Romantic Era (1850-1869)

Significant dances

Playford wrote the first record of a Quadrille in England in 1651. The French imported the form from the English. Early quadrilles were line dances, alternating men and women (or four couples) facing each other in a square. The pattern was refrain, figure, refrain, figure, etc. Originally, there were ten refrains; later, the refrains were eliminated and five figures were chosen. As the dance proliferated among upper classes in England and France and on the East Coast of the US around 1830, the complex steps from the earlier versions disappeared. In America, it eventually became the “square dance,” in which dance masters “called” the step patterns. The First Quadrille has five figures: Le Pantalon, L’Eté, La Poule, La Pastourelle, and La Finale. The very popular Lancers Quadrille also has five figures: Les Tiroirs, Les Lignes, Les Moulinets, Les Visits, and Les Lanciers. Quadrilles provide a mini-encyclopedia of fluid geometric patterns created for four couples.

The Grand March created the grand opening for balls during most of the 19th century. Dancers paraded around the room in simple formations for “as many as will.” It was an opportunity to see and be seen—to view prospective partners for the evening’s dances. A Dancing Master led the formations, allowing easy participation by all.

The Cotillon (Cotillion) derived from certain 18th century contradances for small groups in a square formation. The name comes from a word meaning “petticoat,” and complements a popular poem from the times: “My gossipy companion, how does my petticoat look when I dance? It goes like that, like the tail of the cat.”

The Waltz revolutionized ‘couple dances’ because it was a “closed dance” in which people danced “arm in arm.” Introduced in Germany at the end of the 18th century, waltz means” to roll” or “to turn” in German. The Waltz then traveled to France and England around 1812, and eventually to America. Not socially accepted when it first arrived in England, because of the couple’s close position, it was eventually the most popular and enduring 19th century couple dance. The couple holds each other close, and as a tight unit, swirls around the room in dizzying turns. The excitement of the Industrial Revolution (the turning of the steam engine) and the romanticism of the era are reflected in the music and dance of the Waltz.

The Polka, a folk dance from Bohemia traveled to France, then England, and finally America. The Polka reached a height of crazed popularity in 1840s Europe, and remained popular through the 1890s. The couple swirls around the ballroom, as in the Waltz; they are propelled with a simple chassé step and turning hop.

The Mazurka is a Polish folk dance from the province of Mosavia; like many 19th century couple dances, it then traveled to France and England by 1845, and lastly to America. The most virtuoso couple dance of the 19th century, its hops and strong steps retain their rustic origins, and the dance provides a medium for expression of male strength and virtuosity.

The Polka Mazurka combines the carefree jumping of the polka with the earthy hops of the Mazurka in an easy-to-dance variation that added gusto to 19th century ballrooms.

The Galop (Gallop) originated in France; H.M. Ball introduced it to England in 1929 at St. James Palace. This final form of the Quadrille likewise traveled to America. It is a simple, traveling couple dance where the man and woman simply chassé (slides sideward) down the ballroom. A most flirtatious dance, the Cotillion allows for much improvisation and switching of dance partners. In the German Cotillion, the master of ceremonies directed a series of musical dance games akin to parlor games, with exchanges of partners through chance and playful encounters.

Historical Context

  • France elects Louis Napoleon as president.
  • Czar Alexander II emancipates the serfs in Russia.
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels write the Communist Manifesto.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation is written.
  • In the US, the Civil War and the California Gold Rush occur.


  • Important literary works by Dickens, Browning, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Longfellow, Whitman, Twain, Thoreau, and Harriet Beecher were published.


  • Wagner, Verdi, Liszt, Schumann, Bizet composed significant works.
  • Swedish Opera singer Jenny Lind tours the US.

Visual arts:

  • Manet, Corot, Ingres, and Whistler produced famous works.


  • Darwin publishes Origin of the Species.
  • Pasteur presents his theory of germs.
  • Florence Nightingale introduces hygienic methods.
  • Isaac Singer invents the sewing machine.

Daily life:

  • Industrial Revolution begins.
  • Wells Fargo & Co. founded.
  • Pony Express provides mail service in the US.
  • The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Examiner are founded.
  • The New York Symphony holds its first public concert.
  • Baseball becomes popular in New York and Boston.
  • Factories replace cottage industries and home crafts.


Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

HOW TO DANCE THROUGH TIME, Volume I:  The Romance of Mid-19th Century Couple Dances: Waltz, Polka, Mazurka, Galop

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume I: 15th-19th Centuries: Quadrille, Cotillion

HOW TO DANCE THROUGH TIME, Volume VI. A 19th Century Ball: The Charm of Group Dances: Quadrille, Cotillion



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