2022, Reconstructing a Second Half of the 18th Century Country Dance Repertoire in Connection with the Central German Provincial Court of the Schönburg-Waldenburg

My paper presents the repertoire of 67 dances notated in the second half of the 18th century in a manuscript booklet, known as Schönburg-Waldenburger Tanzbüchlein, which belonged to a Central German aristocratic family. While working with Mareike Greb on a critical edition, transcribing and reconstructing these country dances, several questions arose concerning the constitution of this repertoire, the purpose of the collection, the intention of the writers as well as their social and intellectual background. Confronting the different facts and putting them into context with the town and court life of the Schönburg-Waldenburg territories, they reveal an astonishing dance culture on a modest scale, but certainly representative for many provincial parts in Europe.

The analysis of the dance repertoire of 55 English country dances and 12 French contredanses addresses questions of cultural transfer and memoria among the Central German aristocratic as well as bourgeois dance culture. The focus will be on the ballroom country dancing repertoire and its widespread sources in Europe which constituted – together with other ballroom dances – an example of the common cultural dance practice of the European elite. The influences of residences such as Paris, Vienna, Dresden or Berlin on the cultural life of a small provincial court and town are definitively less important than the cultural transfer which came from family ties in connection with smaller, although sometimes culturally influential courts, such as Bayreuth.

The fact that the dances are described in dialectal German and corrupted English or French expressions, allows a rare insight in aristocratic and bourgeois everyday culture and their level of knowledge, not only concerning dance. The dances in the Schönburg-Waldenburger Tanzbüchlein were not copied from any published dance treatise or dance collection, but written down from memory in order to recall the dances. Several hands can be identified and it can be assumed, that the repertoire covers several years if not decades. Small drawings for the figures in red and black ink illustrate the spatial movements of the dancers. There is a system in the descriptions, but quite often the text and the drawings contradict each other, or leave (at least) two possibilities to someone reconstructing the dance today. The writers put the dances down in a way which suggests that they knew what was meant and the booklet served only as a kind of mnemonic device. Unfortunately, the music is missing. My paper therefore addresses questions about the circulation and transmission of this particular repertoire of dances. It is interesting to trace how these dances came to constitute a common ballroom repertoire at a provincial court and town in Central Germany.


Gerrit Berenike Heiter is a PhD student and performer, specializing in commedia dell’arte/, baroque theatre and historical dance. Her thesis in theatre studies at the University of Vienna focuses on French ballet publications from 1573 to 1651 and a comparative study of ballet at the courts of the Austrian Habsburgs. She teaches dance history at the Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts and works currently as a research assistant at the University of Salzburg for Border-Dancing Across Time. The (Forgotten) Parisian Choreographer Nyota Inyoka, her Œuvre, and Questions of Choreographing Créolité.