Cotillion figures demonstrated in the Festsaal, Hofburg, Vienna, in 2008

The cotillion is a type of patterned social dance that originated in France in the 18th century and was originally made up of four couples in a square formation, the forerunner of the quadrille; in the United States the square dance, where the "figures" are called aloud by the caller, is a form of rural contredanse that also descended from the urban cotillion. Its name, from French cotillon, "petticoat", reflected the flash of petticoats as the changing partners turned. The cotillion, of repeated "figures" interspersed with "changes" of different figures to different music,[1] was one of many contredanses where the gathered participants were able to introduce themselves and to flirt with other dancers through the exchange of partners within the formation network of the dance. By the 19th century, the cotillion evolved to include more couples with many complex dance figures.

In British usage, cotillion has disappeared, save in French or historical contexts.[2] Cotillions were introduced in London about 1766[3] by French dancing masters. They came to America in about 1772. There is a reference to a dance in the French manner, implying a 'cotillon', in John Gay's Beggar's Opera of 1728, where the low-life characters of London dance in imitation of the fashions of the wealthy.[4]

A "German cotillion", in contemporary accounts, was reintroduced to New York society at a costume ball with a Louis XV theme given by Mr William Colford Schermerhorn in the early winter of 1854.[5]


  1. ^ "Quadrilles and Cotillions": informed musicologists exchange posts.
  2. ^ OED, s.v. "Cotillion".
  3. ^ Its first use in English is from 1766, according to OED; the conclusion of the Seven Years' War in 1763 ceased hostilities between France and Britain, inaugurating a renewed wave of French fashions in Britain.
  4. ^ Penguin Classics, John Gay, The Beggar's Opera, Ed. Loughrey & Treadwell 1986, p 74.
  5. ^ Lloyd R. Morris, Incredible New York: Life and Low Life of Last Hundred Years 1979:17-19.

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  • cotillion — (n.) type of dance, 1766, from Fr. cotillion (15c.), originally petticoat, a double dim. of O.Fr. cote skirt (see COAT (Cf. coat)); its application to a kind of dance arose in France and is considered obscure by some linguists, but there are… …   Etymology dictionary

  • cotillion — [kō til′yən] n. [Fr cotillon, orig., petticoat < OFr cote: see COAT] 1. a) a brisk, lively dance characterized by many intricate figures and the continual changing of partners b) music for such a dance 2. a formal ball, esp. one at which… …   English World dictionary

  • cotillion — /keuh til yeuhn, koh /, n. 1. a formal ball given esp. for debutantes. 2. a lively French social dance originating in the 18th century, consisting of a variety of steps and figures and performed by couples. 3. any of various dances resembling the …   Universalium

  • Cotillion — Cotillon Co til lon (k[ o] t[ e] y[^o]N or k[ o] t[ e]l ; 277), Cotillion Co*til lion (k[ o]*t[i^]l y[u^]n), n. [F. cotillon, fr. OF. cote coat, LL. cotta tunic. See {Coat}.] 1. A brisk dance, performed by eight persons; a quadrille. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • cotillion — noun a) A bold dance performed in groups of eight where ladies lift their skirts to display their ankles b) The music regulating the cotillion …   Wiktionary

  • cotillion — also cotillon noun Etymology: French cotillon, literally, petticoat, from Old French, from cote coat Date: 1728 1. a ballroom dance for couples that resembles the quadrille 2. an elaborate dance with frequent changing of partners carried out… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • cotillion — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) n. german; ball, square dance. See amusement. II (Roget s 3 Superthesaurus) n. ball, dance …   English dictionary for students

  • cotillion — co|til|lion [ kə tıliən ] noun count an old word meaning a formal dance …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • cotillion — elaborate ballroom dance with frequent changes of partner Dance Styles …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • cotillion — n. type of formal dance …   English contemporary dictionary