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date: 12 November 2019


  • Pauline Norton


Social dance of 18th-century French origin (cotillon). The dance became popular in the United States in the 1790s at the time of the large French immigration to this country following the French and Haitian revolutions. The anglicized name of the dance, “cotillion,” appeared in American references to the dance throughout the 19th century. Initially, the American cotillion was danced in squares of four couples and, like the quadrille and country-dances, it involved geometric patterns and figures. The dance consisted of two parts, which alternated in the manner of verse and chorus: the “change” (which was the same for all cotillions) and the “figure” (which was unique to the particular cotillion). Each cotillion consisted of ten changes and one figure, and the entire dance could be repeated from seven to 14 times.

Music for the cotillion was generally arranged from existing tunes in 2/4 or 6/8, consisting of two to four strains, each eight bars in length and repeated. The basic walking step of the dance was often elaborated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to display a dancer’s skill and agility. The tempo for the cotillion was about 120, like that of the quadrille, and in fact the term “cotillion” was often used to refer to the quadrille in the middle of the century. Jigs and reels (e.g. ...

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