Following the unification of France under the Sun King, Louis XIV, he invited the children of many noble families to join him at Versailles. Needing to entertain them he sent dance masters out from the court through France, initially, and then through greater Europe, to collect dances to entertain the children. Elaborate masques and balls were held in which the King and Queen would play such characters as the Sun and Moon and Mythological figures. Other courtiers would play lesser roles.
Bringing back the dances to the court the dance masters would often have to accommodate them to the court and so changed and stylised many of the dances.
As the entertainments grew more elaborate specialist dancers were brought in to play key roles and this lead in turn to the development of ballet in its modern form. It was the first time that commoners had mingled openly with nobles at court.
Among the dances collected in the 17th and 18th centuries were those which formed the basis of the classical suite in music which might include the Gigue, the Sarabande, the Pavane, the Bourree, the Minuet, the Polonaise and many others. The practice of collecting dances together began in the 14th century with such dances as the Allemande and the Courante,
As fashions changed so those older dances fell out of favour and were replaced by newer forms including lastly, in the 19th Century, the Waltz. The dance master Bernhard Wosien said of the Waltz that it was the last Cosmic dance with the partners as the Earth and Moon revolving around the central Sun in the ballroom.
While the Classical Suite lost favour in the 19th century many of the dances remained alive and vital in the villages from which they had been originally collected. The Bourrée, for example, is still danced in the Auvergne where it is danced in clogs to celebrate (and crush) the grape harvest. Among other dances still kept alive in the folk repertoire of France is the Gigue, which some claim to be based on the Irish Jig. It is interesting to note that the folk stream retains its vitality while the classical and fashionable streams quickly lose interest in existing forms clamouring for something new.
The 20th Century demonstrates this as the new dances of the post World War One era, such as the Cha Cha Cha, the Blackbottom and Charleston, captured popular interest away from the ballroom dances of the Foxtrot and Two step. In turn those dances were replaced by Latin American dances such as the Bossa Nova, the Samba, the Rumba and others, in turn replaced by Jive and Rock n Roll to collapse in a plethora of 1960s dances including the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Watusi, many of which were invented to try to start a new trend in music. Most failed or were never taken up. As the 20th Century progressed dancers became increasingly isolated from one another until in disco dancing it was common not to have a partner at all. From serving as a means of contacting new people and potential partners, dance became a singular event, often danced today in darkness with flashing lights so that no continuous contact is possible.