The tune Allemande Swiss, and the dances written to go to it, were extremely popular in late eighteenth century America. (It is not to be confused with the tune “Swiss Allemand”, and the dances which were written to go to it.) Approximately 20 dance manuals and hand-written manuscripts from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century include both country dances and a cotillion with the name Allemand Swiss. As spelling was not standardized in the 18th century, we find many varied spellings of the title, like Allemand Swiss, Allemand Swist, Allemande Swiss, Alemand Swiss, Allmon Swiss Country Dance, Allemand’s Swiss and Allez Man De Suisse among others. The tune seems to have been first published in London in The Compleat Tutor for the Guitar (Thompson, London, 1770), while the first dance figures to this tune appear in North America, in a Revolutionary War manuscript written by the fifer Aaron Thompson of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment (c. 1777) , which he calls “Allmon Swiss Country Dance”.
The tune clearly crossed the Atlantic rapidly and was very popular. There are basically two different country dances done to this tune (not counting minor differences between the versions, and not counting the cotillion done to the tune.) One is the version that Aaron Thompson transcribed in his notebook, and the other is the version which John Griffiths published as “Allemand Swiss (with a New Figure)” in 1794, which was copied by many other publishers.
This is how we have danced these two different sets of figures:
- A1 First corners allemande
- A2 Second corners allemande
- B Ones chassee down, beaten step, return, and cast off
- C Circle six to the left halfway and return
- D Rights and lefts at the top
Footwork: We use a skip-change step for this dance.
- A1 Top two couples right hand star
- A2 Return with a left hand star
- B1 First couple cast off one place and set to partner
- B2 Take hands at the sides of set, all six balance forward and back, and set right and left
- C First couple with third couple circle left and right
- D First couple with second couple rights and lefts at the top
Footwork: We use a skip-change step for this dance, although sometimes we use contretemps for the stars in A1. (We see reasons to believe that step was commonly used for stars in the 1790s, but we’ll explain why some other time.)
Here are the texts of some of the versions of Allemande Swiss, as found in different manuscripts and publications. We have included the versions of the two main country dances separately, and chronologically by each version.
Aaron Thompson MS (1777-82)
Allmon Swiss Country Dance
First Gentleman Allemande reversd with 2d Lady, 2d Gentleman/the same with 1st Lady, lead down 2 Couple up again-/Cast off one Couple six hands round, half back again right/& left at Top.
Clement Weeks MS (New Hampshire, 1783)
Allez Man de Suisse
Alllez man with the 2d Lady/The Lady allezmand with the/2d Man lead down 2d Cou-/ple do the same Hands/ round six right & left at Top
Asa Willcox, Book of Figures manuscript, 1793
Alemand Swiss (Dance #16, page 4)
First Gentm alemand with second Lady his part-/ner with second Gentm lead Down two Couple up again/cast Down one Couple six hands half round back/again right & left at top
Nancy Shepley (1794)
Mussey Call Book, 1795, a handwritten book of country dances, copied from the collections of Leahy Library, Vermont Historical Society, Barre, Vermont. With thanks to the Vermont Historical Society for their gracious help!
The first gent alamand/with the second lady & first/Lady with 2nd gentleman/down in the middle up/again, cast off 1 couple, 4/hands round back again/right and left.
Cotillions & Country Dances, Boston, March 21, 1807 (anonymous)
Dance #30 on page 12 of MS
1st Gent Allemand round with 2 Lady/1 Lady ditto 2 Gent 1st Couple down/middle, up, right & left.
Here’s “Allemand Swiss (with a new figure)”, as published by John Griffiths in 1794: A Collection of the Newest Cotillions, and Country Dances; Principally Composed by John Griffiths, Dancing Master, Northampton, MA, 1794
Allemand Swiss (with a New Figure)
Cross four hands at top, half round, back again, cast/off one couple, set, balance six, and set, then four hands/round at the bottom, back again, right and left at top.
John Griffiths’ books were copied by many other publishers. The description above appears, with identical wording, in The Skylark: or Gentlemen & Ladies Complete Songster (published by Isaiah Thomas in 1797), in The Echo: or Federal Songster (published by Merriam in 1798), and in A Collection of the Newest Cotillions and Country Dances (published in Worcester in 1800).
The anonymous Boston 1807 manuscript mentioned above, “Cotillions & Country Dances”, has a description of the newer country dance to Allemand Swiss, as well as the older one:
Dance #34 on page 47 of MS
Cross 4 hands at top, 1/2 round, back/again, cast off one couple, set, balance/6, & set, then 4 hands round at bottom/back again, right & left at top.
Here is the sheet music:
Here is the tune for you to listen to:
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