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Fashionable Dancing

The return to quadrilles at some of the latest balls at Delmonico's in the winter of 1884 was an important epoch in the history of dancing, reiterating the well-known proverb of the dressmakers that everything comes round in fifty years. Fashion seems to be perennial in this way, for it is almost fifty years--certainly forty--since the quadrille was at the height of fashion. In Germany, where they dance for dancing's sake, the quadrille was long ago voted _rococo_ and stiff. In England and at court balls it served always as a way, a dignified manner, for sovereigns and people of inconveniently high rank to begin a ball, to open a festivity, and it had a sporadic existence in the country and at Washington even during the years when the Lancers, a much livelier dance, had chased it away from the New York balls for a long period of time.

The quadrille is a stately and a conversational dance. The figures are accurate, and every one should know them well enough to respond to the voice of the leader. But inasmuch as the figures are always calling one away from his partner, the first law is to have a large supply of small-talk, so that, on rejoining, a remark and a smile may make up for lost time. A calm, graceful carriage, the power to make an elegant courtesy, are necessary to a lady. No one in these days takes steps; a sort of galop is, however, allowed in the rapid figures of the quadrille. A defiant manner, sometimes assumed by a bashful man, is out of place, although there are certain figures which make a man feel rather defiant. One of these is where he is obliged, as _cavalier seul_, to advance to three ladies, who frequently laugh at him. Then a man should equally avoid a boisterous demeanor in a quadrille; not swinging the lady round too gayly. It is never a romping dance, like the Virginia reel, for instance.

All people are apt to walk through a quadrille slowly, to music, until they come to the "ladies' chain" or the "promenade." It is, however, permissible to add a little swinging-step and a graceful dancing-movement to this stately promenade. A quadrille cannot go on evenly if any confusion arises from the ignorance, obstinacy, or inattention of one of the dancers. It is proper, therefore, if ignorant of the figures, to consult a dancing-master and to learn them. It is a most valuable dance, as all ages, sizes, and conditions of men and women can join in it. The young, old, stout, thin, lazy, active, maimed, or single, _without loss of caste_, can dance a quadrille. No one looks ridiculous dancing a quadrille. It is decidedly easier than the German, makes a break in a _t^te-...-t^te_ conversation, and enables a gentleman to be polite to a lady who may not be a good dancer for waltz or polka. The morality of round dances seems now to be little questioned. At any rate, young girls in the presence of their mothers are not supposed to come to harm from their enjoyment. Dancing is one of the oldest, the most historical, forms of amusement. Even Socrates learned to dance. There is no longer an excommunication on the waltz, that dance which Byron abused.

In England the _valse ... deux temps_ is still the most fashionable, as it always will be the most beautiful, of dances. Some of the critics of all countries have said that only Germans, Russians, and Americans can dance it. The Germans dance it very quickly, with a great deal of motion, but render it elegant by slacking the pace every now and then. The Russians waltz so quietly, on the contrary, that they can go round the room holding a brimming glass of champagne without spilling a drop. This evenness in waltzing is very graceful, and can only be reached by long practice, a good ear for music, and a natural gracefulness. Young Americans, who, as a rule, are the best dancers in the world, achieve this step to admiration. It is the gentleman's duty in any round dance to guide his fair companion gracefully; he must not risk a collision or the chance of a fall. A lady should never waltz if she feels dizzy. It is a sign of disease of the heart, and has brought on death. Neither should she step flat-footed, and make her partner carry her round; but must do her part of the work, and dance lightly and well, or not at all. Then, again, neither should her partner waltz on the tip of his toes, nor lift his partner too much off the floor; all should be smooth, graceful, delicate.

The American dance of the season is, however, the polka--not the old-fashioned "heel and toe," but the step, quick and gay, of the
Sclavonic nationalities. It may be danced slowly or quickly. It is always, however, a spirited step, and the music is undoubtedly
pretty. The dancing-masters describe the step of a polka as being a "hop, three glides, and a rest," and the music is two-four time.
In order to apply the step to the music one must make it in four-eight time, counting four to each measure of the music, each
measure taking about a second of time by the watch. The polka redowa and the polka mazourka are modifications of this step to
different times.

The galop is another fashionable dance this winter. It is very easy, and is danced to very quick music; it is inspiriting at the end of a ball.

The _minuet de la cour_ was first danced in the ancient province of Poitou, France. In Paris, in 1653, Louis XIV., who was passionately fond of it, danced it to perfection. In 1710, Marcel, the renowned dancing-master, introduced it into England. Then it went out for many years, until Queen Victoria revived it at a _costume ball,_ at Buckingham Palace in 1845. In New York it was revived and ardently practiced for Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt's splendid fancy ball in 1883, and it was much admired. There seems no reason why the grace, the dignity, the continuous movement; the courtesy, the _pas grace_, the skillfully-managed train, the play with the fan, should not commend this elegant dance to even our republican dancers; but it has not been danced this winter. It is possibly too much trouble. A dancing-master worked all winter to teach it to the performers of the last season.

To make a courtesy (or, as we are fond of saying, a _curtsy_) properly is a very difficult art, yet all who dance the quadrille must learn it. To courtesy to her partner the lady steps off with the right foot, carrying nearly all her weight upon it, at the same time raising the heel of the left foot, thus placing herself in the second position, facing her partner, counting _one_. She then glides the left foot backward and across till the toe of the left foot is directly behind the right heel, the feet about one half of the length of the foot apart. This glide commences on the ball of the left foot, and terminates with both feet flat upon the floor, and the transfer of the weight to the backward foot. The bending of the knees and the casting down of the eyes begin with the commencement of the glide with the left foot, and the genuflection is steadily continued until the left foot reaches the position required, counting _two_; then, without changing the weight from the backward foot, she gradually rises, at the same time raising the forward heel and lifting the eyes, until she recovers her full height, counting _three_; and finally transfers the weight to the forward foot, counting _four_. Such is the elaborate and the graceful courtesy. It should be studied with a master.

The "German" (the "Cotillon," as the French call it) is, however, and probably long will be, the most fashionable dance in society. It ends every ball in New York, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and Newport; it is a part of the business of life, and demands consummate skill in its leadership. Any number may join in it; it often reaches twice around a large ballroom. All the couples in it are regarded as introduced to each other. No lady can refuse to dance with any gentleman who is brought to her in the German. So long as she remains in the charmed circle she must dance with any one in it. Therefore the German must only be introduced at select assemblies, not at a public ball. The leader opens the German by motioning to certain couples to make a _tour de valse_ round the room.

Many of our correspondents write to ask us what are the latest and the favorite figures in the German. This is a difficult question
to answer, as the leader always has his own favorite figures. The German generally begins with _l'avant trois double_, which may be
generally described thus: the leader, having performed the _tour de valse_ with his partner, leaves her, and brings forward two
other ladies; his lady brings forward two other gentlemen; the two _trios_ place themselves opposite each other, then forward and
back, and each gentleman with the lady in front of him performs a _tour de valse_. Should the company be large, two or more couples
may start together, each couple choosing other ladies and gentlemen in the same manner as the first couple. Then comes _La
Chaise_ after the _tour de valse_. The leader places his partner in a chair in the centre of the room; he then brings forward two
gentlemen and presents them to the lady, who chooses one of them, after which he seats the gentleman who is rejected, and brings to
him two ladies; he also selects a partner, and the leader dances with the refused lady to her place. This figure may be danced by
any number of couples.

_Les Drapeaux_ is a favorite figure. Five or six duplicate sets of small flags of national or fancy devices must be in readiness. The
leader takes a flag of each pattern, and his partner takes the duplicate. They perform a _tour de valse_. The conductor then
presents his flags to five or six ladies, and his partner presents the corresponding flags to as many gentlemen. The gentlemen then
seek the ladies having the duplicates, and with them perform a _tour de valse_, waving the flags as they dance. Repeated by all
the couples.

_Les Bouquets_ brings in the favors. A number of small bouquets and boutonnieres are placed upon a table or in a basket. The first
couple perform a _tour de valse_; they then separate. The gentleman takes a bouquet, and the lady a boutonniere. They now
select new partners, to whom they present the bouquet and boutonniere, the lady attaching the boutonniere to the gentleman's
coat. They perform a _tour de valse_ with their new partners. Repeated by all the couples. Other favors are frequently substituted for bouquets and boutonnieres, such as rosettes, miniature flags, artificial butterflies, badges, sashes, bonbons, little bells (the latter being attached to small pieces of ribbon and pinned to the coat or dress), scarf-pins, bangles, fans, caps, imitation antique coins, breastpins, lace pins, lockets; and even gifts of great value, such as shawls, scarfs, vases,picture-frames, writing-desks, and chairs (represented, of course, by tickets) have been this winter introduced in the German. But the cheap, light, fantastic things are the best, and contribute more to the amusement of the company.

Some of the figures of the German border on the romp. One of these is called _La Corde_. A rope is stretched by the leading couple
across the room, and the gentlemen jump over it to reach their partners. Much amusement is occasioned by the tripping of gentlemen who are thrown by the intentional raising of the rope. After all have reached their partners they perform a _tour de valse_, and regain their seats. This is a figure not to be commended. Still less is the figure called _Les Masques_. The gentlemen put on masques resembling "Bully Bottom" and other grotesque faces and heads of animals. They raise these heads above a screen, the ladies choosing partners without knowing them; the gentlemen remain _en masque_ until the termination of the _tour de valse_. This figure was danced at Delmonico's and at the Brunswick last winter, and the mammas complained that the fun grew rather too fast and furious. _Les Rubans_ is a very pretty figure. Six ribbons, each about a yard in length, and of various colors, are attached to one end of a stick about twenty-four inches in length, also a duplicate set of ribbons, attached to another stick, must be in readiness. The first couple perform a _tour de valse_, then
separate; the gentleman takes one set of ribbons, and stops successively in front of the ladies whom he desires to select to take part in the figure; each of these ladies rises and takes hold of the loose end of the ribbon; the first lady takes the other set of ribbons, bringing forward the six gentlemen in the same manner. The first couple conduct the ladies and gentlemen towards each other, and each gentleman dances with the lady holding the ribbon duplicate of his own; the first gentleman dances with his partner.

We might go on indefinitely with these figures, but have no more space. The position of a dancer should be learned with the aid of
a teacher. The upper part of the body should be quiet; the head held in a natural position, neither turned to one side nor the
other; the eyes neither cast down nor up. The gentleman should put his arm firmly around a lady's waist, not holding her too close,
but firmly holding her right hand with his left one; the lady turns the palm of her right hand downward; her right arm should be nearly straight, but not stiff. The gentleman's left arm should be slightly bent, his elbow inclined slightly backward. It is very inelegant, however--indeed, vulgar--to place the joined hands against the gentleman's side or hip; they should be kept clear of the body. The step should be in unison; if the gentleman bends his right elbow too much, he draws the lady's left shoulder against his right, thereby drawing the lady too close. The gentleman's right shoulder and the lady's left should be as far apart as the other shoulders. If a gentleman does not hold his partner properly, thereby causing her either to struggle to be free or else to dance wildly for want of proper support, if he permits
himself and partner to collide with other couples, he cannot be considered a good dancer.

 


Article Information:
Article Name:  Fashionable Dancing
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com |Researcher/Transcriber:    Miriam Medina
Source:    Bibliography:  Manners and social usages, by Mrs. John Sherwood ...New York, Harper & Brothers, 1887
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