CONGO MINUET
A "quick and spirited" dance for two by Saltator,  Boston,  1802
Richard Powers


About the dance   (The reconstruction and a video are below.)

This is a rare example of a complete choreography from the beginning of the 19th century.  The description is from Saltator's A TREATISE ON DANCING, which is probably the earliest American dance manual.  The Congo Minuet combines the figures of the minuet (facing and crossing over) with the intricate steps and faster tempo of country dancing.  The description of this lively minuet precedes Saltator's description of a more traditional Minuet Grave.  Above is the full description, from an original edition of the book in my collection.

Saltator did not explain the significance of "Congo," which has raised much speculation in recent years.  But the term appears to have been well-known at the beginning of the 19th century, mentioned in John Davis's TRAVELS OF FOUR YEARS AND A HALF IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DURING 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801 AND 1802, and also by Moreau de Saint-Méry and several other sources around the same time.  Some wonder if Saltator documented a dance with an African or African American lineage, or perhaps this was merely a Boston dance master's interpretation of an often-heard dance genre.  John Davis referred to it as a genre of dance, not a specific title, when he wrote, "there was nobody that could face him at a Congo minuet; but Pat Hickory could tire him at a Virginia jig."

Saltator's mention of addressing bows "facing the company" implies that this choreography was intended to be an exhibition dance performed for an audience, possibly composed of peers, at a ball, or possibly performed professionally on stage.

The greatest strengths of this description are:  1) It seems to record the complete sequence, from opening salute to closing address, rather than simply offering an excerpt or abstraction;  and  2) Each term in the description, without exception, is further explained elsewhere in Saltator's book.   On the other hand, the step descriptions are rather vague, merely listing foot positions, with the frequent use of the term "hop."  Furthermore, a foot position does not mention whether it is stepped with weight or pointed without weight, or whether it walks, glides, raises into the air, dips into plié, leaps, brushes, or closes to an assemblé.

The use of the term "hop" is different from today's definition, and is consistant with occasional 18th/19th century usage, merely implying that an elevation of the body occurs with a step, without specifying whether the elevation occurs before, during, or after the adjoining steps, or whether a hop is executed by itself.  For example, using today's terminology, "Left foot 4th hop right foot 3rd" would imply that you step forward L, then hop on the L, then close R to 3rd position (three movements).  But in the earlier tradition, this is more likely Saltator's way of stating that after stepping forward L, you should close R to 3rd with an elevated movement, such as a jeté or assemblé (for a total of two movements).  Although Saltator does not specify step timing or passage duration, he does tell us how many movements are in each enchainement.  The above example, occuring at the end of a passage, was specified as two movements, not three.  This common cadence is therefore probably a step-assemblé, and prefigures the jeté-assemblé cadence of the later Regency era.  A few decades later the "Hop Waltz" similarly meant an elevation during the first step of a waltz, which would later be called a jeté instead of "hop."

When Saltator calls for the dancers to chassé, it's tempting to interpret this as a single chassé step (step-close-step, 2 counts).  However when investigating the use of this term throughout the entire choreography, it becomes clear that his usage of chassé actually means a chassé sequence (chassé–step–assemblé, 4 counts).

Most sections of this choreography fit 16 bars of music, as expected.  However, the opening passage is shorter, implying that the dancers wait during the opening music before addressing the company.  As an alternative to waiting, I suggest the option of advancing to starting places during the first 4 bars, perhaps in cadence to the music, as Thomas Wilson suggested doing before commencing French Waltzing.  I would also support a reconstruction that does not add this advance.

Saltator's dance manual would have been based on the technique and traditions of the previous thirty years, rather than forshadowing the evolutionary changes of the Regency era.  His choice of steps, their terms and spellings, and the patterns of enchainement are all similar to European dance manuals, dance dictionaries and cotillon collections dating from 1760 to 1800.  Therefore the Congo Minuet is reconstructed using concordances and step descriptions from Gallini (1760s and 1770s), Magri (1779), Compan (1787) and Lefebvre (1792), rather than using sources dating from the following decades.





Click one of the arrows to play.

   Click for the music for the Congo Minuet

The Reconstruction

The bold lines quote the original description.

I. - Introduction


The gentleman places the lady on his right, facing the company, and they walk forward 4 slow steps (pas marché), beginning on the outside foot.   [8 quick counts]

They both make a salute to the company in the time of chassé   [4 counts]
• Step to 2nd away from partner; • close to 3rd; • lady pliés and man inclines; • rise.
See the note in the paragraphs above about chassé actually meaning a chassé sequence (chassé, step, assemblé).

They both make a chassé to the left side   [4 counts]
• Glide L to 2nd, close R to 3rd behind, glide L to 2nd; • close R to 3rd above; • assemblé L to 3rd above. 
Note: The step before the assemblé is not a jeté.

The lady dances the allemain around in a circle to her place [8 counts]
••• Three chassés fwd, beg. L foot; •  step to 3rd; •  assemblé,  almost linking raised R arms as she encircles the man clockwise, who steps in place, or perhaps crosses L over R and pirouttes clockwise in place to accommodate her travel.  Place free hand behind back, palm out.
Reconstruction note:  The interpretation of "allemain" is influenced by illustrations from this time period, like the 1798 dancing couple at the top of this page, only four years before Saltator's book.

The gent follows and stops exactly opposite to his partner [8 counts]
The man does the allemain CCW around the lady, linking raised L arms.  (However beginning on his R foot makes a more satisfying step-assemblé.)

II. Chassé Rigadoon

Both chassé to the right side and rigadoon (rigaudon).   [4 counts each, 8 counts]
Chassé sequence as above, but to the right side.  Then do a Rigaudon to the left side: Preparation: Plié in 3rd, L behind. • Spring up on R, extending L to 2nd, and land on R in plié, holding L in 2nd; • spring up on R again and close L to 3rd above, at the same time cutting the R out to 2nd; • close R to 3rd above without a spring; • assemblé L (around through 2nd) closing L to 3rd above.
Reconstruction note:  Saltator's rigadoon is unusual among rigaudons of this period—an especially unsatisfying series of closings only to third position.  One may feel free to dance this version, found in online descriptions of Saltator's book, but this reconstruction opts for the more satisfying mainstream rigaudon.  It's a minor point, either way.

The same to the left.
Chassé sequence to the left side then rigadoon to the right side.   [8 counts]

Balance   [8 counts]
Any individual balance step, "compounded ad infinitum, and may be graced with various flying movements of the feet... changes of attitude, half turns, and many other additions incapable of description, which can only be learnt by imitation, or the offspring of genius."  Saltator's Balance suggestion has ten movements, beginning on the left foot.
His manual includes a description of a Pas de Basque ("Le Pas et Basque").
Suggested balance:  one Pas de Basque (step side L, cross R over L, uncross; repeat opposite) then Balance en Carré (step or jeté forward L, side R, back L, assemblé R behind L).
Video note: In the video above (Angela Amarillas and Ken Delmar performing at the Smithsonian in 1993) their first balance is Glissades dessous and dessus (passing behind and in front) then turning jeté assemblé.

Change places   [4 counts]
Advance with 2 chassé steps, L and R, passing right shoulders.

Brisé   [4 counts]
Cast off to the left with • L to the left side (2nd); • jeté R to 3rd before; • close L to 3rd above; • assemblé R 3rd above. 
Saltator's Brisé is different from the later Regency era Brisé.
Video note: Ken enjoys doing a later style of Brisé.

Chassé rigadoon to the right; the same to the left   [16 counts]
The same as above.

Balance   [8 counts]
Possibly use a second balance step.  Suggested balance: He does chassé L fwd passing her R shoulder, 2 glissades side R as if a dos-a-dos; turns right and chasse R, glissade dessous L then assemblé.  She does Pas de Basques L & R, Balance en Carré L, all in place.

Change places, and brisé   [8 counts]
The same as above.

III. Contretems Pirouette


Le contretems to the right side and pirouette   [4 counts each]
Le Contretems, the cross steps: • Close L to 3rd behind; • glide R to 2nd; • L 3rd behind; • R to 2nd; • L 3rd behind; • R to 2nd; • L 3rd behind.
La Pirouette, the turning round: • Assemblé R to 3rd behind (passing through 2nd); • pirouette to the right on both toes; • jeté on R in place; • jeté L before.
Note: "pirquette" in the original description is no doubt a typographical error, perhaps a typesetter picking the wrong character.  "Pirouette" is spelled correctly when Saltator describes the step in detail.

The same to the left   [8 counts]
Contretems to the left side and pirouette.

Le balance vivant   [8 counts]
Any individual balance step.  Saltator's Balance Vivant suggestion has 13 movements, beginning on the left foot.
Suggested balance: a casting off version of what the gentleman did before, beginning L and casting over the left shoulder.

Change places, brisé   [8 counts]
The same as above.

IV. Chassé Rigadoon, to both sides, again

Exactly that—repeat Part II, perhaps with different balance steps.
The exhibition version can skip this repeat of Part II, as in the video.


V. "Then to the right, back to the left"

This possibly means do the Contretems Pirouette again, since that's next after the repeated Chassé Rigadoon, but it's unclear.  The exhibition version skips this.

VI. Conclusion

Meet, give both hands and demicircinate   [8 counts]
Advance to meet partner with the chassé sequence L, offering both hands.  Then turn half-round in a circle, to the right (although this could be to the left) with the chassé sequence.

Chassé to the first place where the figure commenced   [4 counts]
Face the company and do the chassé sequence to the right side.

Address the company.   [4 counts]





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