Music & Dance

Dancing was an important part of an upper class child’s education. Dancing masters were hired to teach dance techniques and etiquette to prepare children for attendance at balls and parties. Mr. Francis Christian, a local dancing master, was in such demand that he held classes in rotation in a number of manor houses of the Northern Neck, including Stratford. Mr. Christian’s lessons began with instructions in the various dance steps.. Dancing followed, beginning with the minuet and ending with country dances.

The minuet was a slow, graceful dance with short steps danced by partners.

The Steps of the Minuet

  1. The gentleman, facing his partner, bows to her and she, facing him, curtsies at the same time.
  2. Both partners turn to face forward and the lady places her raised left hand on the gentleman’s right hand.
  3. Take small steps, first with the right foot, then left foot, then right foot again. Point the left toes and tap 3 times. Repeat this sequence of steps 3 times.
  4. Face your partner curtsy or bow.
  5. Turn in the opposite direction and repeat steps 2, 3, and 4.

This is a simplified version of the minuet. There were actually more than 100 different steps to this dance.

Country dances were originally enjoyed by the middle and lower classes of rural England. The dances often were performed in public squares and at fairs before being introduced into polite society. Usually in these dances, any number of couples stood face to face in two long lines.

The music for these dances varied according to the tastes of the plantation owner and availability of trained musicians and instruments. Minuets were slow, usually in 4/4 time. Country dances tended to be faster. The music for them was similar to today’s square dance music.

Suggested Readings

Carson, Jane. Colonial Virginians At Play. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1989.

Suggested Activities

Have students practice the steps to the minuet. Then add appropriate music.
One example of a colonial country dance is the Virginia Reel. Work with physical education and music teachers to learn the steps to this dance. Have the class perform the reel for an audience.
Play a variety of colonial type music in the classroom as background while students perform other activities.