The Art of Dancing Quadrilles


A quadrille is a type of dance for four couples, with each couple forming a single side of a square. It developed from the cotillon, an earlier form of square dance, and became popular in the French court of the early 19th century. It was then introduced to London society.

Le Maitre à Danser

This pamphlet is a manual for quadrille-dancing. The title and the French quotation on the title page gesture to the French origins of the dance. The fact that the manual is written by a ‘French Performer and Teacher’ therefore gives the work an air of authority.

The book consists of descriptions of different sequences of steps and diagrams of how to perform them (pp. 12–13), as well as ways in which these figures could be combined to produce different types of quadrille (p. 27). There is also a section containing relevant French vocabulary (pp. 24–25), and several pages of sheet music (pp. 34–35).

Quadrilles and Jane Austen

Jane Austen died in 1817 and spent the last few years of her life in ill-health, so it is unlikely she would have danced quadrilles, although she may have heard of them or even seen them. As a young woman, she danced cotillons and country dances, and we can assume that these are the kinds of dances that take place in her novels.

‘Quadrille’ in Austen’s novels refers to a card game for four players, in which each player would occupy one side of a square table. In Emma, Mrs Bates is described as so old that she is ‘almost past everything but tea and quadrille’ (ch. 3). In Pride and Prejudice, quadrille is a favourite game of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Full title:
Le Maitre à Danser, or the Art of Dancing Quadrilles
1818, London
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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