They certainly can be made very indelicate; so can any dance, and the French cancan proves that the quadrille is no safer in this respect than the waltz. But it is a gross insult to our daughters and sisters to suppose them capable of any but the most innocent and purest enjoyment in the dance, while of our young men I will say, that to the pure all things are pure. Those who see harm in it are those in whose mind evil thoughts must have arisen. Honi soit qui mal y pense. Those who rail against dancing are perhaps not aware that they do but follow in the steps of the Romish Church. In many parts of the Continent, bishops who have never danced in their lives, and perhaps never even seen a dance, have laid a ban of excommunication on waltzing. A story was me told in Normandy of the worthy Bishop of Bayeux, one of this number. A priest of his diocese petitioned him to put down round dances. " I know nothing about them," replied the prelate, "I have never even seen a waltz." Upon this the younger ecclesiastic attempted to explain what it was and wherein the danger lay, but the Bishop could not see it. "Will Monseigneur permit me to show him?" asked the priest. "Certainly. My chaplain here appears to understand the subject; let me see you two waltz." How the reverend gentleman came to know so much about it does not appear, but they certainly danced a polka, a gallop, and a troistemps waltz. All these seem harmless enough." "Oh ! but Monseigneur has not seen the worst;" and thereupon the two gentlemen proceeded to flounder through a raise a deux-tcmps. They must have murdered it terribly, for they were not half round the room when his Lordship cried out, "Enough, enough, that is atrocious, and deserves excommunication." Accordingly this waltz was forbidden, while the other dances were allowed. I was at a public ball at Caen soon after this occurrence, and was amused to find the trois-temps danced with a peculiar shuffle, by way of compromise between conscience and pleasure.
There are people in this country whose logic is as good as that of the Bishop of Bayeux. but I confess my inability to understand it. If there is impropriety in round dances, there is the same in all. But to the waltz, which poets have praised and preachers denounced. The French, with all their love of dancing, waltz atrociously, the English but little better; the Germans and Russians alone understand it. I could rave through three pages about the innocent enjoyment of a good waltz, its grace and beauty, but I will be practical instead, and give you a few hints on the subject.
The position is the most important point. The lady and gentleman before starting should stand exactly opposite to one another, quite upright, and not, as is so common in England, painfully close to one another. If the man's hand be placed where it should be, at the centre of the lady's waist, and not all round it, he will have as firm a hold and not be obliged to stoop, or band to his right. The lady's head should then be turned a little towards her left shoulder, and her partner's somewhat towards his right, in order to preserve the proper balance. Nothing can be more atrocious than to see a lady lay her head on her partner's shoulder; but, on the other hand, she will not dance well, if she turns it in the opposite direction. The lady again should throw her head and shoulders a little back, and the man lean a very little forward. The position having been gained, the step is the next question. In Germany the rapidity of the waltz is very great, but it is rendered elegant by slackening the pace every now and then, and thus giving a crescendo and decrescendo time to the movement. The Russian men undertake to perform in waltzing the same feat as the Austrians in riding, and will dance round the room with a glass of champagne in the left hand without spilling a drop. This evenness in waltzing is certainly very graceful, but can only be attained by a long sliding step, which is little practised in England, where the rooms are small, and people, not understanding the real pleasure of dancing well, insist on dancing all at the same time.
In Germany they are so alive to the necessity of ample space, that in large balls a rope is drawn across the room; its two ends are held by the masters of the ceremonies protern, and as one couple stops and retires, another is allowed to pass under the rope and take its place. But then in Germany they dance for the dancing's sake. However this may be, an even motion is very desirable, and all the abominations which militate against it, such as hop-waltzes, the Schottische, and ridiculous Varso-vienne, are justly put down in good society. The pace, again, should not be sufficiently rapid to endanger other couples.
It is the gentleman's duty to steer, and in crowded rooms nothing is more trying. He must keep his eyes open and turn them in every direction, if he would not risk a collision, and the chance of a fall, or what is as bad, the infliction of a wound on his partner's arm. I have seen a lady's arm cut open in such a collision by the bracelet on that of another lady; and the sight is by no means a pleasant one in a ball-room, to say nothing of a new dress covered in a moment with blood. The consequences of violent dancing maybe really serious. Not only do delicate girls bring on thereby a violent palpitation of the heart, and their partners appear in a most disagreeable condition of solution, but dangerous falls ensue from it.
If a lady waltz with you, beware not to press her waist; you must only lightly touch it with the palm of your hand, lest you leave a disagreeable impression not only on her ceinture (a belt or sash for the waist), but on her mind.
I have known instances of a lady's head being laid open, and a gentleman's foot being broken in such a fall, resulting, poor fellow, in lameness. Nay even death hovers among the giddy waltzers, and Victor Hugo has written a beautiful little poem on who have died of dancing, of which one verse as a moral:
Quels tristes lendemains laisse le bal folatre
Adieu, parure, danse et rires enfantins!
Aux chansons succedait le toux opiniatre,
Au plaisir rose et frais la fievre au teint bleuatre,
Aux yeux brillants les yeux eteints."
Be careful of the waltz, be sparing, lest it prove, in this land of consumption, to too many the true dance of death. Let us not mingle cypress with our roses.
It is perhaps useless to recommend flat-foot waltz this country, where ladies allow themselves to be almost hugged by their partners, and where men think it necessary to lift a lady almost off the ground, but I am persuaded that if it were introduced, the outcry against impropriety of waltzing would soon cease. Nothing can be more delicate than the way in which a German hold his partner. It is impossible to dance on the flat unless the lady and gentleman are quite free of one another. His hand therefore goes no further round her waist than to the hooks and eyes of her dress, hers, no higher than to his elbow.
Thus danced the waltz is smooth, graceful, and delicate, and we could never in Germany complain of our daughter's languishing on a young man's shoulder. On the other hand, nothing is more graceless and absurd than to see a man waltzing on the tips of his toes, lifting his partner off the ground, or twirling round and round with her like the figures on a street. The test of waltzing in time is to be able to stamp the time with the left foot. A good flat-foot waltzer can dance on one foot as well as on two, but I would not advise him to try it in public, lest like Mr. Rarey's horse on three legs, he should come to the ground in a luckless moment. The legs should be very little bent in dancing, the body still less so. I do not know whether it be worse to see a man sit down in a waltz, or to find him with his head poked forward over your young wife's shoulder, hot, red, wild, and in far too close proximity to the partner of your bosom, whom he makes literally the partner of his own.
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