Ball and Stage Dances

Collection of Ball and Stage Dances, written down by the French dance master, F. Le Rousseau, 1720
Gifted in 1878
Special Collections: La.III.673

This manuscript of Ball and Stage dances follows in the great tradition of French dancing, which was modelled after the examples set by M. Feuillet and M. Pecour. The notation and distribution of dances through books like this were encouraged by the popular dances held in the court of Louis XIV. Following the death of Louis XIV, noble men and women were still known to be influential patrons of dance and there remained a high demand for dances and dance material, whether in formal or comical style. This particular page shows a solo dance for a Harlequin and is an example of the intricate choreography that was laid out for each dance.

This item was used to illustrate dance notation with our MSc in Dance Science students and further illustrated this heritage of dance through connecting in our 18th-century musical instruments, music collections and the physical environment of St Cecilia’s Hall. It was bequeathed in 1878 as part of the David Laing collection, the largest single manuscript collection in the library.

David Laing (1793-1878) was the son of an Edinburgh bookseller, who became the leading Scottish expert on early books and manuscripts. In many ways, he could be described as a “consulting bibliographer”- a man who tried to help anyone with a question about books. He travelled across Europe to buy precious volumes, but also rescued countless important papers from offices and family homes.

When he died, his library of printed books was sold and scattered throughout the world. His collections of artworks and objects are now held in the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museums of Scotland. However, his manuscript collection was bequeathed to the University.

Laing was a friend of the University over many years. His first publication was a reprint of the catalogue of the library of William Drummond of Hawthornden, given to the University in 1626, and it may be that Drummond’s example inspired Laing to make his later, even more generous gift. Laing’s collection of charters and other papers is of national importance and the most distinguished of its kind in any Scottish university. It is an essential source for the 18th century, and a much-used one for all periods of Scottish history from the earliest times.

Story by Rachel Hosker, Deputy Head of Special Collections and Archives Manager