Tag Archives: social dance

Waltz offences: when to call the police

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A fairground waltzer

A waltzer at Winter Wonderland, 2018. With no competition the most horrible experience (the waltzer) I have ever had. I thought I was going to die or throw up or both.

For no reason except that I love the story, here’s an interesting fact about the waltz in 19th century Innsbruck.

According to Eric McKee (2014) after 1780, the term deutscher Tanz, which until then meant any German spinning dance, began to refer to dances—like the Walzer (waltz)—where couples made circuits around the edge of the dance space, while also turning in their own, smaller circles. If you’ve ever been on a waltzer at a fairground, that’s the principle: a surprising case of a fancy name reliably describing the thing it’s applied to. 

For that reason, McKee refers to the waltz, Walzer, and Deutscher with the collective term Deutscher–Waltzer. The difference between these dances and the later “Viennese waltz” was that in the earlier forms, couples tried to co-ordinate their travel around the room with the other dancers, so that it was in effect a very large group dance. By contrast, in the first decade of the 19th century, couples began to treat the ballroom as a kind of anticlockwise circular motorway, choosing to create other smaller “lanes” inside the space, and varying the length of their stride so they could dawdle or overtake, choosing their own, independent speed. 

And here we come to my favourite bit of McKee’s description: 

However, in some regions an ordered an arrangement of dancers continued to be practiced. As late as 1816 in a dance hall in Innsbruck, upon his second warning a man could be reported to the police commissioner for passing ahead of another waltzing couple of the ballroom dance floor (Fink 1990, p. 39)

[The Fink citation at the end is part of McKee’s text. The quote above is from McKee 2014, p. 175)—see references for details].

Having seen the dirty looks that dancers in open classes can give to someone who fails to get out of the way at the end of a travelling exercise, or who is still working out the steps in their head in the middle of the studio while others are about to crash in to them, I can see the attraction of being able to call the police when you’re beyond narked. I’d be interested to know what the police commissioner thought about this—and what similar dancing crimes would be so heinous as to warrant a call to Cressida Dick? 

References

McKee, E. (2014). Ballroom dances of the late eighteenth century. In D. Mirka (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory (pp. 164–193). New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199841578.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199841578-e-7
Fink, M. (1990). Tanzveranstaltungen und Bälle. In W. Salmen (Ed.), Mozart in der Tanzkultur seiner Zeit (pp. 33–46). Innsbruck: Helbling.

Learn quadrilles for a day in Charing, Kent, 28th April 2019

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Here’s a lovely idea for a Sunday in April—come to Charing in Kent for a day of learning to dance 19th century quadrilles with early dance expert Nicola Gaines.

Nicola and I have done a few of these workshops before, and they are great fun, but also a wonderful challenge, as there are so many variants and possible embellishments of the basic idea. They’re also just very jolly and social.

The day runs as follows:

10.45 Registration and coffee

11.15 Session One – Warm up, Steps and Patterns

1.15 Lunch – please bring snacks

2.00 Session Two – learning the first set and adaptations for use in class

4.15 Finish

It’s a bargain at £35 for the day, £25 for concessions, £20 for observers.

Download flyer with more information and application form

Location of Charing Parish Hall

Quadrilles — some background on the music

Readers of this site will know that I have a bit of a fascination for quadrilles. The interest began when I realised how much of the 19th century ballet repertoire owed to the rhythms and structures of quadrilles. Like other ballet pianists, I had searched the classical repertoire I knew for pieces that were suitable for battements glissés exercises and petit allegros in 2/4 or 6/8, and found very little. The day I discovered quadrilles, I realised I’d been looking in the wrong place all the time. (see earlier quadrille post).

Quadrille music is kind of the Hooked On Classics of the 19th century. Composers threw together all the best tunes from opera, operettas, and ballets, making cuts and changes of tempo or time signature just so you could carry on dancing to it in the form of the dance that you were expecting. Sometimes, you have to listen twice to realise that some deadly serious tune has been turned into a 32-count galop, or conversely—as in the article on Rossini below—you are taken aback to realise that “serious music” in fact has all the hallmarks of a quadrille (Odette’s 6/8 coda in Act II of Swan Lake is a prime example—it’s prime jigging-about music).

Any production of ROSSINI must bear his mark upon it, and must breathe his spirit: what that is may be best understood from the appearance of a set of “Stabat Mater Quadrilles.” This publication—a gross outrage upon decency, it must be confessed—shows the sort of ideas which ROSSINI’S music generates: and it shows also that those ideas are the very reverse of those which are conveyed in the words. Why is not PURCELL’S Burial-Service turned into a set of quadrille?—Not probably, from any regard to decorum if the speculation would be a profitable one, but simply because the thing is impossible.

(From The Spectator, No. 749, week ending Saturday November 5th, 1842, p. 1068)

Playing for ballet class tips #5: Stock up on quadrilles

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Apart from fiddle tune books (see tip #3), another great source of music for class is quadrilles.  There are just hundreds of them out there for free on the net, and they’re all in eight bar phrases, so you can use them straight off the shelf.  In fact, it’s probably the tradition of quadrilles that shaped a lot of ballet class musical culture in the first place.  Those endless glissé exercises in fastish 6/8s? Straight from the quadrille.  Many variations in ballets are fashioned on quadrille rhythms, and ragtime evolved from quadrille, which explains why both rags and quadrilles work for class.

Each quadrille usually contains five different dances, all in a similar tempo range. Conventionally, they alternate between 2/4 and 6/8, with a galoppy thing at the end, so you can joint a quadrille like a musical chicken and use it for barre, turns and petit allegro.  Less commonly, there are also ‘waltz quadrilles’ and ‘mazurka quadrilles’, and quadrilles based on operas or popular classics of the day. If you thought ‘hooked on classics’ was so 1970s, think again, quadrille writers were merciless when it came to carving up other people’s music to dance to.

With some notable exceptions (like the ones by the Strauss family, for example) many of them are just so much musical pulp, but it doesn’t matter. They’re jolly and rhythmic and in 8 bar phrases, and they work well.  Any online digital library will have plenty of them but two huge resources are:

Zorn’s ‘Grammar’ online, for all your polka mazurka needs

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I got my copy of Zorn’s ‘Grammar’ via Abe Books a few years ago, but it occurred to me that it must surely be out of copyright, and digitised by now? And sure enough, here it is, Grammar of the Art of Dancing from the Internet Archive in several formats including Kindle.  The online book version is worth trying too, for the very sophisticated searching opportunities it provides.

Friedrich Zorn’s Grammar of the Art of Dancing is one the most concise but exhaustive accounts of dozens of 19th century dances and their music. In 938 short, numbered paragraphs with musical examples and Zorn’s own dance notation, he can tell you all about different types of waltzes, what a Varsovienne, a Redowa and a Polka Mazurka are, and how musicians should  improvise changes in their playing to fit the two-step or three-step waltz.  The book is full of all kinds of fascinating details, like a comparison between the difference in tempo that people waltzed in different cities in Europe (Russians were the fastest, if  I remember correctly), or that the first polka was danced at around 88 b.p.m which was soon considered too dull for social dancing, so it sped up.

As a ballet pianist teacher, you’re left – even in the beginning of the 21st century –  with a legacy of these dances, whose rhythms still haunt music everywhere. To try to stratify them for yourself from the repertoire you know, which is what I did for years, is a slow and ineffective process.  Why is it that we seem to be so much better acquainted with dances from the distant Baroque than from those only just over our shoulder? From the moment you start reading Zorn, you have a pair of metrical spectacles with which to view the vast repertoire of dance music of the 19th century, and begin to recognise the shapes and patterns of those dances in music all around you.