La Russe Quadrille

Source: Peter Kennedy; published in English Dance & Song, June 1948, Volume XII, No. 3.
Formation: Square

A1 Pass your Partner by the Left Shoulder (4); Set to the one you meet (4); Swing (8)
A2 Pass your Partner by the Right Shoulder (4); Set to your Partner (4); Partner Swing (8)
B1 #1s keep Swinging (16) (second time through #2s, etc.) - time to show your skills!
B2 #1s Promenade AC inside the Set visiting the other couples then returning Home (16)
A3 #1s & #3s: Cross Over, #1s between #3s (8); Cross Back; #3s between #1s(8)
A4 Repeat
B3 All Eight: Circle Left (16)
B4 Promenade Home (16)

64 bars - repeated 32 bar tune. The original tune is often used in medley with other tunes.

There are lots and lots of grace notes in the version of the tune printed with the article. Peter Kennedy put them in intentionally to draw people's attention to the fact that musicians in earlier centuries did not play the tune straight, but embellished it in many ways. His article on this subject is below: The "Drops and Raises" in Folk Music.

The description above is very much how it is danced today in England. The arch that is mentioned in the article is probably the most common way of crossing these days, Variations include: La Russe was very popular in the 1950s as you can see from this clip from English Dance & Song September 1950:

La Russe

Was it ever really called "the English Quadrille"? I suspect it is more likely that the reporter was told that it was AN English Quadrille, but wrote whatever they wanted, as all good reporters do.

You can see it being danced beautifully at a 1950 EFDSS festival in this video from "Wake Up and Dance" which is on the "Here's a Health to the Barley Mow" DVD. In this version, in A3, the leading couple promenades between the opposite couple then wheels around and separates, while the opposite couple pass individually on the outside of the leading couple, take promenade hold, then wheel around - no arches to be seen!

(Please note: The music is not synchronised with the dancing and it is not the original La Russe tune; it is a medley of traditional tunes, presumably added during the editting.)

As you can see in the article, La Russe was collected in the North-East of England, and it is still danced there, with many people claiming it to be a local dance. You can see Burt Hunter calling it in this video, with lots of rant steps, and admitting that it goes back to the 19th century.

Note that the couples cross the set with arches. This is how I encountered it when I first danced it in the lates 1960s. It is common for the inactive couples to join in and interleave their crossings with the active couples' crossings. This is how I learnt it in the 1960s and still call it today:

The first publication of La Russe that I know of is by H.D. Willock in his "Manual of Dancing" published in Glasgow, c.1847, 61 pages "Calls are given for eight sets of quadrilles and two single quadrilles, La Russe and the Waltz Cotillion. There are also descriptions of fourteen couple dances, four reels and twenty-nine country dances, ten of them to Scottish tunes." There is no music provided in this manual.

I couldn't find Willock's book anywhere online, so many thanks to Susan de Guardiola for the words: Willcock's description of "La Russe Polish Dance", in a revised edition of his manual, is:
  1. All eight chasse across, set at the corners, and turn
  2. The same back to places, set and turn
  3. First couple promenade round inside the figure
  4. Same couple poussette round
  5. First couple cross to second couple's place; second couple at same time, passing on, outside, to first couple's place: the same reversed to places
  6. Repeat No. 5
  7. Double ladies' chain, or hands round
  8. All promenade
Each line is eight bars.

You can see a detailed interpretation of this, and the words from a slightly later version, on Colin Hume's page, plus a discussion of what "poussette round" could mean.

The modern Scottish Version is closer to these original words than to the modern English version.

This dance was presented with The Spanish Waltz under the title "Two Simple Quadrilles from the Border"; the article is included below.

Original pages from English Dance & Song, June 1948

La Russe

La Russe

Original page from English Dance & Song, July 1949

La Russe

Back to Dance Index

I'd love to hear from you if you know anything more about this dance, its composer, its style, or its history.

Feedback is very welcome on any aspect of these dances or Web pages.

Please contact John Sweeney with your comments.


The text in the image(s) above is provided here to make it available to search engines; this also allows copying of the text. The generated text may not be completely accurate!
Thanks to Alain Williams for his help with this.

Hover or touch here to see the text from the first image above.
Image Text
As Others
See Us...

Princess Margaret is in the fashion in knowing and liking folk dancing.
No longer is it confined to a few remote districts, or to ladies on North
Oxford lawns.

The English Folk Dance and Song Society says that in London and
the industrial districts, the Midlands particularly, the community or square
dance has boomed in popularity since the end of the war.

“People are glad of the friendly atmosphere of the community dance
and they are not absolutely stuck with one man, as in ballroom dancing,”
says an expert.

La Russe, or the English Quadrille, which comes from the North of
England, is one of the most popular numbers to-day. Princess Margaret
danced it at the Society’s Anglo-Scottish Folk Dance party at the Dorchester
Hotel last night, and it will be seen at the forthcoming annual
festival at Straford-on-Avon.

Hover or touch here to see the text from the second image above.
Image Text

Intro. Honour partners, Honour corners.

A.1. All pass partners (gentlemen pass behind partners to meet ladies
     on right who advance to meet them with four balance steps).
     Balance and swing corners (set to right and left and pivot-swing
     with ballroom hold).

A.2. Pass back; balance and swing partners.

B.1. (Leading) couple swing.

B.2. Promenade inside the ring (balance step moving slowly round
     counter-clockwise visiting the other three couples).

A.3. Leading couple cross over with opposite couple (passing between
     them, partners change places) and cross back (as before) (balance
     step. The opposite couple can make an arch for the leading

A.4. Repeat cross over and cross back.

B.3. All join hands and circle left (reel or flat hop-step).

B.4. Promenade partners back to places (counter-clockwise with reel
     or flat hop-step).

(This figure is performed four times, B.1 and B.2 being done by
each couple in turn acting as leading couple.)

Hover or touch here to see the text from the third image above.
Image Text

Throughout the country there is a growing
interest in the Old. Dances. In the
towns this interest is Teeny in the Old-Time
couple dances performed with a rather conscious
“olde Tyme” style. These are
mostly composed dances to composed tunes
which have never been through the “Folk
Mill” to have their crudities softened.
These tunes compare unfavourably with the
traditional melodies of the still older community
dances. Ballroom Dancers are now
beginning to show interest in these older
dances, many of which have survived in the
villages. At village dances the ice is often
broken by a spirited and unconventional
performance of the Lancers danced to traditional
tunes. The effect of this is to bring
back memories to the older people of the
Quadrilles of their young days and their
faces light up at the very thought of dancing
the Quadrilles once again.

In America, of course, considerable public
interest is being shown in these Square
Dances as well as in the Country Dances
and the Old Circle or Round Dances. The
Quadrilles were once extremely popular in
American and in England, where they were
danced with a natural grace, vigour and
skilful footwork which was passed on by
tradition in the villages and fostered by
dancing-masters in the towns.

In addition to various Square Eights, two
local versions of which have been published
by the Society, and to the many local versions
of the Lancers, there are two other
simple quadrilles still popular in the Border
villages which I think will be of interest to
folk dancers. I passed them on to members
of the Vacation Schools at
Exmouth and Felixstowe and I have since
had many requests for the details and tunes.
Like the Lancers, there is much variation
in the way they are danced in different localities,
but I think the versions given here are
the most usual. Although specific tunes
have been given for both, any traditional
tune of a similar nature can be used.

Many people will still remember La Russe,
which is danced in the Border Country and
also, I believe, in Canada. The dance is
simple as there is only one figure which is
repeated by each couple in turn without
pause. It can also be danced by sets of two,
six, eight or more couples.

The other simple quadrille, the Spanish
Waltz, is also popular in the Border villages.
No village dance is complete without
it. The movements are similar to the
Guaracha or Waltz Country Dance. Any
old-fashioned waltz or slow 6/8 tune can be
used of regular length. The dance can also
be performed in a larger set with more than
four couples so as to bring a new partner
for each waltz (this is called The Family
Circle Waltz).



This dance has a name full of mystery and
romance. It conjures up visions of a remote
castle on the Rhine, still dreaming of the
last visit of the Crusaders.

It would appear that “Dargason,” or, to
use its older form, “Dargison,” was a
mythical town or country, but where we
don’t know. In Ben Jonson's “Tale of a
Tub” a character says: “But if you get a
lass from Dargison what will you do with
her?” In the “Isle of Gulls,” played by
the Revels in the Black Fryars in 1606, they
“On an ambling nag, a-down, a-down,
 We have borne her away to Dargison.”
And that is all we know, except that it is a
lovely name.

(Note.—The Editor would welcome suggestions
for further titles to be included in
this series.)


I asked one of the Bacup Coconut Dancers
at Harringay why it was that only married
men were allowed in the team. He replied:
“We practice once a week on Mondays except
when we have a show on, when we
practice twice. If we had single men and
their girls asked them to go to the pictures,
they would have to say ‘yes.’ If our wives
ask us, we can always say" ‘no’!”

A. H. S.

Hover or touch here to see the text from the fourth image above.
Image Text

The “Drops and Raises” in Folk Music

I HAVE often been asked for an explanation
for the grace notes inserted in my
manuscript of “La Russe ” which was
published in the Magazine. People have
complained that they not only make the
music difficult to read but that they also
spoilt the tune. I must confess that I put
them in with my tongue in my cheek in an
endeavour to show that there is more in the
playing of so simple a tune than just the
bare notes that form the basis of the tune.

When I first heard “La Russe” played
by four Shepherds near Alnwick, Northumberland,
practically every note was preceded
by a grace note as well as other forms of
melodic embellishment. The players used
no harmonic accompaniment. Two fiddles
were accompanied by two melodeons but the
bass notes and chords provided on their
instruments were not used. The result was a
melody possessing not only an irresistible
dance lilt but also full of expression. The
particular character of the tune was brought
out in a song-like and lyrical manner by
means of this skilful technique.

These country musicians do not have in
their minds a conception of a tune in terms
of notes played on specific beats; rather
they pour out from their hearts a continuous
melodic line which is continually pulsating.
This is achieved mainly by what we
erroneously call grace notes, decoration or
embellishment, and is part of the inherited
technique of both the traditional dance musician
and folk singer. They are often so
neatly introduced that they may not be
noticed even by a trained musician if no
attempt is made to sing or play with the
countryman. This same means of expression
is part of our normal speech, though
here again the countryman obtains great
effect by the “drops and raises” in his

This “lilting" technique is not simply
lack of training and cultivation. It is
achieved not only by inheritance from father
to son, but also by long hours of practice
and listening to older musicians in the farm
houses through the winter evenings. In the
remote country districts, folk music is the
main leisure-time occupation of the people,
whether singing, dancing, story-telling or
playing. Although this 1s self-education,
the traditions of country gatherings and
dances has until recently enforced an extra-
ordinarily high standard of technique. Much
of the artistry is spontaneous and peculiar
to individual character:

It is, I think, a eat pity that this technique
of melodic expression is not considered
an essential part of modern musical education.
The science of harmony with its keyboard
instruments and tempered scale has
led musicians into other fields of expression
where moods are expressed by a series of
planned chords and dischords. The radio
crooners have, however, to adopt something
of the technique for close microphone technique.
Soloists are free of the bonds of
mechanical time and tempered scale. This
technique is, however, not allowed in
modern orchestras, even by instruments
which were originally designed to be played
in this manner.

We must remember that the composers of
the 17th and 18th century and before that
time wrote for musicians who had been
trained in this technique. The grace notes
were seldom indicated in the music as
embellishments were taken for granted. This
can be seen in various handbooks that were
written for musicians, such as John
Playford’s “Introduction to the Skill of
Music,” where a table of graces is given for
viols. We are also indebted to Arnold
Dolmetsch for his “Interpretation,” which
is a scholarly study of this special technique
of expression.

Perhaps it is a failing of our Society and
others that we have only passed on the notes
of the folk tunes, not realising the skilful
technique possessed by the countryman,
which was often concealed for the collector
by the failings of old age. No wonder we
have grown tired of the “Irish Washerwoman,”
as it is often played mechanically
as recorded in the music. We must humble
ourselves and appreciate that much skill and
practice is necessary to play the dance airs
or sing folk songs so that they will survive as
popular music, The necessary appoggiaturas,
shakes, slides, turns, elevations and
“tuts” were not only the technique of
trained musicians of the 17th and 18th century,
but also of folk musicians of the
present day, whether in England, Ireland or