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Paper 2

The Pousette Figure in English Regency Dancing

Contributed by Paul Cooper, Research Editor

We considered the history of the Allemande dance figure in a previous article, this time we'll review the Pousette figure in English social dancing of the greater Regency era. We'll look at the history of the figure, how it's interpreted, and how to dance it.

Figure 1. An 1813 couple dancing a Pousette like figure.

The word 'Pousette' derives from the French pousser meaning 'to push'. It involves a couple joining both hands, and one person pushes the other backwards, they then reverse direction to return. The most common pousette variant involves two couples moving around each other, counter clockwise, in 8 bars of music. The name 'Pousette' enters the English Ball rooms from France around 1770, though as we'll see, the figure itself is much older.

Figure 1 shows a couple dancing what could be a Pousette1. They have joined both hands, but we can't see the direction of movement. This scene is probably a caricature of the Waltz, the couple depicted were influential in popularising that dance form in London. The Pousette figure is largely unrelated to the Waltz, but the picture is helpful in visualising the Pousette hold.

The typical Pousette figure involves two couples, and is depicted using stick figures in Figure 2. This is an 1817 illustration showing two couples moving around each other2. Figure 9 shows details from a c.1795 Rowlandson caricature of a Country Dance3, the couples appear to be mid-pousette. If they are dancing a Pousette, they've returned into a near perfect longways line; a well danced Country Dance Pousette should involve a perfectly straight line half way through the figure, and again at the end of the figure. But more of that later.



The Pousette in Cotillion Dancing

The term Pousette enters England from France through the Cotillion dances of the 1760s. The French writer De La Cuisse describes two different Pousette figures for use in Cotillions in 1762. He says (I've translated using Google Translate) Pousettes are holding hands with a lady and pushing ahead, the lady in turn pushes the gentleman. Sometimes Pousettes are done by rotating around each other.4. His first variant is a simple backwards and forwards movement, the second involves rotation. The second of these variants is illustrated in Figure 35. This rotational pousette involves the couples moving around each other, but each individual faces the same direction throughout the figure. The head man pulls his partner into the side couples place, at the same time the side lady pulls her partner into the head couples place; they then repeat the figure to return to their original positions.

Figure 2. An 1817 Illustration of a Pousette.

The first collections of English Cotillions were published in the late 1760s. These Cotillions occasionally feature the Pousette figure, and several writers describe the figure for us. Giovanni Gallini writing in c.1772 tells us that the Cotillion Pousette is performed by holding the Lady's hands, and making her Retreat, then She does the same by Her Partner6. His description matches the first of De La Cuisses' Pousette variants, it's interesting that Gallini's Pousette does not involve two couples moving around each other. Henry Bishop's 1790 Bruce Castle Cotillon contains an example of this figure7.

Another significant writer publishing in London around this time is Monsieur Gherardi. He describes three Pousette variants in his 1768 A Second book of Cotillons or French Country Dances. I've not located an online copy of this document, so I'll instead quote from Volume VI of Dr. John Gardiner-Garden's epic Historic Dance series8 (it's essential reading if you're interested in historic dance). Gherardi tells us of three Pousette variants, the first two match those of De La Cuisse, but the third is a new figure:

  • The Simple Pousette is by taking the lady by both hands, & pushing her before you; she, in turn, does the same; & so you return to your place.
  • The Rotational Pousette is by two couples forming a kind of oval round each other: the lady of one couple pushing the gentleman before her, one half of the oval; & he her, the remainder; so that they return to their own places, standing in the same form as before they set out; the other couple perform the same figure, only the gentleman pushing the lady before him, the first half; and she him, the remainder. (see Figure 4)
  • The Chain Pousette is performed by four couples; each gentleman taking his partner by the hands, & pushing her before him, & the four couples, moving together, form the figure of a chain.

Gherardi provided a diagram for his chain pousette that indicates a double progression longways figure. I've not identified any dances that use this figure, but it's interesting that it exists. Gherardi's rotational pousette (he calls it Poussette en tournant, but I'm using the word 'rotational' to avoid confusion later on) is also a longways dancing figure, though it can be used in Cotillion dancing, as in De La Cuisse. It's interesting that Gherardi promotes an oval movement, this allows for greater sideways movement in a longways dance. Gherardi also provides an illustration for this figure, and as with De La Cuisse, he shows that the individual dancers face the same direction throughout the Pousette, but the couples rotate around each other. The dancers shift into a diagonal alignment, rotate around each other, then return to places (see Figure 4).

Figure 3. The 1762 De La Cuisse Pousette.




The Pousette in English Country Dancing (ECD)

We've seen that Gherardi wrote of Pousette's for longways English Country Dancing in 1768, but the first example I've found of the term Pousette in a published Country Dance is in the 1779 Ruffs and Rhees by Ignatius Sancho9. The Pousette goes on to become a common ECD figure in the 1780s and 1790s. Gherardi may have been ahead of his time in describing a longways Pousette in 1768; I have a theory about this that we'll come back to.

Sancho's dance defines the 'Prussett' as the first and second couple move intirely round each other till they arrive at proper places, see Figure 5. This is the rotational Pousette we've seen in De La Cuisse and Gherardi, but explicitly used in an English Country Dance.

Figure 4. The 1768 Gherardi Pousette.

As an aside, Sancho is an incredibly interesting character. In 1767 he became one of the first people to publish a collection of Cotillions in England; in 1779 he's the first choreographer I know of to use the term 'Pousette' in an English Country Dance, and one of the first to use 'Promenade'; and he's responsible for several of my favourite dances. Oh yes, he was also born a slave, became an influential abolitionist, and is believed to have been the first black man to vote in a British Election!10

I'm lucky enough to be a member of the Hampshire Regency Dancers, a group that regularly dance Sancho's dances.

At this time an ECD 'Pousette' appears to imply a full two-couple rotation back to place. However, at some point in the following 30 or so years the terminology changes. Thomas Wilson writing in 1808 describes a figure called the Pousse11 which is similar to a regular rotational pousette, but the couples rotate one and a half times to change places. In c.1820 Wilson goes further and describes two variants, the Half Pousette or Draw12 and the Whole Pousette13. The half pousette is the figure we've previously identified as the Rotational Pousette, the Whole Pousette is the new figure in which the couples rotate one and a half times (see Figure 6). Wilson's use of 'Half' and 'Whole' is not the same as the terminology used in modern ballrooms, this can lead to confusion when interpreting Regency dances. Wilson's Half Pousette uses just 4 bars of music, his Whole Pousette uses 814, and they're always performed counter-clockwise.

Wilson's terminology wasn't universal during the Regency period. The anonymous American writer known as Saltator described the Poucette in 1807 as give both hands to partners, by couples and dance round each other.15. His description isn't clear, but it appears to be the Rotational Pousette again. Saltator doesn't hint at 'Half' and 'Whole' variations, or that the pousette should rotate one and a half times. That said, his description doesn't rule it out either. Wilson's rival G.M.S. Chivers published a collection of Country Dances c.1823, his pousette at top is an 8-bar non-progressive figure, just like the earlier pousette of Sancho and others.

Wilson didn't invent the progressive pousette, there are Country Dances published in the 1780s in which the pousette was progressional. He did however popularise the progressive pousette. He used it consistently in his dances, and he was the single most prolific publisher of Country Dance collections during the Regency era.

Figure 5. The Prussett in a 1779 English Country Dance.

Other Regency era writers to comment on the Pousette include John Cherry and G.M.S. Chivers. Cherry, in his c.1813 Treatise on the Art of Dancing wrote of both Whole Pousettes and Half Pousettes. He had the whole figure take 8 bars and the half figure take 4 bars, but suggested that neither is progressional (which is problematic). Chivers in his 1822 Modern Dancing Master wrote: Pousette - Two couple pass round each other to places. His description is not progressional, though his choreographies did mix both progressional and non-progressional pousettes. The music publisher Martin Platts regularly featured a figure he called the swing pousette in his choreograpies of the early 19th Century.

The Waltz entered the English ballrooms from the start of the 19th Century, and brought with it a new figure called the Waltz Pousette. Thomas Wilson used this figure in his 1818 dance collection called Le Sylphe16. He used such phrases as whole poussette with sauteuse step and waltz whole poussette. This appears to be a turning pousette, and could be the origin of the pousette figure used in RSCDS Scottish Country Dancing17. A further curiosity that links the waltz with the Pousette is an 1820 document called No 1 of Spanish Dances18, this document translates the Spanish term waltze as poussette in English.



The Pousette in Quadrille Dancing

I'm not aware of many Quadrille dances that use the Pousette, but Thomas Wilson does describe the Quadrille Pousette in his c.1818 Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama. He uses terminology that is consistent with his ECD Pousettes, and says of the Demie Poussette: The Half Poussette in Quadrille Dancing is precisely the same as the Half Poussette in Country Dancing. He goes on to say It nevertheless must be remembered, that the Couples must be brought into a suitable situation, by some previous movement, to perform this Figure, as the form of the Dance prevents them from performing it with propriety from their original situations in the Dance19. Wilson includes an example in the Finale to his 1816 Quadrille Set.

Figure 6. Wilson's c.1820 'Whole Pousette'.

This figure appears to be the same as the Rotational Pousette described by De La Cuisse and Gherardi, but the illustration20 Wilson provides (see Figure 7) shows an important difference. Wilson has the head couples meeting, and the pousette involves the vis-a-vis partners. In other words, you take hands with your opposite, not with your partner. It's likely that this figure was used in earlier Cotillions, but no writer I'm aware of prior to Wilson makes this variant clear. The Cotillion figures described by De La Cuisse and Gherardi involve a side couple, not the opposite couple.



The Pousette Mysteries

We've seen how the term Pousette enters the English ballrooms c.1770, and enters the lexicon of English Country Dancing in the late 1770s. However, the pousette figure already existed in ECD under a different name. The anonymous A.D. writer tells us in 1764 of a Country Dancing movement called Drawing. He describes it as: Drawing is when two persons are face to face, and joining both hands, the one moving backwards and drawing the other forwards, in any figure directed21 (See Figure 8). This is the Simple Pousette by a different name.

A.D. doesn't indicate if the Draw is usually performed with another couple or not, but the implication is that it can be. You may have noticed that Wilson described his c.1820 Half Pousette as a 'Draw'. I have a suspicion that the English 'Draw' could be the original source figure from which the French 'Pousette' is derived - maybe the French changed the name of 'the Draw' to 'the Push', and reused the figure. It's just a theory, but it seems to fit the evidence. A.D. does describe a couple of double length figures involving the Draw:

To Draw off round the second couple the first man and third woman must move backwards quite round the second couple, into their proper places. This is often done half round, and back again. This requires very short steps, eight is too few to get round with, and sixteen common steps bring you too soon to your places.

To Draw off behind the second man and third woman in this only one couple moves, the man drawing the woman; it may also be done the other way, by the woman drawing the man, or in any figure the composer of a dance may please to direct.

Colin Hume in his Pousette essay22 identifies a number of older English dances of the Playford era that feature Pousette like figures, but don't use the term 'Pousette'. Some of them do use the term 'Draw' however. For example, he identifies a 1697 dance called Mad Moll23 in which The 1. cu. take hands and draw into the 2. cu. place; the 2. cu. at the same time hands to the 1. cu. place. This appears to be half of a rotational pousette (not to be confused with Wilson's Half Pousette!).

Figure 7. Wilson's c.1818 'Demie Poussette'.

The essay goes on to question whether the figure known in modern dance halls as the Draw Pousette has a historical basis. Modern Callers use this term to describe a figure in which the couples wheel around while pousetting, such that they reach the progressed position improper (the man on the ladies side). I've not found any significant evidence for the existence of this figure in the greater Regency era; in the 18th century the terms 'Draw' and 'Pousette' appear to have been synonyms. Wilson did refer to a 'Draw Poussette' in his c.1818 description of the Tiroir Quadrille figure24, and featured the term in some of his later Country Dances such as the 1819 Elfrida, but he didn't explain what he meant by the phrase. A modern draw pousette would be useful for Spanish Country Dancing and the Ecossoise; these dance forms are variants of English Country Dancing in which the first couple begin improper, they were introduced to England in the mid 1810s.

A related anomaly is a figure used by the American writer Asa Wilcox in her 1793 version of the Colledge Hornpipe. She instructs first & third Couple Draw25, this is before the first couple progress. It seems to imply a pousette around the middle couple as in A.D.'s Draw off round the second couple. I've animated it using the modern draw pousette, as that involves less traveling and is easier to dance in the time available. I've also animated a draw pousette in Gallini's c.1772 L'impromptu Cotillion26. This dance calls for a Poussette and change places figure; a draw pousette with the side partner fits this quite well.

Other semi-mythical pousette figures that appear in modern dance halls are the Half Pousette and the Split Pousette. The half pousette in this context is the same figure we saw from Mad Moll; it did exist, but I've not found clear evidence of its use in Regency era dances (other than as Wilson's Half Pousette, but that's a regular Pousette in double time to everyone else!). Wilson does hint at a four bar progressive Pousette existing, but it's a full one-and-a-half progressions: Poussé is sometimes danced in half a Strain, to bring in the Dance to some particular tunes, but this is sure to destroy the effect of the figure, and cause confusion, as it must be danced so very quick27. A modern Half Pousette looks much better than a double speed Wilsonian Whole Pousette. The closest I've found in contemporary source is a c.1809 dance called Scrub's Delight by Mrs Elliston, she includes the instruction pousette down one Couple, which might imply a modern half pousette in 4 bars of music.

The split pousette is often used by modern Callers as a way to convert a triple minor dance into a three couple set. In this variant the top two couples dance half of a pousette, then the bottom two dance the other half, resulting in a double progression.

Figure 8. The 'Drawing' motion described by A.D., in 1764.

There's another mystery in Mr. Gray's 1803 Edinburgh Races dance. He introduces a figure called chain pousette with the top and bottom couple28. This figure begins with the first couple progressed. It can't be a split pousette, as that would return the first couple to the top of the set; it can't be Gherardi's Chain Pousette as that needs four couples; it could be two of Wilson's half pousettes, but I've animated it as the the top and bottom couples pousette around the middle couple.




Our Policy for Pousette Figures

Here at RegencyDances.org we generally use the modern Pousette terminology. We use Half Pousette for a progressive figure in four bars; Pousette or Full Pousette for two half pousettes in 8 bars (the dancers return to where they started); and One and a Half Pousette for a progressive pousette in 8 bars.

You may have noticed that there are many different spellings for 'Pousette'. It's also known as Poussette (or Poußette), Pousse, Poussett, Poucette, Perssette, Prussett, Poussée, Pousset, Pausette, Pussett, Posette, Pousét and probably other variations I've missed. We usually use 'Pousette', though you may find other variations around the site.

Figure 9. Details from a c.1795 caricature of a Country Dance.

We do occasionally animate questionable Pousette variations, several of which have been mentioned in this article. Feel free to substitute our suggestions with something else, if you want to dance a variation.


Finally, if you're reading this and know about some clues that we've missed, please do get in touch. We'd love for further evidence to be found!





References

1. Cruikshank, 1813, Longitude and Latitude of St Petersburgh

2. Anonymous, 1817, Asking to Dance

3. Rowlandson, c.1795, Caricature of a longways country dance

4. De La Cuisse, 1762, Le répertoire des bals

5. De La Cuisse, 1762, Le répertoire des bals

6. Gallini, c.1772, A New Collection of 44 Cotillons

7. Bishop, 1790, Bruce Castle Cotillon

8. Gardiner-Garden, 2013, Historic Dance, Volume VI

9. Sancho, 1779, Ruffs and Rhees

10. Wikipedia, Ignatius Sancho

11. Wilson, 1808, An Anlysis of Country Dancing

12. Wilson, c.1820, The Complete System of English Country Dancing, Half Pousette

13. Wilson, c.1820, The Complete System of English Country Dancing, Whole Pousette

14. Wilson, c.1820, The Complete System of English Country Dancing

15. Saltator, 1807, quoted by Ralph Page in The History of Square Dancing

16. Wilson, 1818, Le Sylphe

17. Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary, Poussette

18. Wheatstone, 1820, No 1 of Spanish Dances

19. Wilson, c.1818, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama

20. Wilson, c.1818, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama

21. A.D., 1764, Country-Dancing made Plain and Easy

22. Colin Hume, Poussette Essay

23. Playford, 1697, Mad Moll

24. Wilson, c.1818, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama

25. Wilcox, 1793, Book of Figures

26. Gallini, c.1772, L'Impromptu Cotillion

27. Wilson, 1808, An Anlysis of Country Dancing

28. Gray, 1803, Edinburgh Races



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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