Late 17th century & 18th century (circa 1685-1769)

Significant dances

The Minuet developed in this time period, having originated from the Branle de Poiteau of the French provinces. The name “Minuet” first appears in records beginning in 1664. Pierre Beauchamp, the king’s dancing master, codified the well-known, standard steps with his arrangements in 1725. It was the most popular social dance of the courts during the first third of the 18th century. Its delicate baroque dance steps and spatial pattern mark this flirtatious interlude: a man and woman start holding “proper” hands (his right hand holds her left hand); they retreat in order to touch right hands and quickly change to touch left hands; they again retreat and return to meet face to face, and finally, hold both hands.

The famous, recognizable Contredance (also “Contredanse” or “Contra dance”) is a patterned folk dance. It was first recorded in England and was exported to France in the 1680s. It is called “contre” for its signature formation: a line of female dancers faces a line of male dancers. One “active” couple at a time dances down the line, relating to each member of the group, via a simple dance combination. As the active couple moves down the line, a new “active” couple emerges at the top of the line. Eventually every person has a turn as the “active” dancer. In England, it became known as the “country dance,” as each active couple dances with everyone in the group, i.e., the entire country town. It became a popular last dance at French courtiers balls, as it was a carefree respite from the more intricate French court dances. It originated in French courts at the end of 17th century; its popularity grew during the 18th century, and the form is still practiced today.

The Folies d’Espagne started as a popular dance tune from Portugal with a 3/4 time signature, featuring improvisational flourishes for both musicians and dancers. The melodious tune provides a rich platform for highly expressive variations. Composers who created their own versions include Lully, d’Anglebert, Marais, Couperin, and Corelli. The temperaments of its many interpretations run from pensive and slow to vibrant and fast. With much staying power, it developed within the 17th century baroque style dances during the sophisticated era of King Louis XIV.

The Allemande is a kaleidoscope of complicated handholds between a man and woman. It was recorded by the Ballet Master of the French court, Guillaume, in 1769 and become popular in France in the late 18th century. The first of 12 handholds are in the form of the Minuet: the use of proper hands (the man’s right hand holds the lady’s left hand). Then there are a plethora of intricate handholds that is similar to the 20th century “swing”. The final handhold heralded the revolutionary hold of the waltz: the couple moves face to face, with an arm-in-arm embrace. The Allemande’s rhythm, steps and embrace set the foundation for the Waltz, which became popular at the beginning of the 19th century.

Historical context

  • The last of the Medicis dies.
  • The War of Spanish Succession occurs.
  • Peace of Utrecht (1713-1754) begins a European peace and ends the War of Spanish Succession.
  • Frederick the Great is King of Prussia.
  • Thirteen American Colonies are established. New England Puritans hold town hall meetings for law making; regular postal service begins between New England and London.


  • Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope produce important works related to the Enlightenment.
  • Benjamin Franklin publishes yearly the Poor Richards Almanac.


  • Bach, Handel, Corelli, and Rameau compose famous, Baroque pieces.
  • The pianoforte was invented.
  • The school of dance was founded at the Paris Opera.

Visual arts:

  • Watteau and Tiepolo produce significant works, and the Rococo period begins.


  • Isaac Newton develops his laws in the field of physics, astronomy, etc.

Daily life:

  • Cricket and horse racing are popular English sports.
  • Latin languages are abolished in English courts.
  • A London theatrical company performs for the first time in New York.
  • The Daily Current becomes the first daily paper in London; the first viable American newspaper, the Boston Newsletter, is founded.
  • Carriage springs are invented.

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume I: 15th-19th Centuries: Minuet, Contredance, Folies d’Espagne

HOW TO DANCE THROUGH TIME, Volume IV: The Elegance of Baroque Social Dance: Minuet, Contredance, Allemande

THE ART OF BAROQUE DANCE: Folies d’Espagne from Page to Stage: Folies d’Espagne

BAROQUE DANCE UNMASKED: Workshop to Performance

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