Balls And Soirees
( Originally Published 1898 )
The capable management of a ball, or even a private party, is an art within itself, and one that is too little cultivated by gentlemen who officiate on committees of floor-management. The duties of invitation and reception committees are to be regulated by natural courtesy, good taste, and judgment, in the usages of cultured society ; and it is undoubtedly due to the gentlemen who generally officiate on these committees in our Southern cities, to accord them the palm of highest commendation for the great tact, true courtesy, and efficiency with which they acquit themselves of their duties.
It is with reference to the floor-management only, —the chorographical arrangement of " sets " and figures, and the regulation of music and musicians, -- that I venture to offer a few suggestions.
And first, of what is incorrectly called the " cotillion," which, with one meaning, is a dance, the " sets " of which are composed of four couples, identical with " quadrilles ; " and with the European or French meaning (and spelled " cotillon "), it is a circle, or " rond," of dancers, formed for the execution of the figures or evolutions of the " German " (which latter name has been given to it because of its neighborly or family 'character) . However, the name matters little. It is to the dance itself, as executed (and literally so) in our ball-rooms, that I would respectfully except. It is frequently suggested, at large and promiscuous assemblies : " Let us have something that everybody can dance ; " and immediately a " cotillion " is announced. In one (and the largest) part of the room, a hollow square, composed of forty or more couples, is formed ; another quadrangle, of smaller dimensions and fewer persons, occupies additional space ; while two or three still smaller and less numerous squares take up what is left of room.
Here are three squares, of different dimensions, the diameters of which are to be traversed by the dancers, during four bars of music. The largest square may be forty feet in diameter, and the others twenty and ten ; and in order to " come out even" with the music, the dancers in the former must gallop or run, while those in the latter must comparatively creep and pace ; and when the fifth or final figure is to be executed, such as " ladies [or gentlemen] to the right," the smaller squares must keep up a monotonous repetition, or stand, idly waiting, until the dancers in the larger have regained their part¬ners.
It is impossible, with such an arrangement of " sets," to dance either gracefully or correctly ; and the whole matter could be simplified, and certainly advantageously corrected, if floor-managers would insist on having an equal number of couples (not more than eight) in each set or square. Professor Emile de Walden (of Paris) calls this " mob-dancing ; " and indeed it cannot be denied, that the chaotic confusion usually accompanying the execution of these " cotillions " is far from being either admirable or commendable.
With reference to the management of musicians, very little of useful suggestion can be made, while they continue to ignore or to neglect the peculiar requirements of dance-music. Their playing, however, might be somewhat improved, if there should be appointed from the committee of floor-management, at every ball, a manager and director of music, who should govern the selection, time, and duration, of the music for each dance, and whose control of the orchestra should be absolute and peremptory.
And here, a word of apology for the musicians who are frequently so confused and perplexed by the different orders of different members of different committees, that they know not whom to obey, nor how to regulate their music, either as to time or selection. They may be playing a waltz, with an " adagio-legato " movement, adapted to the glide, when some gentleman will hop by, and exclaim, " Faster, faster ! We don't want to go to sleep ! "
Up goes the baton of the leader, and a furious acceleration, " piu-mosso," is prompted and performed ; at which startling whirlwind of sound, another distressed " specialist " approaches, and shouts, " Slower, slower ! Heavens, man! we are not dancing a jig ! "
And so it goes.
This may be cited as the one exception to prove the rule, that our musicians are behind the age and the art, when they slur over and destroy the measures and melodies of good dance-music.
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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