( Originally Published 1898 )
In a general school, where, as is necessarily the case, ladies attend in the daytime, and gentlemen, owing to. the inconvenience of leaving their business, are taught at night, many difficulties are presented in the way of imparting a rapid and correct knowledge of the proprieties of dancing as they should be observed when ladies and gentlemen are dancing together.
That reciprocal courtesy which is always the distinguishing feature of good-breeding cannot be illustrated by proxy — if I may use the term ; and it is always an embarrassing duty for the teacher, in the presence of a large class of young ladies (who are presumed to have acquired at home, at the seminaries, and in society, a sufficient knowledge of etiquette) , when circumstances and a just sense of his obligations to his pupils and to himself render it necessary for him to suggest modifications in manner, speech, gesture, or movement.
That this necessity does sometimes occur, will be admitted, when I invite the attention of my lady-readers to one instance of what I can only call their occasional forgetfulness ; and that is, when once having taken a position on the floor with a vis-a-vis, they retire from the set without making an acceptable excuse to the couple thus apparently slighted. There can be no justifiable excuse offered in such cases, except the single one of a previous engagement to dance vis-a-vis to some other couple, or a sudden indisposition on the part of the retiring lady, that renders it impossible for her to dance at all. And even then, ladies, your regrets should be offered in a manner that would rather imply a compliment to the opposite couple, than to leave an impression that you were acting from selfish motives.
I am fully aware of the dangerous, the combustible constituents, that lie sleeping under the surface of the ground I am now surveying ; but allegiance to my art will not permit me to pause, since I have fortified myself with the necessary courage to make the invasion. I am not personally in the presence of my audience, and can afford to display my valor without fear of being overwhelmed with frowns and cold shoulders. I feel also, that, while there are few ladies who would not be offended if personally reminded of any of the discrepancies referred to, there are still fewer who will bear me any ill-will for what I may write here, when I assure them that I am only actuated by a desire to prove my high regard for them by suggestions made in the most general and deferential spirit.
And so, assuming that I am pardoned by anticipation for questioning in any manner their prescriptive rights, I will go a little farther into the dangerous country, and refer as briefly and delicately as possible to another feature in the landscape.
I refer to the manner in which ladies sometimes permit themselves to be supported by gentlemen in round dances. The attitude of both the lady and the gentleman should be erect and firm, without being rigid. It is neither necessary nor respectful for any part of the gentleman's person to touch the lady voluntarily, except his right fore-arm and hand, and his left hand, both placed firmly but gently in position, —the right hand on the lady's waist, below the shoulders, and as nearly central as the respective heights of the two will render easy and comfortable, while his left hand should hold the lady's right, or support her arm with the palm and fingers at the elbow, according to her preference. The author is compelled to say, that he has sometimes seen ladies and gentlemen waltzing to our furious music, in attitudes that more plainly illustrated the language of Melnotte in " The Lady of Lyons " than any acting he has ever seen on the stage : —
" Two souls with but a single thought,
Two hearts that beat as one."
And it is only just that he should add, that he has rarely witnessed this display from his own pupils, or those of any other competent and conscientious teacher of society dancing.
I have introduced these remarks in the chapter devoted to ladies, for the reason that the remedy for the evil is in their own hands. No lady can be blamed for declining to dance with a gentleman, if his " style " or movement is not respectful ; and a few sharp and timely rebukes, administered courageously, would soon produce a change.
Such remarks as the preceding could not appropriately. be made in the schoolroom, without wounding the pride or sensibility of some member or spectator ; and, when such a misunderstanding happens between the teacher and the pupil, the efficiency of the one and the confidence of the other are impaired. The teacher feels that he is misunderstood ; and the pupil becomes either defiant, inattentive, or disgusted. A gentleman, whether in a professional or a personal character, never designedly offends the sensibilities of any one, and especially is be always careful in his manner and language to ladies and children ; but there are sometimes " corners" in courtesy, as well as in commerce ; and it requires quite as much diplomatic ability to equalize values in the one case as in the other.
With yet another reference to the trials of the dancing teacher, in contending with the difficulties of his profession, I will pass on to the gentlemen.
In a class composed exclusively of ladies, it is frequently the case that many, if not all, are strangers to each other,— live in different parts of the city, and perhaps move in different circles of society. Thrown together for the first time with a common object, each hesitates to make the required and necessary advance to such an acquaintance as will render the union pleasant and advantageous for the time being ; and some even seem to consider that having Come to the school, paid their tuition, and taken their seats, all their duties are performed, and all responsibility ended : the rest must devolve on the teacher. It is this sensitive timidity, this reluctance to act independently, on the part of his pupils, that often tries the patience of the teacher. He cannot remonstrate with ladies as plainly as with gentlemen, and is frequently at his wits' end for an appropriate stimulant to the distressing apathy of his class. Ladies are more sensitive in their pride of movement than gentlemen. The latter will generally take their difficulties in learning to dance as matters of course, and laugh at their own awkwardness ; but ladies do not like each other as critics, and, for fear of exciting such criticism, prefer to remain seated, imagining, erroneously, that they can learn by looking at the others.
Sometimes all the class, acting under this impression, remain seated ; and then ' the others " are rather mythical. When the class is a large one, it is impossible for the teacher to dance with each pupil in turn ; and, even had he the time and physical endurance to do so, the process would be monotonous, tiresome, and uninteresting, not only to him, but to those who would have to wait for the exercise —perhaps for hours.
Good humor, forbearance, and a general disposition to assist each other, are the moral elements that will insure success in learning to dance in classes. Without these, pupils cannot acquire the proficiency they desire, nor can the teacher creditably acquit himself of his obligations. It is more a pleasure than labor to teach ladies to dance when they really try to learn. Being more lightly and symmetrically fashioned than men, more susceptible to the genius of music, and by nature and habit softer and more graceful in their movements, they seem instinctively to interpret the poetry of motion, and to understand the language of sound. It requires only a slight assertion of individuality and self-reliance to enable any lady to become a graceful dancer, and in a much shorter time than is usually requisite for a gentleman to attain the same proficiency.
And here, at the close of this, the most difficult chapter in my book, I beg my fair readers to believe, that, while I have " nothing extenuated," I have " set down nought in malice ; " that I am writing from a sense of duty to them, and to myself as the exponent of the true dignity of an art of which I am a humble student ; and that my great appreciation of all the beauties and graces of true womanhood is second to that of no one who may have had opportunities of comparing the societies of different countries, to the infinite advantage of American gentlewomen.
Dancing At Home And Abroad:
The Dancing Academy
Music And Musicians
System In Teaching
Special Classes And Specialists
Balls And Soirees
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