Nine-Pin

(Nine-Pin Quadrille, Nine-Pin Figure,
The Ninepins, Prisoner, Wild Irishman,
Miss Tucker, Old Dan Tucker
Kogel Quadrille, Skittle Quadrille)



Contemporary Description

In 19th century dance manuals, "Nine-Pin" is more of a concept than any one particular dance, as each dance manual has it's own version. Here are a few options:


Spencer's Nine-Pin Circle (1869)

Spencer 1869 writes that Nine-Pin was originally danced by four couples in a quadrille, but that it is occasionally executed in a circle as follows:

Begin in one circle, with one or more nine-pins (solo gentlemen) in the center.

All circle left.

Nine-pins select partners, turning them with both hands.

Prompter calls for "right and left all round."

Prompter calls for "promenade," at which point all who can take partners, and all who can't become new nine-pins in the center.

Spencer notes that the prompter can vary the figures "to suit the occasion."

Tousey & Small 1878 describes a similar Nine-Pin circle, adding a few additional figures.


Freestyle Nine-Pin Quadrille (1890s)

Most sources describe "Nine-Pin" as a quadrille, but there is no consensus on what figures should be used. In fact, most sources leave it at least partially up to the leader to decide what figures to call.

Schell 1890 writes, "Form as for plain quadrille, with additional gent in centre of each set acting as ninepin; the success of this figure depends on the prompter to make it as lively as possible. Use any changes which give the 'ninepin' a chance to 'catch on,'" and provides "a few specimens":

"Eight hands round the ninepin (8); all balance corners (4); turn partners (4); all promenade (8); four ladies' grand chain (8); all turn corners (8); all promenade (8); grand right and left (8); all promenade (8). First lady balance the ninepin (4); turn (4); all promenade (8); eight hands round (8); all turn corners (8); next lady balance the ninepin (4); turn (4); all promenade (8); four gents' grand chain (8); all promenade (8); grand right and left (8); all promenade (8). Next lady balance ninepin (4); turn (8); all promenade (8) four ladies round the ninepin (8); all turn partners (4) all promenade (8); last lady balance the ninepin (4) turn (4); all promenade (8); grand right and left (8) all promenade (8); four gents swing five hands round with the ninepin (8); all turn partners (4); all promenade round the hall (8)."
Elmwell 1892 writes that "all the changes can be used; the principal object being to mix them up and make a lot of fun," providing this set of calls as an example:
"All balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn partners quick (4); Promenade with partners (8); All hands around lively (8); Other way (8); Grand right and left half around (8); Promenade to places (8); All balance corners (4); Turn corners (4); Promenade with partners quick (8); All hands around (8); First lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); Next lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); Next lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); Last lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); All promenade around the hall as you are (8)."
Kopp 1896 provides the following calls, and notes that "the above or any plain quadrille figures can be used, especially such as require the couples to separate, so that at the most unexpected moment, the prompter can give a signal* [* Any signal will answer, such as a chord in the orchestra, a bugle call, whistle, baby-cry, or cat-cry.] to be agreed upon, when each gentleman secures the lady nearest him, and the set is reformed, the gentleman without a partner taking his place in the center as the ninepin":
First four forward (and back) [4]; turn partners [4]; ladies' chain [8]; grand right and left [16]; ladies forward (to the center) [4]; turn partners [4]; gents forward (to the center) [4]; promenade [8]
Wilson 1899 leaves it entirely up to judgment of the leader:
The figures are entirely optional with the leader. It is best to select those which require all the dancers, or, at least, one from each couple; as, "All Forward and Back," "Ladies' Grand Chain," "Ladies to the Centre," "Gentlemen to the Centre," Grand Right and Left," etc. At the most unexpected moment, usually at some point when partners are separated from each other, the music suddenly stops, and each gentleman makes haste to secure a partner. But the Nine-Pin is also watching his opportunity, and if, in the general confusion, he succeeds in securing a lady, one of the other gentlemen is left without a partner, and is forced to take the place of the Nine-Pin. This figure is repeated as often as desired. "All Chassez" is sometimes called to close the dance.


Nine-Pin Galop Quadrille (c. 1877?)

My favorite version of the Nine-Pin Quadrille is actually a living tradition folk dance that I learned from Susan Dankovich at Sasquan in Spokane, WA.

I like it because it's simple, fun, and easy to teach to beginners in just a few minutes (usually not the case for a quadrille).

The Formation

Four couples in a quadrille, plus one solo person (the nine-pin) standing in the center.*

* 19th century descriptions generally specify a Lead as the nine-pin, but in the 21st century, there's no reason it can't be a Follow. If there's a gender/role imbalance, it's convenient to have the majority gender/role be nine-pins.


The Figures

Heads Balance (Galop) (16 counts): Heads galop across the set for eight, to the right side of the nine-pin, then back to place for eight.*

* This can either be a leisurely galop to opposite place and back, or it can be a rambunctious galop across the room and back, as described in Hillgrove's description of the Sicilian Circle.

Sides Balance (Galop) (16 counts): Sides galop across the set for eight, to the right side of the nine-pin, then back to place for eight.

Nine-Pin Swings with #1 (8 counts): The nine-pin—for the sake of simplicity, let's assume he's a Lead—swings with Follow #1, while Lead #1 goes to the center.*

* The version I learned from Susan was actually a gender-neutral version of the dance where the nine-pin can choose to swing with either dancer, regardless of role, sending the third wheel into the center. In this case, the dancers circling find anyone to dance with at the signal, mixing not only partners, but roles.

Nine-Pin Swings with #2 (8 counts): The nine-pin swings Follow #2, while Lead #2 takes hands with Lead #1, circling left.

Nine-Pin Swings with #3 (8 counts): The nine-pin swings Follow #3, while Lead #3 takes hands with the other two, circling left.

Nine-Pin Swings with #4 (8 counts): The nine-pin swings Follow #4, while Lead #4 takes hands with the other three, circling left.

Nine-Pin Joins the Circle (random): The nine-pin joins the circle, which continues to circle left.

Everyone Grabs a Partner (random): At the leader's signal, everyone in the circle tries to find a partner. The person who can't find a partner becomes the new nine-pin.

At the leader's signal, repeat from the beginning.


The Music

Any galop, polka, one step, or similar.


The Origin

I've yet to find a 19th century description of this exact dance, but it does resemble the version described in Radestock 1877:

This is considered the most comical dance on the list, and was introduced from the Germans, who dance it under the name of Kogel (or Skittle) Quadrille. It is danced by nine persons, generally five gentlemen and four ladies. Four couples arrange themselves according to quadrille positions, and No. 1 and No. 2 couples commence to chassez galop, by counting four, towards each other; whilst retiring, No. 3 and No. 4 couples do the same, No. 3 and No. 4 retiring; at the same time No. 1 and No. 2 galop to opposite sides, No. 3 and No. 4 doing the same; No. 1 and No. 2 repeat the first movement, likewise No. 3 and No. 4; all four couples return to places as before; ladies' chain across, balance and turn partners; whilst doing so, No. 5 gentleman places himself in the centre, and turning Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 ladies round, the gentlemen forming a circle round No. 5 gentleman, who, clapping hands, stops the music; all five gentlemen try to obtain a lady partner; the one left without partner takes the place of No. 5 gentleman. Should there be more than one quadrille dancing (say three or four), you must appoint only one out of the number to clap his hands for the music to stop, so as to cause no confusion or dissatisfaction.
While not exactly the same as anything I've seen from the 19th century, the living tradition Nine-Pin Quadrille is still entirely consistent with other 19th century dances, being made up entirely of 19th century quadrille figures. It's also well within Wilson's broad suggestion that "The figures are entirely optional with the leader," so in liberal dance communities, it can probably be considered reasonably authentic.


© 2015 Nick Enge


(Click to expand)

Historical Descriptions


Quadrille Nine-Pin (Spencer, 1869):

Also known as the "Prisoner," "Wild Irishman" and "Old Dan Tucker," originally danced by four couples and a gentleman in centre, who is considered the "nine-pin." Now occasionally executed in the following manner:

All the company (in couples,) form one grand circle, with one or more gentlemen in centre; they all move round to the left; the gent in centre selects a partner, the circle stops moving, and he turns the lady selected with both hands, after which the prompter calls "right and left all round," which continues till signal or call to promenade, which being done, the figure stops; the gentlemen left without partners take places in centre, and the figure is repeated.

N. B.—The promptor can vary the figure to suit the occasion.


The Nine-Pins Quadrille (Radestock, 1877):

This is considered the most comical dance on the list, and was introduced from the Germans, who dance it under the name of Kogel (or Skittle) Quadrille. It is danced by nine persons, generally five gentlemen and four ladies. Four couples arrange themselves according to quadrille positions, and No. 1 and No. 2 couples commence to chassez galop, by counting four, towards each other; whilst retiring, No. 3 and No. 4 couples do the same, No. 3 and No. 4 retiring; at the same time No. 1 and No. 2 galop to opposite sides, No. 3 and No. 4 doing the same; No. 1 and No. 2 repeat the first movement, likewise No. 3 and No. 4; all four couples return to places as before; ladies' chain across, balance and turn partners; whilst doing so, No. 5 gentleman places himself in the centre, and turning Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 ladies round, the gentlemen forming a circle round No. 5 gentleman, who, clapping hands, stops the music; all five gentlemen try to obtain a lady partner; the one left without partner takes the place of No. 5 gentleman. Should there be more than one quadrille dancing (say three or four), you must appoint only one out of the number to clap his hands for the music to stop, so as to cause no confusion or dissatisfaction.


The "Nine-Pin" (Tousey & Small, 1878):

Has become quite fashionable of late, affording more amusement probably than any of the other dances. An extra gentle man takes a position inside of the circle and is known as the "Nine Pin." Opens with hands all around. Nine Pin then turns each lady in succession: ladies and gentlemen circle alternately around Nine Pin: back to places, and grand chain. Nine Pin joining in. At the sound of the cornet, or stoppage of music, whoever is unfortunate enough to be without a partner. (right hand to ladies in every instance,) is considered Nine Pin, and must take his position inside of the circle.


Ninepin Quadrille (Schell, 1890):

Play Reel or Jig. Form as for plain quadrille, with additional gent in centre of each set acting as ninepin; the success of this figure depends on the prompter to make it as lively as possible. Use any changes which give the "ninepin" a chance to "catch on." Below are a few specimens.

Eight hands round the ninepin (8); all balance corners (4); turn partners (4); all promenade (8); four ladies' grand chain (8); all turn corners (8); all promenade (8); grand right and left (8); all promenade (8). First lady balance the ninepin (4); turn (4); all promenade (8); eight hands round (8); all turn corners (8); next lady balance the ninepin (4); turn (4); all promenade (8); four gents' grand chain (8); all promenade (8); grand right and left (8); all promenade (8). Next lady balance ninepin (4); turn (8); all promenade (8) four ladies round the ninepin (8); all turn partners (4) all promenade (8); last lady balance the ninepin (4) turn (4); all promenade (8); grand right and left (8) all promenade (8); four gents swing five hands round with the ninepin (8); all turn partners (4); all promenade round the hall (8).


Nine-Pin Quadrille (Elmwell, 1892):

Play a jig or reel. (Form the same as for a Plain Quadrille, and have a gent in each set to act as nine-pin. All the changes can be used; the principal object being to mix them up and make a lot of fun.)

Before playing call All balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn partners quick (4); Promenade with partners (8); All hands around lively (8); Other way (8); Grand right and left half around (8); Promenade to places (8); All balance corners (4); Turn corners (4); Promenade with partners quick (8); All hands around (8); First lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); Next lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); Next lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); Last lady balance to the nine-pin (4); Turn the nine-pin (4); Promenade with the same (8); All promenade around the hall as you are (8).


The Ninepin (Kopp, 1896):

(Formation—As in quadrille, one extra gentleman without a partner in the center of each set.)

First four forward (and back) [4]; turn partners [4]; ladies' chain [8]; grand right and left [16]; ladies forward (to the center) [4]; turn partners [4]; gents forward (to the center) [4]; promenade [8].

Note—The above or any plain quadrille figures can be used, especially such as require the couples to separate, so that at the most unexpected moment, the prompter can give a signal * to be agreed upon, when each gentleman secures the lady nearest him, and the set is reformed, the gentleman without a partner taking his place in the center as the ninepin.

* Any signal will answer, such as a chord in the orchestra, a bugle call, whistle, baby-cry, or cat-cry.


Nine-Pin Figure (Wilson, 1899):

This figure is not generally introduced into the regular quadrille, but is danced separately. It requires four couples and one extra gentleman who is designated as the Nine-Pin. The set is formed in the usual way, and the Nine-Pin takes his place in the centre. The figures are entirely optional with the leader. It is best to select those which require all the dancers, or, at least, one from each couple; as, "All Forward and Back," "Ladies' Grand Chain," "Ladies to the Centre," "Gentlemen to the Centre," Grand Right and Left," etc. At the most unexpected moment, usually at some point when partners are separated from each other, the music suddenly stops, and each gentleman makes haste to secure a partner. But the Nine-Pin is also watching his opportunity, and if, in the general confusion, he succeeds in securing a lady, one of the other gentlemen is left without a partner, and is forced to take the place of the Nine-Pin. This figure is repeated as often as desired. "All Chassez" is sometimes called to close the dance.


The Ninepins (Coll & Rosiere, 1919):

[Unrelated to the other figures by this name]

6 couples leading, 3 extra men. Accessories

The leader selects six couples and four extra men. The ladies form in a line opposite to the line formed by the men, with about ten feet space between. The ladies are provided with large rubber balls which they bowl at the gentlemen ninepins, directing the bail toward the dancer they prefer. As there are more men than ladies they seek to catch the bail and dance with the thrower. The men without partners invite more couples and also three extra ladies who form in lines as before but this time the men roll the balls.

Since there is an even number this time the figure ends and the leader commences a new one if desired. However if one wishes to continue the figure the three remaining men select six extra ladies besides the couples chosen instead of only three, and after the figure is finished there remain three extra ladies without partners, so they select new couples and extra men for a new set.



For more, including descriptions of 25 different waltzes and hundreds of variations thereof, see Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living a book by Richard Powers and Nick Enge.


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