlain Election which includes an Allemande figure. The associated diagram indicates that the Allemande is a turn in which the partners cross arms, perhaps as in the Quadrille Allemande. If the 1767 date is taken as the date of publication, it predates the Irish Lilt example. Welch published dozens of adverts for his academy in the London press over a period of 25 years, and regularly boasted of having opened his academy back in 1767. I suspect that this interesting work dates to late 1776 or early 1777.
Early Allemandes in country dancing appear to require the same 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
At some point over the decades the prevailing use of the term
This makes things difficult for an interpreter of historic dance - we
don't know what the original choreographer intended
to be understood by the
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
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
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 he called Passe d'Allemande. His basic description is that of the Pirouette Allemande, but he adds an important additional detail:
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. It's unclear whether the term 'Allemande' has evolved to include Waltz turns, or whether the term is losing significance by this era.
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
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
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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