How to cotillion dance

All about the Cotillion Dance

All about the Cotillion Dance | Hizon's Catering
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All about the Cotillion Dance

    Absolutely everything you need to know about this formal dance.

    What is it?

    Merriam-Webster defines cotillion as “an elaborate dance with frequent changing of partners carried out under the leadership of one couple at formal balls.” The social dance became popular in the 18th century in Europe and America as the grand finale to a celebration. Derived from the French word cotte (a short petticoat), female dancers would usually raise their ball gowns or dresses as they danced, therefore exposing their petticoats.

    Who is involved?

    In the olden times, the cotillion was danced by four couples forming a square. However, the number of couples has changed over the years. For debut parties, it is customary for the debutante to do the formal dance performance with her escort (not necessarily her boyfriend, but a male companion who is about her age) and exchange dancing partners with her chosen friends.

    How can I prepare for it?

    Cotillion dancing needs a lot of time and effort to be pulled off successfully. You need to choreograph a cotillion dance (or hire a professional to make a routine for you and train you and your friends to do it), practice the dance routine with your troupe (make sure everyone you get is aware of the dancing involved as well as the number of practices), matching suits and dresses (this would mean hiring a dressmaker to design and make similar long gowns for you and your friends), and a big space (a lot of moving around is done, so you need ample space depending on the number of couples). The dance can be broken down to a string of songs and dance styles (such as the waltz, jive, mambo, and more) so that couples can learn them by parts.

    Should I do it?

    It’s entirely up to you! But remember, this may be your one and only chance to perform this dance in your entire life. If you have the time and resources to do so, it would be a special surprise for your debut party guests. There are many cotillion dance routines found online, so take a moment to watch a few before you make a decision. Also, instead of a formal performance, you can choose to do a modern dance routine with just your gal pals (especially if you only have a limited number of guy friends). Just make sure your dance moves are suitable for the type of party you’re hosting.

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    The Fundamental Step of the Cotillon

    In his Le Repertoire des Bals of 1762 de La Cuisse set down the steps to be used in cotillons, although he did not explain how to perform them. One of these steps is:

    ‘Le Pas de Gavote ou Demi-Contretems … un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse; C’est enfin avec ce Pas que se font les Ronds, les Moulinets, les Courses, et prèsque toutes les figures des Contredanses. Chacun de ces Pas vaut une demie-mesure de Musique.

    So, the demi-contretems was much used in France when dancing cotillons. As the name, as well as de La Cuisse’s explanation, implies, there were two demi-contretems to each bar of music.

    Gallini made no mention of the demi-contretems among the steps in his A New Collection of Forty-four Cotillons. Perhaps this was a deliberate omission, for he writes ‘it is intended here to explain only those [steps] which are used in the following cotillons’. Gherardi included ‘Demi contre-tems d’un Pied et de l’autre’ within his list of ‘The Names of the French Country Dance Steps’ in his Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances published around 1767, repeated in his subsequent collections. Contrary to what I said in my post Dancing the Cotillon: Gherardi’s Steps, the dancing master did list some individual steps among the sequences. However, he did not explain how this, or any other, step should be performed. Hurst says nothing about steps and Siret also remains silent. Villeneuve’s list of steps does not include the demi-contretems.

    The demi-contretems is a step for travelling forwards in a variety of figures, as recommended by de La Cuisse. This is how it is recorded in the 1705 dance for four Le Cotillon. This is also how it has been used in those modern reconstructions of cotillons which I have danced. I don’t know why it was ignored by some of the dancing masters publishing in London – unless the cotillons in their collections hold the answer.

    In the dance manuals of the early 18th century, the first mention by name of the demi-contretems seems to be in Pierre Rameau’s Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode published around 1725. He includes notated versions of the step, with its name, in his table ‘Suitte des contretems’ (p.65) but he does not describe it. In Rameau’s Le Maître a danser it is not mentioned by name, but its manner of performance may be taken from the description of the contretems de gavotte (translation by John Essex, The Dancing-Master, p. 97):

    ‘To make one with the right Foot, the Body must be on the Left in the fourth Position, the Heel of the right behind up; then sink upon the Left, and rise upon it with a Spring; but at the same Time the right Leg, which was ready to go, moves forwards in the fourth Position and on the Toes, both Legs well extended; …’

    Instead of making the second step, to perform a contretems de gavotte, the dancer should transfer his or her weight onto the right foot to repeat the demi-contretems on the left.

    The instruction ‘rise upon it with a Spring’ (Rameau writes ‘se relever en sautant dessus’) has resulted in two different modes of execution by dancers today. One is simply a hop followed by a step (usually onto a flat foot). The other begins with a small spring onto the ball of the foot, much like a rélevé in classical ballet, followed by step onto the ball of the foot and a quick sink into plié. The latter is more difficult and travels less, but gives a pleasing vivacity and crispness to both the step and the figures in which it is used. The demi-contretems can also be performed with a pas rond, in which the working leg traces a small half circle in the air as it passes from back to front. This little embellishment suits the rococo elegance of the cotillon very well.

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    UKKST: Cotillion: dance-game

    The history of the cotillion as an independent dance begins at the beginning of the 19th century. It was at this time that all the balls were conquered by the waltz. They say that the name of this dance-game was invented by the French in honor of the beautiful half of humanity, because the word Cotillion can be translated from French as “skirt”. Cotillion originates from country dances, some of which allowed the choice of the first pairs of obligatory figures.

    Cotillion was loved back in the 20th century 19th century, and in the middle of the century it became the final chord of the ball. By the end of the 19th century, the cotillion with accessories became more popular.

    This dance included the movements of many dances - waltz, golop, polka. In the middle of the century, quadrille figures were inserted into the cotillion, performed between the figures of choice.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, cotillions were already considered old dances and appear less and less in the ballroom books of that period. There are several rules for the execution of a cotillon.

    1. It is necessary to decide on a permanent partner for the entire duration of the dance (and often the dance drags on for a very long time)

    2. The place (chairs on which a couple or a lady sits) is assigned to the dancers for the entire duration of the dance.

    3. The sequence of couples in the dance is preserved throughout its entire duration: if they started the dance second, then the dances of this sequence will be the whole cotillon.

    The order of the cotillion should be as follows:

    1. 1. Beforehand, before the start of the dance or at the beginning of the ball, a gentleman-manager is chosen, who chooses as his lady the one for whom the ball is given (most often the daughter of the owners or the birthday girl)

    2. The gentleman-manager and his lady become the first pair, and the order of the cotillion depends on them, because it is the gentleman-manager who proposes the figures, following their execution.

    3. If there were too many couples, then the society was divided into 2.3 or more groups of 12-25 couples, and an assistant to the gentleman-manager was appointed in each pair.

    We offer you several dance games. Over time, we will replenish this list with new and interesting interpretations of this dance.

    Kings and Queens

    4 gentlemen and 4 ladies approach the tray with cards laid out on it, each one chooses a card for himself. Whoever has the same king and queen, they dance the waltz or the next dance together

    Jolly cotillion

    At the head of the hall, a blindfolded cavalier sits on a chair. 1 gentleman and 1 lady approach him. The seated gentleman indicates with his hand the direction: to the right or to the left and goes to dance the waltz with the chosen partner: if there was a lady on the indicated side of the seated gentleman, the gentleman dances the waltz with the lady, but if the gentleman is in the indicated direction, then the waltz will be danced by 2 gentlemen in one pair. The remaining gentleman or lady, who has not been chosen, sits on a chair and closes his eyes, now 1 gentleman and 1 lady are approaching him or her.

    Ladies change

    Dance: waltz

    Beginning couples: in the original - two, but at modern balls it is more logical to offer dancing to all couples The couples dance the waltz, then open up and walk along the promenade. When two couples converge facing each other, the ladies move on to other gentlemen, new couples leave the meeting point with a waltz. All this is done without losing time.


    The first gentleman dances the waltz tour, leaves his partner and chooses two ladies in his left and right hand, his partner - two gentlemen. They stand in threes, the gentleman brings two ladies to the lady with the gentlemen. Everyone dances with the one who was opposite...

    Tour de dames

    Dance: polka

    Ladies run in pairs, gentlemen in threes and catch and surround, those gentlemen who have been chosen by the ladies dance, the remaining one joins other free gentlemen.

    Canals of Venice

    The dancers stand in 2 columns: column K and column D facing the opposite column.

    The first couple from the head of the hall meets in the center of the column, rotates 1 circle in place and D goes to the nearest K (next after "his") and gives him his right hand so that an "arch" is formed (then the hand should be given to each next gentleman without missing anyone). K passes under the hand of his D with his back and goes to the column of ladies, giving a hand to the extreme D (then the hand should be given to each next lady, without letting anyone through). D runs facing under the arm of his partner and to the next cavalier of the column of cavaliers. K again leaves under the arm of his lady with his back. The description is repeated with each next partner.

    As soon as the first pair is released, the new first pair to the head of the hall repeats everything done by the previous pair, performing transitions from line to line synchronously with the previous ones. During the whole game, the column slowly moves towards the head of the hall.

    Dance: polka, gallop
    beginning couples: one
    accessories: two ribbons 4 m long (if more than one couple starts, then two ribbons for each couple)
    The couple makes a circle in polka or gallop. After that, the gentleman invites three ladies, the lady - three gentlemen. The chosen ones are "harnessed" with a ribbon, and the first gentleman and lady become coachmen. The threes gallop around, then the ribbons are removed, the newly chosen cavaliers invite the newly chosen ladies, and the four couples make a polka or gallop circle around the hall.
    Source: Stukolkin L.P. Teacher and manager of ballroom dancing. SPb. 1890, Steward at balls: Warsaw. 1888. p.59-60

    Dance: polka
    beginning couples: one
    accessories: no
    The couple makes a polka circle. Then the gentleman invites four gentlemen, takes two by the arms, two by the arms (so that the resulting figure, when viewed from above, resembles a butterfly with four wings). The lady invites four ladies, and they become the same as the gentlemen. Fives begin to circle around each other in a polka rhythm until they come face to face. Then the gentlemen invite the ladies who are in front of them. Polka circle.
    Source: Ball manager: Warsaw. 1888

    Dance: any
    Beginning couples: all comers + one gentleman
    Accessories: none
    The figure is similar to a child's game of burners. Couples stand in a column, a lone gentleman - at the head of the column, with his back to the others. The last couple begins to bypass the column, trying to connect in front of a lone gentleman. Lonely seek to catch the lady, but has no right to look back. Which of the gentlemen caught the lady - he dances a circle with her. The rest takes the place of a lone gentleman.
    Source: Ball steward: 1888

    Dance: gallop
    Beginning couples: all comers
    Accessories: no
    Couples in a closed dance position stand in one line, at a distance of 1. 5-2 m from each arc. The first pair begins to gallop around everyone, depicting a zigzag of lightning: one gallop pas (4 glide) to the left, one pas to the right. When the pair reaches the tail of the column, the second pair begins to move, and so on. It is recommended that before the start of the figure, take up space in the floor of the hall long. If there are many who want to perform a figure, you can line up in two or three lines.
    Source: Ball manager : Warsaw. 1888.

    Railway bridge
    Dance: gallop
    Beginning couples: everyone
    Accessories: no
    All couples stand in two columns, gentlemen from the first couples of each column agree on whose column is first, whose is second. The columns begin to move towards each other at a gallop, the first column raises its arms in a "brook", the second one jumps through it. Then the columns meet again, but now the second column lifts the uki, and so on. Source: Steward at balls: 1888. pp.67-68

    Dance: any
    Beginners: all ladies and one gentleman
    Accessories: no
    Figure similar to the folk game "Kite". Ladies become a "train", holding each arc by the waist. The gentleman is trying to tear the last lady from the chain, she is trying to slip away from him, and the first lady is trying to interfere with the gentleman. If the gentleman succeeded, he dances with the lady in a circle, and the other gentleman starts hunting for the next lady. If in 2-3 minutes he could not do this, he gives way to the next gentleman.
    Source: De Colignard. Self-instruction manual for ballroom dancing. M. 1890. p. 189

    Dance of the Cotillions, Waltzes | Crystal Castle

    The history of the cotillon as an independent dance begins at the beginning of the 19th century, when all the balls were conquered by the waltz. The word Cotillion can be translated from French as “skirt”, and therefore many authors of the late 19th century claimed that this dance was invented by the French in honor of the beautiful half of humanity [1]. However, the word cotillon also meant a circular construction in country dances [2]. Apparently, it is from the country dances, in some of which the first pairs of obligatory figures were allowed to be chosen [3], that the cotillion originates.

    It is essentially a dance game. This basic essence of the cotillion has not changed over time, only the tastes of the public have changed regarding individual figures and dances, the movements of which were used in the cotillion [4].

    Cotillion has been loved since the 1920s. 19th century, and in the middle of the century it became the coda of the ball - the final performance of the participants in their favorite dances. By the end of the 19th century more popular was the cotillion with accessories [5].

    Cotillion combined the movements of all dances. The most popular were the waltz, gallop and polka (in the second half of 19in.). Not a single cotillion could do without them. In the middle of the century, quadrille figures were often inserted into the cotillion, performed between the figures of choice, so that the cotillion was sometimes even called the quadrille cotillion, but at the beginning of the 20th century it was already considered an old dance and was used much less often [6]. The attitude towards the mazurka was also ambiguous: some authors of dance manuals consider it the main dance of the cotillion and prescribe it to begin and end with the mazurka [7], others believe that the mazurka by its nature does not at all correspond to the cotillion and cannot be used in it [8].

    There were a great many figures in the cotillion. The most complete textbook that I was able to read included 125 figures [9], but I met references to a textbook containing 224 figures [10]. In general, the number of figures of the cotillion, as well as the waltz or the mazurka, was never strictly limited: there were as many of them as human imagination could create. Classifying figures is as difficult as counting. Only two types of division can be offered: a cotillion with accessories and a cotillon without accessories; and the division of figures into figures dominated by choice, figures dominated by play and purely dance-staged figures.

    Explanations are needed for the first systematization. There are figures (most often purely dance ones), for the performance of which no objects are needed. For some of the figures, objects that are always at hand are used - scarves, fans, chairs, glasses of champagne. Some of the figures require special dance training - the presence in the hall for the cotillion of wreaths, small bows and arrows, balloons, national costumes, ribbons. Some of this could be found at all times in shops, shops, peddlers' stalls. The rest was produced by firms that specialized in this [11]. These things are called accessories. They became especially popular at the end of 19- the beginning of the 20th century. It was believed that this diversifies the dance and makes the cotillion in one house different from the cotillion in another. In fact, a strong passion for accessories largely emasculated the spirit of the game, because it either reduced most of the figures to a banal direct, monotonous choice of partners for a figure, or assumed complex structures with various symbols, not always harmonious and well chosen [12]. Perhaps that is why the cotillion gradually faded into the background at the beginning of the 20th century, and then completely disappeared from the ballroom programs.

    The second systematization is even more conditional than the first. The fact is that the choice of a random partner to one degree or another is found in almost all the figures of the cotillion. But in terms of figures, choice is the only thing that makes up a figure. In other figures, the choice of a random partner occurs during the game, and the game is more interesting than the choice itself, and the choice as a result is made by just one pair. In the third case, as a rule, the couples who started the dance invite additional gentlemen and ladies, and after that all the couples participating in the figure, both beginning and randomly composed, perform the whole figure, creating complex patterns of the arrangement of couples. Some figures include both building elements and game elements.

    When performing a cotillion, one should not forget that this is not only a game, but also a dance, and quite a complicated one at that; and if at a ball it is offered for performance to an unprepared public, then such an attempt can easily fail. Another difficulty in using the cotillion at modern balls may be the psychological misunderstanding and rejection by the participants of the essence of the dance. Over the past hundred years, gender relations have changed a lot, and now the main idea of ​​​​the cotillon - the random choice of a partner in each figure - no longer excites the blood as much as it used to. In addition, the cotillion is a long dance (the same figure is repeated in it until all the couples have performed it), and if Pushkin's Olga "endless cotillion tormented like a heavy dream", then modern man, accustomed to active actions, the more he will feel uncomfortable in the conditions of a long (two hour) dance, most of which he will have to sit, waiting for his turn. These points, of course, need to be taken into account when preparing a cotillion. If these difficulties are overcome, the cotillon turns out to be a very interesting dance.

    Rules for the performance of the cotillion
    Before proceeding to the description of the sequence of the dance, I would like to note that several formal moments are very important for the cotillion, which in the 19th century. for the dancers were completely natural, but now little attention is paid to them (if any). This is who is whose constant partner for the entire duration of the dance and the place of each couple (the chairs on which they sit while waiting for their turn). The sequence of pairs is also important for the cotillion. So, if a couple starts the dance third, then in all the figures it will dance at number three.

    The order of the cotillion must be as follows. Before the start of the dance (and often a few days before the ball), a gentleman manager is elected or hired. Such a gentleman should choose as his lady the one for whom the ball is given - most often the birthday girl or the daughter of the owners. The gentleman manager and his lady become the first couple. It is from them that the order of the cotillion depends. The gentleman-manager offers figures for execution (sighting them from his lady), monitors the order of execution, drives those who hesitate, etc. If there are 24 couples or more at the ball, then the society can be divided into 2, 3, 4 or more groups according to 12-15 pairs in each. The first cavaliers of these groups (cavaliers of 13, 25, etc. pairs) become assistants to the cavalier-manager and monitor the execution of figures in their groups. But the sequence of figures for the whole society is set by the chief gentleman-manager.

    The beginning of the cotillion could be different. But the most common option was the following: all the couples in turn, starting from the first, did a waltz tour (or a mazurka promenade) around the entire hall. After that came the cotillon figures in random order, and after every two figures all the dancers performed a waltz or polka tour, a mazurka promenade, or one of the quadrille figures. After all the figures, the ending was danced. The variations of the endings were also different, but it always included all the dancing cotillons.

    There were general rules for the execution of figures. As a rule, the figure began with a waltz tour (polka tour, mazurka promenade), performed by a certain number of couples (no more than eight). This round was danced by couples No. 1-(8), according to their numbers. After that, the couples elected new dancers, as many as needed to perform the figure. The figure ended with a general dance of all those participating in it. Then it was repeated again, in the following pairs, for example, if pairs No. 1-3 started for the first time, then Nos. 4-6 in the second, Nos. 7-9 in the thirdand so on until all couples are soloists. However, about some figures, where 1-2 couples solo, and the figure requires a long performance, dance textbooks said that they were repeated only once or twice so as not to delay the dance.

    Cotillion figures

    General list

    12. Numeral 8 13. Deceived 14. Clapperboard 15. Battlefield 16. Threes 17. With fan 18. Initial greeting 19. Butterfly games 20. Weaving wreaths 21. Dreams of happiness 22. Gambling 23. Mutual favor 24. Pyramid 25. Glass of consolation 26. One of three 27. Poets 28. Change of ladies 29. Flowers 30. Transition 31.

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