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Cotillions were introduced into England in about 1768 by French dancing masters. They came to America in about 1772. Cotillions have two parts: a set of standard verses or “Changes” that are danced with every cotillion and a special chorus or “Figure” that is danced between the verses. The figure gives the cotillion its name.


“Marlbrouk” is known today by its 20th-century lyrics: “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.”

Form a square-dance set, four couples standing on sides of square, women on partner’s right. (See diagram below.) Dance CHANGE 1, then the FIGURE, then CHANGE 2, then the FIGURE, etc. To shorten the dance, some changes may be left out but Changes 1 and 9 always open and close the dance.

The Changes

(Changes are danced to the verse of lyrics beginning “The bear went over the mountain...” sung twice)

  1. Take hands in circle of eight, balance, rigadoon, and chassé sideways to right* eight counts; balance, rigadoon, then chassé back eight. (Now dance the figure: "To see what he could see. . . ," sung twice.)
  2. With partner, balance, rigadoon, then turn by right hand, balance. rigadoon, and turn by left. (Now dance the figure.)
  3. The same by both hands. (Now dance the figure.)
  4. Four women balance forward and take diagonal right hands across in middle (forming star or X) and go round. Repeat with left. (Now dance the figure.)
  5. Four men the same. (Now dance the figure.)
  6. Women balance then circle four-hands round to right, balance, and circle back to left. (Now dance the figure.)
  7. Men the same. (Now dance the figure.)
  8. Grand Chain. Face partner and pass by right hand, left with next, right with next, meet partner and rigadoon. Continue to meet partner again and rigadoon. (Now dance the figure.)
  9. Circle of eight as in Change 1. (Now dance the figure.)

The Figure of “Marlbrouk”

(Sing chorus of song beginning “To see what he could see...” twice.)

Head two couples meet and rigadoon, then give both hands to opposite and chassé out between side couples and rigadoon; chassé back, then fall back to place. Side couple wait for 8 beats, then chassé sideways away from partner, rigadoon, chassé back and rigadoon. The side couples then dance the same figure.

Rigadoon, Balance, and Beaten

The rigadoon, balance, and beaten steps are interchangeable, depending on how energetic the dancers are.

To balance, plié on left foot on upbeat, step right onto ball of right foot (legs straight) on downbeat, and close, lowering heels to ground, then repeat to left (4 counts).

To rigadoon: The rigadoon is a complex step. Briefly described: hop on upbeat and land on 1st beat on left foot, extending right to side with legs straight, keeping it close to floor. On "1&" bring right to first position and extend left to side. On 2nd beat, bring left to first position (no hop). On "2&" plié then hop. On 1st beat of next measure, land on both feet in first position. Hold position (straight legs) for 2nd beat, and on "2&" plié for repeat of step on other foot. Step may begin on either foot.

For beginners, it is best to use the "beaten step" which gives a similar effect. To do the beaten step, hop four times on one foot, extending the other to the side, bringing it to the calf, to the side, to the calf again, in the manner of a Highland fling.

* In French dances, the circle goes to the right first, rather than to the left.

This dance was adapted by Kate Keller and George A. Fogg from James E. Morrison’s Twenty Four Early American Country Dances, Cotillions & Reels for the Year 1976. For details of eighteenth-century dance steps, see Hendrickson's book.