The first record we have of the Cowper family of dancing masters is from York. The first of the family to teach dance was Robert Cowper, who died in about 1890. He was succeeded by his nephew Arthur, who had been brought up in Wakefield. He second nephew, Arthur’s brother worked in his father’s business in Wakefield until after marrying and moving to Workington in Cumberland, he changed professions and became a violinist in the local “opera house” and began to teach music and dance. In turn Oliver was succeeded by his son Roland Cowper, and he in turn by his daughter Marion.
A full history of the family and lists of the dances they taught can be found in Crane, A. et al., The Cowper Family: Biography and Waltz, Newcastle: Newcastle Series, (1983).
In summary the family repertoire consisted of a large number of “fancy dances” such as The Tambourine Dance, Horse to Newmarket and the Gypsy Dance, together with clog dances and the social dances of the day.
Members of the IRT met Marion Cowper and her daughter Adrienne on several occasions. Notes of the initial meeting are available here: 6th February 1983
As a result two booklets were published as part of the Newcastle Series:
Crane, A. et al., The Cowper Family: Biography and Waltz, Newcastle: Newcastle Series, (1983). documents the family’s waltz steps. These were often choreographed by Marion into a routine for whatever number of dancers she had available and this style of performance was adopted by several dance teams in the 1980s. The steps themselves in reality consisted of short units, usually a bar or two in length, used to build up a routine, there being no finish in the normal sense.
Crane, A. & Douglass, J., The Cowper Family Hornpipe Steps, Newcastle: Newcastle Series, (1991), deals with the family’s 4/4 hornpipe material. The repertoire consisted of 11 steps and 4 finishes.
A number of films of Marion and Adrienne Cowper dancing are available:
- Marion Cowper dancing some of her hornpipe steps, Whitehaven 5/2/1983.
- Adrienne Cowper dancing the family hornpipe steps, Whitehaven 5/2/1983.
- Adrienne Cowper dancing some of her family’s waltz steps, Whitehaven 5/2/1983.
- Marion and Adrienne Cowper waltz duet, Whitehaven 5/2/1983.
- Marion Cowper performing a selection of waltz steps at the Newcastle Weekend of dance in 1983.
- Marion Cowper teaching her waltz steps to a class at the Newcastle Weekend of Dance in 1983.
- Members of the IRT collecting the dance Horse to Newmarket at her studio in Whitehaven in 1990.