Dancing And Dress
( Originally Published 1918 )
THE poetry of motion, as dancing has been aptly termed, meets one of the imperative needs of the human being. Dancing, there-fore, has always existed and always will exist. There can be no question as to the benefit to be derived from the right kind of dancing; yet we must admit that there is a great deal of dancing which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be termed beneficial. There are many who, perceiving only the harm that is done by the wrong kind of dancing, condemn the art outright. They fail, however, to take into account the need which exists in every human being for complete self-expression, of which rhythmic motion forms an essential part.
Too much cannot be said in praise of such forms of expression as the folk dances, which can be indulged in out of doors in the bright sun-shine, with the fresh, pure air blowing about one, and the exhiliration of Nature to add to the hilarity of the occasion. This sort of dancing gives needed muscular activity, requires deep breathing, and is productive of that lightness of spirit which quickens the activity of the body fully as much as the muscular efforts which are put forth. If all of us could spend a little time each day as long as the weather permitted, in such outdoor activity, we would live longer and be better men and women.
For this reason I would advocate that every young woman should make herself familiar with the folk dances of Russia and other lands, with interpretive and barefoot dancing, learning them not alone for her own sake but in order that later on she may initiate her children early in life into these poetical terpsichorian rites. Think of the joy that the family will experience when, in some fragrant dusk, they gather on the lawn and join the night moths circling about the ghostlike flowers that breathe forth their perfume on the evening air. Children love nothing so much as dancing, and through this form of activity they may be enabled to retain the grace which is natural to childhood, but which is too often lost in later life. Then, too, the more good times that father and mother can have with the children, the closer and more harmonious will the family life be.
This is a very different matter, as all will realize, however, from the social dances which are so apt to engage the attention of young people to an absorbing degree. Here we have a number of elements which are not desirable. The close, stuffy rooms, the late hours, the unnatural manner of dressing, and, too often, the suggestiveness which is made an accompaniment of these dances, all unite to make them detrimental rather than beneficial. As a form of recreation they are a failure, because they do not recreate the body.
They continue the destructive bodily processes to a still greater degree, and become a potent means of exhaustion.
To be sure, one could endure such drains upon one's physical resources two or three times during a season; but as young people go into these matters, it is more frequently two or three times a week that they call upon their bodies to with-stand this unnecessary strain. It is unfortunate that we cannot learn early in life the increased pleasure which comes through moderation. Too often, however, we wear out our powers of enjoyment through excessive indulgence in first one form of pleasure and then another.
There are other harmful elements in the dance besides those which come from too frequent and prolonged indulgence in it. Anyone who watches closely the modern dances must realize that there is great opportunity for stimulating feelings which are better left undisturbed.. It is possible, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, to dance the latest dances in a very refined and beautiful manner. Too often, however, we see in the modern ballroom exhibitions which are startling from the fact that they are given by young people who presumably come from the best families and have had every opportunity to develop the higher social qualities of their natures, and hence to subdue the purely physical side.
It may frequently happen that this is done unconsciously by some who have thoughtlessly begun to imitate some one whose dancing they admire, but whose actions they fail to understand. Young girls are most apt to be misled in this way. They observe some older woman, who appears to receive a great deal of admiration and attention from the men, and feel that they might attract more attention by adopting her seductive manners.
This is a terrible mistake upon the part of a young girl, for it may lead to a complete misunderstanding of her real nature by those who are wiser in the ways of the world than she, and expose her to treatment which otherwise she would never have had to endure. Any man worthy of the name will respect the innocence of a charming young girl ; but when he sees actions which to him indicate knowledge of those things of which a young girl is supposed to be ignorant, he may then feel justified in using his own arts and wiles to their fullest extent, under the impression that he is dealing with one who is as fully awake upon these matters as he is himself.
A young girl cannot be too careful to deport herself most circumspectly when dancing the modem dances, and it is well for her to know that she always has it in her power to exercise a certain amount of control over those whom she permits to be her partners.
If, for example, she finds herself dancing with a young man whose manner of leading her, or of performing the steps when dancing, does not please her, it is always possible for her to say to him, quite sweetly, "May we not sit out the rest of this dance?" It is quite likely that he will know intuitively why she has made this request. His next invitation for a dance she can refuse; or, if he insists and she thinks it right to give him another chance, she may accept with the statement that she will try him once more and see whether his step suits hers. Men are not dull of comprehension in these matters, and she will soon establish a reputation for herself which will protect her from all such experiences in the future.
Young people who have entered upon their married life together would do well to consider just how much of their time and energy they wish to spend in attending dances. If they are wise, they will come to feel that life holds so much for them in other ways that they cannot afford to fritter away much of their time and energy in this manner. The young man who is struggling to climb the ladder of business success has very little surplus strength to waste in dancing. The young woman who has a family needs to be bright and fresh each morning, in order to start things with the right vibration. They will naturally find themselves withdrawing more and more from these night hours of dissipation, and enjoying the more lasting happiness of companionship in the home.
The young married woman who attends dances has now a responsibility which was never hers before. She is a young matron and, as such, will be looked up to by the younger girls. She may often be a great help to them. In the first place, by setting them a wise example; in the second place, by occasionally speaking a wise word of enlightenment or of advice which may prove of great benefit to some girl in need of a true friend.
Many girls enter social life at so early an age that they are entirely unprotected by any under-standing of social usage. They think they can use their own eyes, and learn what is proper by imitating those about them. If they happen to be so fortunate as to choose the right one to imitate, their experiment will be successful. But, as they have few standards of comparison, they are quite as likely as not to choose the wrong person for their example.
The young matron should be on the lookout for such cases as these. She should realize that having found her life's happiness, she ought to go to the evening function with the desire to help others have a good time ; and she should especially wish to prove herself an older sister to these younger, less experienced girls. She may see some older man taking advantage of a girl's experience to put her in an unpleasantly conspicuous light; or she may see some silly young creature throwing herself at the head of some irresponsive man. Let her not think that these matters do not concern her, but rather try to be a wise guardian of these younger, less experienced sisters of hers.
It may be she will be called upon at times to act as chaperon. This may be a rather difficult position for her to fill, because her youth will tempt her to permit little indiscretions which it is her place to hold in check. Realizing, however, that she is being trusted by the mothers of these girls to see that they live up to the standards of true 'womanhood, she will be strong to stand for what she knows is right.
Sometimes it is possible for a young married woman to be a great help to the young men at these dances. It is possible for her to speak much more frankly to them than a young girl could do. When she has as partner a man whose manner seems to her unnecessarily suggestive of physical things it is quite possible for her to say to him, `I am not going to dance with you if you continue your present method of dancing. I don't like it, and I don't think it belongs in this ballroom. I am saying this to you not so much for my own sake as for the sake of the girls here with whom you do most of your dancing. Don't you think you owe it to them to make your dancing less suggestive?" It will not be possible for him to bluff his way out of it, as he could with the young and supposedly unsophisticated girl. He will feel that, without doubt, her husband has enlightened her as to the things she should not allow in dancing, and it may be that her brief words, kindly spoken, will arouse his better nature and cause him to make a radical change in his manner.
Of course, husband and wife are not supposed. to allow any feeling of jealousy to creep in when they see each other in some one else's arms. It may be difficult for one or the other of them always to live up to this standard. In that case, where there is true love it will be a very small sacrifice to allay the feeling by refusing to dance with those who arouse this unhappy state of mind. The pleasure derived from the occasional dance cannot weigh in the balance against the happiness of the home.
It is most appropriate to consider dress in connection with the subject of dancing, although there is so much that may be said upon this subect that it would almost seem to deserve a chapter by itself.
It is strange to think that a land of civilization and freedom like our own should retain in some of its social customs such relics of barbarism, for example, as grew up in connection with the slave market.
In the days when women were bought and sold as chattels, it was, of course, customary to expose their charms to the prospective buyers. Without any doubt, this was the origin of the custom which still obtains in fashionable circles of the women appearing at evening gatherings in what is usually referred to as evening dress, but which might more appropriately be termed evening undress. Whatever charms a woman thinks she possesses, she endeavors upon such occasions to display to the fullest extent. If her back is sup-posed to be particularly beautiful, she will have the V cut almost to the waistline. The fashion nowadays seems to demand absolutely no sleeves, which, of course, calls for the removal of the hair under the arms.
Not only is a large portion of the body left uncovered, but the material of which the gown is made is so flimsy that, so far as covering the underwear is concerned, there might just as well be nothing put over it. The idea seems to be that having spent much money in beautiful lingerie it is absolutely necessary to make everybody aware of the fact.
The impression made upon the mind of a lad of sixteen by this style of dress is well indicated by the remark of one who was arguing with his mother over the question as to whether or not it was more expensive to clothe a boy than a girl. He insisted that a boy was a much greater expense. When his mother referred to a girl's party gown, he said, "Why, you don't mean to say that that little thing she wears over her underclothes costs anything to speak of?" His description seems very good for the modern party dress—"the little thing she wears over her underclothes."
Apparel which is intended for every day use partakes of the same transparent nature. Even those young women who go daily into the business world, where they are thrown constantly into association with men of whose habit of life and mental attitude they know nothing whatever, will nevertheless put on a waist made of the most filmy material and then attract attention by bright colored ribbons and bows to what is underneath. How can they expect strange men really to respect them when they thus brazenly call attention to the personal charms which should be reserved for the intimacies of married life?
Why women of refinement who have absolute control over their own persons should publicly place themselves, as it were, upon the auction block in this manner, is more than any reasoning being can understand.
The probability is that the majority of the good women who dress in this way do so absolutely unthinkingly. They accept the decree of fashion without asking themselves where this fashion may have originated. Neither do they stop to consider what the effect may be upon those who come in contact with them. They should know, however, that the young men of today are saying openly amongst themselves and to women of intelligence, "How can women expect us men to keep ourselves pure and clean and our passions stilled when they so openly endeavor to stimulate our lower desires in every way in their power? We cannot respect them when they make them-selves so common, and naturally we follow their lead and look upon them as our playthings to amuse us for an idle hour or two."
Not until the women of this nation respect themselves too much to make themselves thus common can we hope to see our young men live up to the standards of purity of thought and act which the welfare of the nation demands. Women need to think of these matters seriously at this time. Our government is doing everything in its power to instil high ideals of personal chastity in the minds of the boys in khaki. What hope is there for success in this effort, if they cannot enlist the women of the nation to exert their influence along the same line? The women can do this only by showing the better way. When they have developed true modesty and self-respect, so that they refuse to be led into these extremes of fashion so suggestive of the underworld, then, and not until then, will they be able to inspire the young men of the nation to lives of highest morality and self-control.
Nothing has been said in connection with this matter of dress about the length of skirts, because it is reasonable and right for women to desire to liberate themselves from the encumbrance of the traditional long skirt. It is not necessary, however, for women to endeavor to wear cob-webs for stockings, or to have them of such color that it is necessary for the observer to look twice in order to make sure that there is any covering upon the limbs.
It would really be a splendid thing if women would just think a little bit less about their appearance, and a little bit more about what they really are. After all, character does count some-what, even with a mere man. He may be allured in the beginning by a bewitching curl or a fascinating dimple, but if he finds nothing to sustain these charms, he will probably turn to more interesting companionship.
The young wife would do well to pay a little heed to her husband's hints in regard to clothing, not so much as to style and so on, but rather as to the impression made upon men by women's dress. He may be able to open her eyes to some things she had not considered before; and, with the added knowledge of a married woman, she may here also prove a practical help to the girls of her acquaintance. We have no right to put temptation in the way of 'others, and if woman's present style of dress makes life more difficult for men, she owes it to her self-respect to change her mode of dressing at once.