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For other uses, see Quadrille (disambiguation).

Quadrille is a historic dance performed by four couples in a rectangular formation, and a precursor to traditional square dancing. It is also a style of music. A derivative found in the Francophone Lesser Antilles is known in the local Creole as kwadril.

Dance engagements card for 11 January 1887, published by M W & Co Ltd (Marcus Ward & Co) 184 x 95mm (7¼ x 3¾in) (inside this dance engagements card is a list of all the dances for the evening - valse, polka, lancers and quadrille; opposite each dance is a space to record the name of the partner for that dance)

It is fashionable late 18th- and 19th-century for four couples in square formation. Imported by English aristocrats in 1815 from elite Parisian ballrooms, it consisted of four, or sometimes five, contredanses. The quadrille was frequently danced to a medley of opera melodies. The lancers, a variation of the quadrille, became popular in the late 1800s and was still danced in the 20th century in folk-dance clubs.


The term quadrille came to exist in the 17th century, within military parades, in which four horsemen and their mounts performed special square-shaped formations or figures. The word quadrille is probably derived from the Italian word quadriglia (Italian diminutive of quadra, meaning small square from Latin quadrus, quadra, quadratus meaning square, block or square section, squared or square-shaped, respectively).

From paired horses to paired dancers[edit]

The L’été figure of the quadrille, early 1820s

This performance became very popular, which led people to perform a quadrille without horses. In the 18th Century (estimated around 1740) the quadrille evolved more and more in an intricate dance, with its foundation in dances like cotillions. It was introduced in France around 1760, and later in England around 1808 by a woman known as Miss Berry. It was introduced to the Duke of Devonshire and made fashionable by 1813. In the following years it was taught to the upper classes, and around 1816 many people could dance a quadrille.

The quadrille (in French quadrille de contredanses) was now a lively dance with four couples, arranged in the shape of a square, with each couple facing the center of that square. One pair was called the head couple, the other pairs the side couples. A dance figure was often performed first by the head couple, and then repeated by the side couples. In the original French version only two couples were used, but two more couples were eventually added to form the sides of a square. The couples in each corner of the square took turns, in performing the dance, where one couple danced, and the other couples rested.

Terms used in the quadrille are mostly the same as those in ballet. Dance figures have names such as jeté, chassé, croisé, plié, arabesque, and so on.

Dances within dances[edit]

"Accidents in Quadrille Dancing", 1817 caricature

As the quadrille became even more popular in the 19th century, it evolved into forms that used elements of the waltz, including Caledonians, Lancer, Ländler, Deutscher, and so on. When the quadrille became known in Germany and Austria, the dance composers from that time (Josef Lanner and the Strauss Family) also took part in the hysteria of the quadrille.

Where the music was new with every quadrille composed, the names of the five parts (or figures) remained the same. And if it were performed with dancers – audiences also preferred to listen to the dance alone, and not dance to it – the way of dancing to the parts remained (mostly) the same too. The parts[1] were called:

  1. Le Pantalon (a pair of trousers)
  2. L’été (summer)
  3. La Poule (hen)
  4. La Pastourelle (shepherd girl)
  5. Finale

All the parts were popular dances and songs from that time (19th century). Le Pantalon was a popular song, where the second and third part were popular dances. La Pastourelle was a well-known ballad by the cornet player Collinet. The finale was very lively.

Sometimes La Pastourelle was replaced by another figure, La Trénis. This was a figure made by the dance master Trenitz. In the Viennese version of the quadrille, both figures were used, where La Trénis (it was translated into French) became the fourth part, and La Pastourelle the fifth part, making a total of six parts for the Viennese quadrille.

The quadrille was also danced in the United States. In the early part of the nineteenth century "complicated steps and patterns such as pigeon-winging – a showy maneuver involving, in part, jumping into the air and striking both legs together – and jigging at the corners" were part of the dance. Those fancy steps had by mid-century for the most part been replaced by simple walking steps.[2]

The quadrille - music analysis[edit]

Quadrille (sample)

Thus the quadrille was a very intricate dance. The standard form contained five different parts, and the Viennese lengthened it to six different parts. The following table shows what the different parts look like, musically speaking:

  • part 1: Pantalon (written in 2/4 or 6/8)

theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A

  • part 2: Été (always written in 2/4)

theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A

  • part 3: Poule (always written in 6/8)

theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A – theme B – theme A

Part 3 always begins with a two-measure-introduction

  • part 4: Trénis (always written in 2/4)

theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A

  • part 5: Pastourelle (always written in 2/4)

theme A – theme B – theme C – theme B – theme A

  • part 6: Finale (always written in 2/4)

theme A – theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A – theme A

Part 6 always begins with a two-measure-introduction

All the themes are 8 measures long.

Stately Quadrille[edit]

The mechanics of the dance, that of constantly shifting partners, led it to be compared to the European political system in the eighteenth century. What became known as the Stately quadrille saw the forming of fresh alliances with different partners in order to maintain the balance of power in Europe.

See also[edit]

Historically related forms of dance:


  1. ^ Clarke, Mary (1981). The history of dance. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 051754282X. p.97
  2. ^ Bob Skiba, "Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota," Minnesota History, vol. 55, no. 5 (Spring, 1997), 220, available online, accessed May 3, 2011