Dodsworth states that: "This (German) dance was introduced in New York about the year 1844. At that time the quadrille was the fashionable dance, but was known as the cotillion. To make a distinction between that and this dance, which was known in Europe by the same name, this was called the "German-Cotillion;" gradually the word cotillion was dropped, the dance becoming simply "The German."
The word Cotte was a short petticoat worn by the lower class (peasants) and the dance was so called because the ladies raised their dresses while dancing the lively figures, and thus exposed to view their feet and white petticoats (like the CAN-CAN). The name is said to have been derived from a song at the time: "Ma Commere, quand je danse, Mon Cotillion va-t-il bien."
The Cotillion became popular during the reign of Charles X of France (1757-1836), and was very common in England and Scotland at the end of the prior and the beginning twentieth Century. It was danced by eight persons, and nearly all the figures were lively, and required the entire set to take part at once. Many different dances would be performed as well as rounds. However, these original cotillions, made fools of men.
At some Cotillions of olde it was customary for a lady to hold a lighted candle "Le Cavalier de la Triste-Figure!" (The leader of the said figure,) and when the lady was approached to dance by other than one gentleman, the loser of the two must hold the candle till the lady had finished her dance with whom she accepted. That's where the saying "He's holding a candle for you " came from (see above Pic).
Also a man who appeared to possess ordinary faculties, who was not endowed with a light sense of the ridiculous, and who still stood before a lady in a line with five or six other dancers? (today would be considered desperate!.) In one Cotillion charade, the lady would throw aprons, which these men, (who calling themselves reasonable,) picked up, unfolded, and quickly tied over their coats, because he who finishes this operation the most quickly dances with the one who has thrown the aprons, which must be worn during a Waltz.
In the Coquette in the 1840's, the lady after dancing is escorted back to her seat, and when a gentleman is presented to her to dance, if she declines, the gentleman must stand behind her chair, and another is presented, if she declines, he as well stands behind her chair, this repeats over and over until she accepts a dance, then the men standing may return to whatever they were doing. If one would see such persons indulge in such childish sport, one asks if their brains have not become suddenly deranged. (these dance charades had to be invented by a women... by today's standards, it sounds ridiculous!!!).
There are some figures of the Cotillion which can be executed by two couples, others by three, and some by four etc. while generally performed by eight dancers in a square (four couples), with figures being done by one or two couples at a time alternating with figures for the entire set (known as "changes".) Later with the introduction of the Quadrille, the number of dancers would grow. The cotillion would also add "dance favors" to the dance, which were basically gifts, prizes etc. (some folks considered this an insult ... as some gifts were intended to embarrass). After the first round of fancying ... dinner was usually served, after dinner the men would offer bouquets of artificial daisies and violets, cascades of blossoms and ribbons to the ladies, then the ladies usually presented boutonnieres to their partners, and the dancing would resume. The figures d' ensemble were the most loved, since all the couples take part in them (I bet they were, no males were made fools of.)
Some Original Pattern names of the Cotillion are (there were hundreds):
Presentation, Rounds Of Three, Serpent, The Trap, The Bridge, Hungarian Change, - Double Windmill, The Graces, Star and Circle, Eccentric Columns, Thread The Needle, Gliding Line, The Oracle, Marlbrouk, The Candle, The Fan, The Turning Hat, Le gâteau des rois (pretty), Les drapeaux, les bouquets, les rubans, la bergère des Alpes, le parapline, la pêche à la ligne, les grosses têtes, and l'ecueil.
The Dance was introduced to England and became very popular there along with the Contre dances. Cotillions are still danced to this day, but mainly by younger folks whose parents have enrolled them for a Debutante's Ball, Charity dance etc. which teaches young adults social manners, etiquette etc. Today's Cotillion consist of today's ballroom dances (Jive,
etc.) These Cotillion's teach social manners and etiquette to the young though dance, (Thank God, the Humiliation of the boys/men were dropped as well.) The Cotillions were later replaced by the Quadrilles in popularity.
When the Quadrilles started to take over, the Contredanse Francaise, Quadrilles, Lancers, Hornpipes, Gigues, Reels and the Cotillion etc. would all merge to form a new dance style called 'Barn Dancing', in the late 19th Century and in more modern terms be called 'Square dancing'. However, Cotillions still exist today, and more in the original 'Ballroom form' (no jigs, reels hornpipes etc) than the Square dance form of today.
Most now are someones right of passage or 18th Birthday party.