European Folk-Dancing In General
( Originally Published 1924 )
To people who toil long hours at confining work that requires care and skill, there comes at the end of the day a craving for exercise that will release the mind from the constraint of attention, that will let the muscles play with vigour and abandon. In response to this demand of nature there exists one class of folk-dancing—the genre of the careless, energetic romp of people bedecked in bright colours, joining hands now to form themselves in rings, or again in interweaving lines, improvising figures, heedless of step except the simplest skipping and balancing.
Acting contrariwise to the influence of daily labour involving skill and attention, is the force of habitual work that does not require enough precision to satisfy the healthy craving for fine co-ordination of muscle, nerve and mind. The latter condition, too, moves to the dance. But here, in the case of a people whose potency of skill is not spent in the day's work, the dance is likely to assume forms of such precision and elaboration that its performance requires considerable training, and such beauty that it attains to the plane of art.
These two divisions are far from exact; many influences modify them. But they serve as a beginning of the process of separating the gems of folk-dancing from the mass of that which bears a superficial sparkle but is without intrinsic choreographic value.
The second supposition, of a people engaged at work not sufficiently exacting in finesse to satisfy their craving for skilled co-ordination, may be taken to indicate a merely healthy race whose daily tasks require no finer technique than the ordinary labour of a farm; in such category might be put the peasants of Aragon. The same relation would exist between a people less virile and a form of daily labour still less concerned with skill, as the Andalusians. Or again, it is valid in the case of a community engaged in crafts requiring fine workman-ship, if that community be of people endowed with nervous energy in excess of the requirements of the day's work; and that is the condition in those eternally youthful nations, Scotland and Ireland.
National sense of beauty is a factor in the determination of the dances of a country. The Latins have it. The Italians and Spanish have the leisure to practice its expression. The French, on the contrary, direct their energies into work of pecuniary value, and their acceptance of the doctrine of accumulation keeps their attention where it will be paid. Pierre and Laurette frolic with the neighbours on the green, in the moonlight, in what they call a dance. It gives them exercise and many a laugh. But when they would see beauty, they patronise its specialised exponent, the ballet.
"Folk-dancing" is practically synonymous with "character dancing," or, as the word is frequently formed in literal translation of its French original, "characteristic dancing." It means what it implies, an exposition of the characteristics of the people to whom it pertains. Energy or dreaminess, fire or coolness, and a multitude of other qualities are bound to assert themselves, automatically; to any one who can even half read their language, character dances are an open book of intimate personal revelation. The portrayal of sports or trades, which is the sort of thing with which many folk-dances are concerned, does not detract from their interest as expositors of national temperament. Though it may be noted that, in general, the more a dance occupies itself with imitation, the less its value as a dance.
Not least of the elements of interest attaching to these dances is the measure they apply to national vitality or the lack of it. Through the form and execution of its dance, the nation as yet half-barbarous reveals vital potentiality; the people that has luxuriated in centuries of power displays its lassitude of nerve; and the young political organism shows marks of senility at birth. The aboriginal savage, huge-limbed, bounds through dances fitted to the limitations of muscles that cannot be controlled by brain, and the limitations of brain that can-not invent or sustain attention; his dance exposes him as of a race not in its youthful vigour, but in the degeneracy wrought less by time than by manner of living. The Indian of North America is dying of age; the Russian is in his youth.
The list of forces that make and preserve a nation's dances is incomplete without the addition of the some-times powerful element of national pride. This undoubtedly enters into the high cultivation of the dances of Scotland. The industry, thrift and all-round practical nature of the Scotch need not be enlarged upon. Though they do not lack appreciation of beauty, they consider it a luxury for only limited indulgence, except as it is provided by nature. But the Sword Dance and the Fling of their warring ancestors are as though associated with the holy cause of freedom. On many a Highland battlefield they have been stepped; they have wet their scurrying feet in spilled blood.
To learn Scotch dancing takes time, precious time. But it is time spent on a decent and a fitting thing; they are Scotch! Scotch as the thistle itself! From pulpits have come, at times, objections to them; from armed camps and lairds' halls of other days has come the answer, far but clear: that Scottish chiefs, godly men as well as brave, trod their Flings in celebration of victories dear to memory. It is enough. The cult of the dance has continued, unchecked by the inability of occasional well-meaning divines to see its significance.
Caesar "commented" upon the fighting qualities of the Picti, built a wall to keep them off from the Anglia that he had conquered, and decided not to push his conquests farther north. The fighting spirit of those tartaned clansmen never has softened and has had much occupation throughout the subsequent centuries; and attaching to it is an epic, a saga, in the shape of the Sword Dance.
Around the Sword Dance in particular the Scotch people group associations. In earlier times its performance was customary on the eve of battle to relieve tension, to exhibit self-control, and, perhaps most important of all, to test fortune. To touch with the foot the crossed sword or scabbard between and about which the dancing warrior picked his steps was an omen of ill for the individual or his comrades. In present-day competitions, the ill luck following this error is evident; to touch the sword or scabbard with the foot eliminates the offender from the contest.
The Highland Fling, in distinction from the above, symbolises victory or rejoicing. With the other dances of Scotland, it has been highly formalised. Moreover, its routine, steps, and the proper execution of each are so clearly defined and generally understood that any change in them is immediately resented by any Scotch audience.
Every one has seen Scotch dances; any detailed analysis of them would be superfluous. Exhilarating as Highland whiskey, sharp as the thistle, they are carried to a high plane of art. Through them all runs a homogeneous angularity of movement that literally translates the sentiment of "Caledonia, stern and wild." To the dances of Italy and Andalusia they are as wind-blown mountain pines in contrast to orange trees fanned by Mediterranean zephyrs. The theme of the sharp angle is kept absolutely intact, unmodified by any element of sweep or curve that the eye can detect. The essential steps are two, with variations: the kicking step of the Schottische Militaire, of frequent mention on ballroom programmes of twenty-five years ago; and battements, great and small. It will be seen that these are perfectly of a kind. The surprising thing is the variety derived from combinations of these two elements with simple turns, simple jumps, and little if anything else of foot-work. The result serves, from a purely analytical point 0f view, as an admirable demonstration of the value of a simple theme intelligently insisted on.
Spirit, of course, is another factor of great importance in making Scotch dances what they are. A Scotch dancer without spirit could not be imagined. Spanish dancers sometimes work coldly, ballet dancers often; but a Scotch dancer never. The first note of the bag-pipes inflames him.
With the rigourous definition of step, technique and style that attaches to these dances, and the thoroughness of popular understanding of all that pertains to them, the Scotch public is qualified to exercise upon dancing the essential functions of a national academy. Standards are maintained by knowledge on the part of spectators. Indifference of performance or freedom with forms is quickly reproved. Nor, on the other hand, need any performer remain in ignorance as to just what details of his execution are lacking; among his friends there are plenty of capable critics. We noted the same conditions in Aragon, where the general love of the Jota probably would have kept its standards of execution, even without the aid of professional teachers—and certainly do protect it against the subtracting process effected by adding novelties. In Italy the Tarantella is cultivated in the same way, in Little Russia the Cossack Dance, and in Hungary the Czardds. And it is the force of educated public interest behind them that sustains them in a class approached, in requirements of skill, by few other character dances.
The accompanying illustrations from work by Miss Margaret Crawford and partner demonstrate the interesting fact that the Scotch, developing their school of execution along the lines dictated by their own keen discernment, arrive at a conclusion in important respects identical with the creed of the classic ballet. It is possible that the dances of mountain and heather were influenced by the Pavane and the Minuet in their day—for Queen Mary had her masques and balls and pageants, like other monarchs of her time. But even that will not account for the clean, sharp brilliancy of a Highlander's battement or ballone. In so many essentials his dances are at variance with those of the seventeenth-century courts that their excellence must be attributed to a national instinct for true quality of beauty. The splendidly erect carriage of the body, the straight knee of the supporting leg during a step, as well as the crisp, straight-knee execution of a grand battement (the Scotch and other dancers do not use the French designation of steps, but the general observer may well do so for the sake of clearness), might have come direct from the French Academy. This identity is in manner, it will be understood, more than in matter. Like all character dancing, the Scotch includes in its vocabulary positions and steps that the ballet ignores. Placing the hands on the hips; the heel on the ground and the toe up; and a "rocking" step, consisting of rolling from side to side on the sides of the feet—these and other devices are of the dances of outdoors. In the case of the Scotch they are so admirably incorporated into the scheme of sharp line and movement that go to make a staccato unit that—through the sheer magic worked by cohesion of theme—they avoid the plebeian appearance into which such movements fall when not artfully combined.
The Scotch Reel has a good deal in common with the Fling, and is of the same general character. It is customarily performed by two couples. Its distinguishing feature is a figure eight, traced by a little promenade, each of the performers winding in and out among the other three. Even this promenade is performed in a sharp skipping step, that the dance may lose none of its national flavour. A variation of this dance is the Reel of Tulloch, popular in all parts of Scotland, and distinguished principally by its history. Legend places its origin in a country church, in winter; while the congregation waited for the belated minister, they danced to keep warm, and in the course of the dancing evolved a choreographic composition that made their village famous. The Strathspey alluded to in literature appears also to have been a variety of the Reel.
The Shean Treuse, a rollicking dance that covers a good deal of ground, is—according to legend—the representation of a small boy's delight with his first pair of trousers. Naturally, it is based on a series of prancing steps, in each of which the leg is brought to horizontal to keep the trousers in evidence.
This concludes the list of the well-known dances of Scotland. Of the number the most representative, or one may say classic, are the Sword Dance and the Fling.
England has to her credit one dance, notwithstanding all that has been said and written to the disparagement of her originality in the arts; and, with execution to help it, a very respectable dance it is, as well as a monument to a social element that has contributed powerfully to England's rank among the nations. The dance is the Sailor's Hornpipe.
It is a dance of character in the truest sense, being based on the movements associated with the sailor's duties. Accompanying himself with a tuneful patter of foot-work, the performer pantomimes hauling at ropes, rowing, standing watch, and sundry other duties of the sea-dog who dealt with sails and not with coal. The hands are placed on the hips palm out, to avoid touching the clothing with the tar that—as everybody knows—always covered the palms of the deep-sea sailor. While not in any sense a great dance, it is -uncommonly ingenious and amusing in its combination of patter of steps and earnest pantomime. It is literally a sailor's chantey sung in the terms of movement instead of words of mouth; even to its division into short stanzas (one for each of the duties represented) the parallel is exact. Its place in the dancing art might be defined as the same as the position of the sailor's chantey in music.
In England there has been a recent and earnest revival of the Morris Dances, accompanied by a good deal of writing on the subject. In England they have the importance of being English. They are "quaint," it is true. They reflect the romping, care-free spirit of Merry England; they bring to the cheek of buxom lass the blush of health; they are several centuries old; they follow the antique usage 0f performance to accompaniment sung by the dancers. But their composition—and its absence—commends them to the attention of the antiquarian and the sociologist, rather than that of a seeker after evolved dancing.
The word "Morris," according to the suggestion offered by certain scholars, is a corruption of "Moorish"; which theory of its derivation is not confirmed by step, movement or sentiment to be found in the dance. What does seem reasonably possible is that it is of Gipsy derivation. Gipsies are sometimes known—in Scotland at least—as "Egyptians"; so why not, by a similar abeyance of accuracy in England, as Moors ?—a process of near-reasoning the value of whose conclusion is nothing at all. At any rate, the Morris dancers have a tradition of hanging little bells around their arms and legs, and decorating themselves with haphazard streamers of rib-bon, which is Gipsy-esque. Stories are recorded to the effect that there have been performers who tuned their bells, and by the movements of the dance played tunes on them. The stories offer no definite information as to the quality of dance or music.
The Morris seems to have been a dance for men only, in which respect it was unique among the old English forms unearthed in the recent revival of interest. Many of these dances certainly are interesting, if not in actual choreographic merit, in association. Their very names are rich in flavour, such as All in a Garden Green, The Old Maid in Tears, Hempstead Heath, Greensleeves (mentioned in The Merry Wives of Windsor), Wasp's Maggott, Thu Sir John, and others equally suggestive of rustic naturalness and fun. Their revivals by Miss Coles and Miss Chaplin include full directions for performance, which is simple. Several of them preserve the ancient usage of saluting the partner with a kiss—which is not. mentioned as a warning, but as an observation merely.
England has been among the nations to preserve the institution of dancing around a pole—among the English-speaking so commonly known as the "Maypole" that its use in the celebration of anything but the coming of spring seems incongruous. Other peoples, nevertheless, incorporate it into religious celebrations and what-not. The device of suspending ribbons from the top of the pole, and weaving them around it by means of an interlacing figure described by the dancers, seems to be universal. The steps employed are the simplest possible —those of the Waltz, Polka, or Schottische, varied perhaps with an occasional turn. It is another instance of a semiformalised romp called by the title of dance. In passing it may be noted that the Maypole has become a part of the Mayday celebration of the New York public school children—and those of other cities, for anything we know to the contrary. Some hundreds of poles distributed over a green, each with its brightly coloured group twinkling around it, tickles the eye with a feast of sparkle, at least. The same outing is the occasion of an exhibition of the character dancing that the children have learned as part of their school work during the preceding year. The exhibited skill is higher than one would expect, and remarkable, considering the difficulties in the way of imparting it. In one direction the celebration probably attains to the superlative: its participants numbering as they do well up in the thousands, and occupying about a quarter-section of ground, there is nothing in history to indicate that it does not constitute, in point of sheer size and numbers, the biggest ballet the world has ever seen.
Ireland has a group of dances exclusively her own, unique in structure, and developed to the utmost limit of their line of excellence. Their distinguishing property is complicated rhythmic music of the feet. The Jig, the Reel and the Hornpipe of Ireland are at once the most difficult and the most highly elaborated dances of the clog and shuffle type that can be found. In them are pas-sages in which the feet tap the floor seventy-five times in a quarter of a minute.
They have, too, the art that interprets the character of their people. But it is not the Irishman of the comic supplement that they reveal. Rather, by means of their own vocabulary of suggestion, the eloquence of which begins where words fail, they present the acute Hibernian wit that animates the brain of Irishmen like Shaw. Intricate combinations of keen, exact steps, the Irish dances are a series of subtle epigrams directed to the eye. And like the epigrams that proceed from true wit, they are expressed so modestly that their significance may be quite lost on an intelligence not in sympathy with the manner of thought that lies back of them. To the end of convincing us onlookers that this everyday world is made up of nothing but happiness, the music of tapping shoe flatters our senses without shame, chloroforms reason and shows us the truth—that our minds at least will float in the air like dancers' bodies, if we but abandon them to the rhythmic charm that coaxes them to forget their sluggishness. Irish dancing has too often been the victim of caricature. In all truth, its refined intricacy makes it cousin rather to the Book of Kells, whose ancient decoration of rich yet simple interlacement gives it place among the masterpieces of the book-designer's art.
The intent of the art of Irish dancing is the sooner understood by a word of negative description to begin with: namely, it is at the opposite pole from dancing of posture, broad movement, or pantomime. All its re-sources, on the contrary, are concentrated in making music of the feet. Happy music it is, with lightness of execution as a part of it. That no incident may distract attention from foot-work, the body is held almost undeviatingly erect, and the arms passive at the sides; and this is in accordance with unquestioned usage.
Among the dancers represented in the accompanying photographs is Mr. Thomas Hill, four times winner of the championship of Ireland. "The thing of greatest importance in Irish dancing," Mr. Hill says, "is the music of the shoes. In the eleven years that I have been dancing, the greater part of my attention has been spent on the development and control of the variety of tones that can be produced by taps of heels and soles on the floor and against each other. Style is necessary, of course, as in any other dancing, and so is exactness in `tricky' time. But control of a good variety of sounds, which is the most difficult part of Irish dancing, is the most important because it is the most Irish."
Once in a great while coincidence puts one in the way of hearing the work of a virtuoso on the snare-drum. Within a minute the effect is found to be nothing less than hypnotic. Every one within hearing is patting time, swaying with the time, restraining the most urgent impulse to do something that will bring every fibre of his body into unison with that inebriating rhythm. Now, the feet of a fine Irish dancer are drumsticks as amenable to control as the drummer's; notes long and short, dull and sharp—he has all the drum's variety. No resource of syncopation, emphasis, or change is unknown to the Irish dances; the rhythm gets into the blood—with double the seductiveness of sound alone, since every tap on the tympanum is reinforced by the same metric beating on the vision. Joined to the resulting exhilaration is the peculiar excitement always felt in the presence of suspended gravitation; for no less than suspended gravitation it is when the foot of a man taps the ground like the paw of a kitten, and the body floats in the air like a bird that has paused but will not alight. The good Saint Basil was not only eloquent when he asked what could be more blessed than to imitate on earth the dancing of the angels. His question carries with it the important indication that he had seen an Irish Reel in his day. Be-cause, among all the dances that are stepped on this mortal earth, what other is so light that the saint could see in it the pastime of angels?
For the sake of accuracy, let it not be thought that the steps of the Reel and the Jig, and the Hornpipe as well, were not old while Christianity was new. Mr. Patrick J. Long, himself at once a dancer of pronounced ability and a well-read scholar on Irish history, writes for this chapter: "In the days of Druidism, the Irish nation celebrated an annual feast lasting six days; three days before the first of November, and three days after. Coming after the season of harvest, it probably was like a Thanksgiving. The celebration was called in Gaelic a Feis (pronounced `fesh'). Now it was the custom, at the time of the Feis for the nobles of Ireland, and their ladies, and bards and harpists from far and near, to gather at the castle of the king; and there for six days there were competitions in all kinds of music and dancing.
"The dance that was popular with the nobles and their ladies was called the Rinnce Fadha (pronounced `reenka faudha'). This we know was a dance for several couples. It was a favourite of King Leoghaire (pronounced `Leery'), who ruled Ireland when St. Patrick came to convert the people from paganism. From it was derived in a later century the form of the Sir Roger de Coverley; from the Sir Roger came the Virginia Reel of America.
"The dances of Ireland are variations on the Reel, Jig and Hornpipe. The Reel is probably the most classic; it is executed in a gliding movement, and is speedy and noiseless. The Jig and the Hornpipe have a good deal in common. Both use clogging and shuffling; that is, taps of heel or sole on the floor, and light scrapes of the sole. Of the two the Hornpipe contains the more clogging. But it is richer than the Clog Dance that it resembles more or less. It is less mechanical, more varied and has prettier foot-work.
"The Reel and the Jig are danced as solos by man or woman, by two men, two women, a couple, two men and a woman, two, three, four or eight couples. In `set dances,' as they are called when performed by a `set' of couples, the steps are simpler than in solo work; and the time also is simpler in the music of set dances than in the airs used to accompany solos and the work of teams of two. There are Hop Jigs, Slip Jigs, Single and Triple Jigs in 9-8 time. Another peculiarity of Irish dancing, due to the character of the music, is in the irregularities of repetition of the work of one leg with the other leg. The right leg may do the principal work through eight bars; the same work is naturally to be repeated then with the left leg; but often the composition of the music gives the left leg only six bars. This is good because unexpected, but it adds a great deal to the difficulty of learning Irish dancing."
The above-named dances represent the utmost development of clogging, which is tapping of heels, and shuffling, or scraping of the sole on the floor. Foot-work, especially that of short and rapid steps, is the element impossible to show in pictorial form. Accompanying photographs, therefore, give little idea of the charm of the art of Mr. Hill, Mr. Long, Mr. Walsh, Miss Murray and Miss Reardon, from whom they were taken.
Thanks to the American branch of the Gaelic League and its activity in the cause of Ireland's arts, Irish dancing is in a flourishing condition in this country. In intelligent public interest, standards of excellence and number of capable performers, America now leads even Ireland. Mr. Hill attributes this to a combination of well-directed enthusiasm, and the practice of holding four important competitions each year. These are divided among as many cities. Capable management attracts competitors of good class and large numbers, and they are classified in such a way that there is hope for all. Liberality in prizes is an added stimulus. All told, Mr. Hill says that one feis of the four annually held in this country accomplishes as much in the interest of dancing as is done in Ireland in a year.
Dublin and Cork each has its annual feis, with an interval of half-a-year between the two. Each has the dancing championship competition among its features; Mr. Hill's title was won in 1909, '10 and '11 at Cork, also in 1911 at Dublin. As the Gaelic League has prominent among its purposes the restoration to popular use of the Gaelic language, dancing is only one of several artistic contests. Singing, elocution, and conversation, all in the ancient Irish tongue, have their respective laurel-seeking votaries. Superiority in the playing of violin and flute is rewarded, as in playing the war pipes and union pipes. (War pipes, as may not be universally known, are the Scotch form of bagpipes, played by lung power; the wind for union pipes, in distinction, is sup-plied by bellows held under the arm.) And until within a couple of years lilting has been competed in—the old singing without words, "tra-la-la-dee" sort of thing. The irreverent called it "pussy-singing." Athletic games are included for the sake of variety. Prizes in all events are usually medals.
The feis in America follows the same model. Dancing enjoys, a gratifying popularity. Good work always incites the spectators to shout their enthusiasm. With a prevailing eagerness to learn to judge it more exactly, and a highly respectable knowledge of it at the present moment, there exists also that most wholesome adjunct to interest, a. division of beliefs as to school. The Cork technique is comparatively short in step, and very precise; Limerick favours a rather looser type of movement. And there comes in the world-old argument between the Academic and (by whatever name it matters not) the Impressionistic creeds. Each claims to represent the true Hibernianism.
Sweden, during a period beginning a few years ago, has taken up an enthusiastic revival of the dances of the Scandinavian world. The movement began with the foundation by the late Dr. Hazelius of the Museum of the North, and is carried on by his son.
The Museum was planned to bring together a representation of Scandinavia of old, in such a complete way as to show not only products and methods of manufacture, but modes of life and social customs. The result is unique among undertakings of the kind. In a park called the Skansen are preserved the Scandinavian flora and fauna, in appropriate surroundings. Farms are cultivated in the manner of the various provinces, and on the farms are their appropriate buildings, characteristic in every detail. To complete the re-creation of antiquity, churches and all the other structures pertinent to community life are included.
The numerous people required to animate such an establishment, including as it does accommodations for visitors, are the expositors of the national dances. Farmers, shoemakers, waiters in the cafes, are required to learn and practise them, and present them publicly three times a week. It goes without saying that they dress at all times in the costume of the locality of which they are representatives.
The influences of the Skansen have been of a sort to gratify its founder. Society now, as a custom, dresses itself for garden parties in the picturesque gaiety and brilliant colour of old Scandinavia, and dances the Skraldt and Kadriljs of the peasants. A saying has sprung up that "dancing is a form of patriotism." The sentiment has impressed itself no less upon the working people than upon the rich. Children receive dancing instruction gratis in the Skansen, and knowledge has spread into .all parts of Sweden. Now, instead of the Polka, which fifty years ago swept over Scandinavia and fastened itself on the land with a hold that smothered every other dance, are to be seen the merry steps and forms that are distinctively of the Norseland, accompanied by the old music. A princess of the royal house sanctions the revival of Scandinavianism (if the word be permitted) to the extent of dressing herself and the servants at her summer-place according to the new-old modes. She is popular and the movement is strengthened accordingly.
The dances are simple in step, though often complicated in figure; lively and gay in manner, and rich in pantomime. Accepted standards of execution require decided grace and a good style. Gustavus III, when he visited France, is said to have been deeply impressed by the exquisite dancing of Marie Antoinette and her court. The element of beauty to be seen in Swedish dancing is supposed to be due in part, at least, to that royal visit.
One of the most pleasing dance-arrangements is in-spired by the work of the weaver, with the happy changes of effect constantly wrought by the action of the loom. The Vafva Vadna this dance is called. It is highly complicated, the stretched threads are simulated in the lines of performers, through whom flashes back and forth the girl who represents the movements of the shuttle. Rich variety is gained by involved intercrossings of the lines of boys and girls.
The taming of womankind is the motive of the panto-mimic Daldans. Over the head of the meekly kneeling woman the man swings his foot, as a symbol; in another figure the woman's coquetry reduces the man to helplessness. The Vingakersdans pantomimes the competition of two women for the same man. The favoured one seats herself a moment on the man's knee, and finishes the number by waltzing with him; while the defeated charmer bites her nails with vexation.
These are characteristic specimens of a very numerous group. Their revival seems to progress more rap-idly in the villages than in the big cities—interesting as a case of the country leading the cities in a movement of modernism. Many of the pantomimes are based on work from which the rural population is less remote than are those who dwell in cities. The movements of making a shoe are known to every villager; he has watched the cobbler many a time, and known him usually as the local Paytone+One. Upon the village, therefore, no touch of character in the Cobblers' Dance would be lost. The humours of harvesting might in like manner fail to reach a city audience without the aid of spoken word; harvest, with other elemental work, provides many of the Scandinavian dance motives.
Holland and Belgium are alike unproductive of dancing of much choreographic value. The strength of the people is not accompanied by either the lightness or agility found in dancing nations. As a coincidence, it is notable that dancing does not flourish in regions of wooden shoes. The Dutch have a species of sailors' dance called the Matelot, performed by groups of men and women; but it is a romp and little or nothing more. This is characteristic of the dances of the Netherlands, as is confirmed by genre pictures from the time of Teniers down to the present.
The Waltz, it should be said at this point, is universal. If ever it is asserted that the people of a locality do not dance, an exception may be made to cover the Waltz, so long as the locality referred to is in the Occident. The seeming caution with which peasants perform their Waltzes practically removes them from the category of dancing, though not from that of humour.
France, the Eden of the Grand Ballet, the home of a race of lovers of beauty, might be expected to abound in rich character dances; but the exact reverse is true. The people of the country are, first of all, workers; the dances that enliven their fetes are the careless celebration of children released from confining tasks. The principal cities have their opera ballets; through them is supplied the national demand for choreographic beauty.
The old name of la Bourree survives in Auvergne. In its present form it bears no resemblance to the old Bourree of eighteenth-century courts, but is one of those informal frolics of an indefinite number of couples, hand-clapping, finger-snapping, and energetic bounding, mingled with shouts of joy.
The Farandole is popular in the South of France. Under its name a chain of boys and girls, united by hand-kerchiefs that they hold, "serpentines" and zigzags in directions dictated by the caprice of their leader, perhaps traversing the length of the streets of a village. From time to time the leading couple will halt and form their arms into an arch for those following to pass under; or again stop the procession in such a way as to wind up the line into a compact mass. Again the game partakes of the nature of "follow the leader," the whole party imitating the leader in any antic he may perform.
The ancient Contredanses—which word England changed to Country Dances, of frequent mention in story —were the roots of modern Quadrilles. These, how-ever, are polished out of any semblance to character dances; they are of the ballroom and infinitely removed from the soil.
Germany, with its fondness for legend and care in its preservation, would be a fertile field for search on the part of a compiler of ancient observances more or less allied to dancing. A specimen of the latter is the Perchtentanz of Salzburg. Perchta is another name for Freya, Woden's consort and the mother of the North-men's gods. She is powerful even in these modern times, and malicious unless propitiated by proper formulae of actions and words. Placing a spoonful of food from each dish of the Christmas dinner for her on the fence outside the house is one of the tributes. She has spirit-followers: some kindly, called "schon Perchten," others wild and fierce, known as "schiachen Perchten." The latter alight on houses and scream mischievously, lure men into danger and punish undiscovered crimes.
At irregular intervals is performed the Perchtentanz; not apparently as an act of propitiation, but presumably having that motive as its origin. Good and evil Perch-ten both are represented. On an accompanying page of European miscellany is a drawing of one of the "beautiful." The huge plaques are covered with sparkling trinkets and adorned with braid, ribbon and embroidery. Stuffed birds are also popular for their decorations; a dozen of them may be affixed to the lower plaque, a smaller number to the upper; an ambitious crown to the whole is sometimes seen in the form of a peacock with spread wings. The structure is supported by a rod running down the bearer's back, and fastened to him by belts. Its weight prohibits any movement to which the word "dancing" applies except as a convenience; but a series of slow and necessarily careful evolutions per-formed by the wearers of these displays is called a dance, nevertheless. Meantime the "fierce Perchten," made up with masks as demoniac as possible, run about among the legs of the crowd and do their best to startle people. The spirit accompanying the celebration is levity, modified only by the sincere admiration considered due the serious decorations. They represent a great deal of work and considerable money.
In various parts of Savoy is performed on St. Roch's Day what is called the Bacchu-ber. On a platform erected in front of a church, and decorated with gar-lands and fir-trees, a group of men dance with short swords; passing under bridges of swords, forming chains by grasping one another's weapons, and so on. That its origin is pre-Christian seems a reasonable conjecture; but nothing specific is known about it.
Munich celebrates with dancing an episode connected with an epidemic of cholera: the guild of coopers decided that the care the people were taking against exposure was defeating its purpose, since it was keeping them indoors to the detriment of health. They there-fore went out and enjoyed themselves as usual, for the sake of example. Others did the same, and the plague ceased. Periodically the brave coopers are honoured, therefore, by dances of large companies of people, who carry garlanded arches and execute triumphal figures.
The foregoing instances are no more than a specimen of the varieties of tradition that dancing may commemorate. Europe collectively doubtless will produce thou-sands of such dances, when the task of collecting them is entered upon with the necessary combination of leisure and zeal.
Bavaria's Schuhplatteltanz is altogether delightful in itself, without aid from history or tradition to supplement its interest. It is full of a quaint Tyrolean grace mingled with happy and delicate grotesquery. Women it causes to spin as though they were some quaint species of combination doll and top; the atmosphere that surrounds a marvellous and pretty mechanical toy is pre-served in a delicate unreality in the pantomime and in the treatment throughout.
It is accompanied by zithers, instruments which them-selves sing of a world suspended somewhere in the air. In silvery, floating tones they play less a waltz than the dream of a. waltz, in sounds as unmaterial as the illusive voice of an AEolian harp.
A little opening promenade; a few bars of the couple's waltzing together—in steps infinitesimal, prim with conscious propriety. The man raises the girl's hand and starts her spinning. She neither retards nor helps, being a little figure of no weight, moved solely by power from without itself. Her skirt stands out as straight and steady as though it were cardboard; her partner must lean far over now, not to touch it and spoil the spin. Now she is whirling perfectly; with a parting impulse to her arm, he releases her. On she turns, at a speed steady as clockwork, revolving, as a top will, slowly around a large circle.
Her partner follows, beating time in a way that bewilders eye and ear alike; for his hands pat shoes and leather breeches with a swiftness incredible and ecstatic. Of this perhaps sixteen bars when, as though his partner were beginning to "run down," he starts blowing her along with vigorous puffs. Nevertheless, she is slowing down; the skirt is settling. He reaches over it, gets his hands on her waist. To the last the spinning illusion is preserved by an appearance of her rotary motion being stopped only by the pressure of the man's hand as a brake.
The foregoing interpretation is suggested by the delicate work of Herr and Frau Nagel, and the company with which they are associated. It is a dance whose fancy easily could disappear under its mechanics, if performed without imagination.
Having caught his partner after her spin, waltzed again with her for a few bars, and lifted her up at arm's length in sheer playfulness, the man joins arms with her in such fashion as to form almost a duplicate of the "mirror" figure of the Minuet. The courtliness of the cavalier in the Minuet is matched by adroitness on the part of the schuhplatteltanzer; he contrives to draw his partner's head nearer and nearer to his, as they walk around in a lessening circle. Finally, when the circle of the promenade can become no smaller, and the faces have come close to the imaginary mirror framed by the arms, he suddenly but daintily kisses her lips.
Germany is the home of the Waltz, of which it has evolved several varieties. The Rheinlander Waltz is perhaps the most popular. In one form or another it has spread through the Balkan countries; not, however, with any apparent detriment to the native dances,because of these dances' natural crudeness. Servia, Montenegro and the neighbouring monarchies celebrate weddings and christenings and enliven picnics with a "round" called in Servian language the Kolo, that em-ploys the simple old figures of the bridge of arms and the like, but which, as to step, is quite formless. Col-our in the costumes goes far to provide spectacular interest to these exuberant frolics. The linen gowns of the women are embroidered in big—and good—designs of two distinct reds, scarlet and rose; emerald-green and a warm yellow-green; the most brilliant of yellows; wine-colour and blue. As is frequently found in a region that has kept a scheme of design through a sufficient number of generations to allow the formation of traditions based on long experiment, the seemingly impossible is accomplished by the peasant women of the Balkans: the colours whose enumeration on the same page would seem outrageous are, in practical application, brought into harmony. It is a question of proportionate size of spots of colour, and their juxtaposition. The results of using the same colours in new designs is to be seen in the expressions of sundry new schools of painting that refuse to acknowledge limitations.
Men's sleeves and waistcoats are frequently embroidered in the same way as the jacket and sleeves of the women, as exemplified in the accompanying photographs of Madame Koritic. Loose linen trousers, which are sometimes worn, may be likewise decorated. In the sunlight and in appropriate surroundings, a performance of the Kole should be a sight to dispel trouble, whatever its deficiencies from the point of view of dancing.
Greece, too, diverts itself with rustic rounds, as formless as in other lands. Of the Hellas that gave the Occident its civilisation there remain some architectural ruins, to which latter-day inhabitants of the land may have given some care; and certain statues, preserved in the museums of other lands. For Hellenic ideals and Attic salt, search the hat-boy at the entrance to the restaurant. The Greek of to-day is a composite of Turk and Slav; his dances have neither the grace of the one nor the fire of the other. The discovery in Greece of survivors of ancient dances—which discovery is occasionally asserted—may have a basis in fact; but more likely its foundation is in a similarity between an ancient and a modern word. But enough of disappointments and of great things lost.
Hungary, Russia and Poland have a family of strictly national dances that not only take a position among the world's best character dances; without departing from their true premise as expressions of racial temperament, some of them attain to the dignity of great romantic art, combined with optical beauty of the highest order. A Czardas in one of the Pavlowa pro-grammes (season 1913-14) showed qualities of choreographic composition that were equalled, in that entertainment, only by the ballet arrangements of the most capable composers whose works were represented. The juxtaposition of ballet and character numbers, per-formed with the same skill and accompanied by the same orchestra, furnished an uncommonly good measure of the folk-dances' actual merit.
The Czardas, the Mazurka and the Cossack Dance of Russia and the Obertass of Poland form a group that occupy in the dance the place that Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody" fills in music: they are the candid revelation of the heart of a people simple, sympathetic, unrestrainedly romantic, violently impulsive. Each rep-resents an exciting diversity of ammunition, fired in one rousing volley; an expression to which one may become accustomed, but which always remains unfamiliar, and which always produces an intoxicating shock. The abrupt changes of movement from slow to fast, from furious speed to a dead standstill; the re-current crescendo from short, close movement to broad sweeps, open fete turns, and the lowest of "dips"; the diverse effects gained by play of rhythm—such effects are indescribable in word or picture. Fortunately, however, characteristic poses are within the range of the snapshot; so also, to an extent, is the expression of human moods—if portrayed by rare pantomimic ability.
Possession of such ability, backed by the unfettered imagination of the Tartar and accompanied by superlative artistry, describes Miss Lydia Lopoukowa. To her great kindness this book is indebted for the accompanying photographs representing characteristic poses and moods of northern Slavonic dancing. Taken from the work of such an artist, the pictures represent an idealisation, or perfection, of their subjects. They show movements of the dances themselves, in their spirit, without the usual limitations imposed by physique. The clean-cut definition of pose; the co-ordination of pose and features in all the expressions of allurement, appeal, petulance, esctasy—these represent a standard at which the merely mortal dancer aims, but a conjunction of conditions that one may hope to see accomplished few times in the course of one life.
Yet, as noted before, the dances are so composed that,performed with a degree of skill not uncommon in their native land, they are rich and surprising. In steps, the Russian, Austrian and Polish group have most of their material in common : naturally, since they are united by ties of race. The salient point by which each dance is distinguished, in the eye of the spectator, is one big step.
The Czardas employs a long glided step that is all its own. The active foot is started well to the rear, and glided forward; the glide is accompanied by a very low plie of the supporting knee; as the active foot comes into advanced position, the dancer sharply straightens up, rises to the ball of the supporting foot, and continues the advancing foot forward and upward in a rapid kick. The masculine version drops the body lower, and kicks higher, than the feminine; but even the latter's change of elevation remains fixed in the memory.
In the Obertass, the man goes into the low stooping position, in connection with executing a very individual rond de jambe. At the moment, he is face to face with his partner, his hands on the sides of her waist, her hands on his shoulders; after a swift step-turn in the usual direction, he takes a long step backward (she forward), and, keeping his right leg extended before him, stoops until he is squatting on his left heel; the right leg, held straight, is swept rapidly around to the rear; meanwhile the couple continues to turn. The man's momentum turns him until he faces in the same direction with his partner. He springs up on her right side, and goes with her into a short, fast polka-step. During the turn, the woman keeps hold of the man to prevent centrifugal force from flinging him into space.
In the Mazurka (not the ballroom version) the same step, modified as to elevation, is performed by both man and woman, alternately, during certain passages.
The Szolo, a Hungarian dance introduced into America by Mr. and Mrs. Hartmann, gives the woman a unique turn in the air. The woman standing at her partner's right, the two join their crossed hands above her head, she reaching up, he downward. She is turned by being swung through the air—in a horizontal position—finishing on her partner's left side. The arms, of course, have "unwound" from their first position, and re-crossed in its converse position. This movement, masterfully executed, is one of the devices by which the dance contradicts gravity. Ill done, of course, it would be as painful for spectator as performer.
But these dances are not often ill done—at least by the people to whom they belong. We are credibly in-formed that the problems of involved steps and tricky tempo, exacting requirements of agility and expression, are met with a laugh; that, while great virtuosity is naturally rare, real elegance of execution is the rule. 'Which leads back, of course, to national choreographic traditions and ideals. The artistic level they occupy in Russia (and presumably Hungary and Poland) is indicated in a few lines of a letter to the authors from Princess Chirinski-Chichmatoff, of Moscow. Apart from its value as quite the finest statement of the meaning of character dancing that is to be found in the literature of choreography, the paragraph has the interest of showing one of the reasons why the folk-dancing of northeastern Europe is good :
In every dance the principal things are the harmony (1) of movements with the rhythm of the music, (2) of movemets with the subject that the music represents, and (3) of the sentiments with the pantomime, to give a certain impression; and finally this, that it should be a dance which has exclusively the national character, with the movements natural [familiers] to a certain people and to a certain epoch. In the dance the artist ought to show all the richness of his soul; ought to instil into his movements all of that which the sculptor puts into his marble; while above the idea and the mood ought to be felt the beauty and freedom of movements and lines.
Quite a difference between that and some other national ideas of character dancing!
Describing her national dance (i. e., the Cossack Dance and its derivatives) she writes:
"The Russian dance is composed in two parts, Adagio and Allegro. In each part we see the traits most natural to the people, and which were formed in historic times, under other conditions.
"1. Adagio: length, freedom, tranquillity of movement with much dignity and grace, and with a little softness and simplicity; all relating to the traits that were formed during the period when all Russian women passed the whole time in their teremas (house of Russian style), retired from the world, working and singing, thinking melancholy thoughts about life but never seeing it in reality, never leaving the house nor being seen except on the rare occasion of visits.
"2. Allegro: expresses, with the gay and popular songs, the vivacity, the carelessness, the humour and the pleasantry that were born in a people still a little barbarous and simple, whose sadness and gaiety were somewhat naive. All the traits natural to the Russian people are portrayed in their national dance and in the simple music created from the most popular and beloved songs."
Within the form so sketched there is room for a wide variety of interpretation. The peasant expresses the motives of happiness and vivacity in movements that translate the joy of an almost wild man. An advance while maintaining a low squatting position, the spring for each step coming from a leg bent double, is a grotesquery trying to the strength of the toughest thighs. Still more difficult and as grotesque is a movement of squatting on one heel, and rapidly tracing circles with the extended leg held straight, as though it were the arm of a compass. The feminine version of the movements is less violent; but the Allegro portion of the woman's work is nevertheless tremendously animated in the rustic version of this dance.
As the court of seventeenth-century France took the dances of the peasant and modified them into adornments of ceremonious occasions, so polite society has done in Russia. The Court Dance is the result. Refinement has not robbed it of the national qualities de-scribed by Princess Chirinski; her own performance of it demonstrates, in almost spiritual terms, the "dignity and grace," the "little softness and simplicity," the "sadness and gaiety" that she puts into words. Through her performance, too, runs an undercurrent of the indefinable—a hint of latent mystery that is not European. It is a quality not infrequently sensed in the work of artists of Tartar blood; it is a trace of the Orient.