Quadrille is a 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 beginning – horsemen
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).
From paired horses to paired dancers
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
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:
Le Pantalon (a pair of trousers)
La Poule (hen)
La Pastourelle (shepherd girl)
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.