Quadrille is an historic dance performed by four couples in a square formation, 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.
The term quadrille came to exist in the 17th Century, within military parades, where 4 horsemen and their horses performed special square shaped formations or figures. The word quadrille is probably derived from the Spanish word "cuadrillo" (diminutive Spanish, meaning four) and from the Latin "quadratus" (meaning square).
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.
As the quadrille became even more popular in the 19th century, it evolved into forms that used elements of the waltz, including Caledonian, 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 were called:
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.
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:
theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A
theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A
theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A – theme B – theme A
Part 3 always begins with a two-measure-introduction
theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A
theme A – theme B – theme C – theme B – theme A
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.
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.
Historically related forms of dance:
QUADRILLE, the name of a game of cards and of a dance. The game, played by four persons with a pack of forty cards, was a variation of the Spanish game of ombre and superseded it in popularity about 1725, to give way in turn to whist. The dance is of French origin and is usually danced by four couples in square. In the 18th century the contredanse was introduced into the ballet, and groups of four, eight or twelve dancers dressed alike performed different figures; these were first called quadrilles des contredanses, later shortened to quadrilles. The dance became popular outside the ballet, and its figures, five in number, with a finale, bore the names of the different contredanses, Le Pantalon, l'Ete, La Poule, La Trenitz, La Pastourelle. The dance was introduced into England in 1815. The word in both its applications comes through Ital. quadriglio or Span. cuadrilla from Lat. quadra, a square, four-sided figure (quattuor, four).