Main | The Overlooked Eight Step »

January 01, 2008

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Geez. No wonder Lizzy didn't want to dance with dear Mr. Collins!

I expect that the number of couples in the dance would be prearranged for each dance, by the use of dance cards. Still, it makes the upper middle and upper class entertainments of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century seem a trifle tedious.

Staggered starts...that also explains why the entire room was waiting for Fanny to start dancing in Mansfield Park. Since she was very low on the social order, she was used to standing around a good while after everyone else had started.

It also explains why she was so nervous. The whole room was watching her.

Goodness, I wasn't expecting comments on what I thought was a rather dry post!

TexAnne: Not only could a dance take 45 minutes or more in a long set, custom was to stand up two dances in a row with the same partner, so yes, standing up with Mr. Collins would have been not merely dreadful but endless. You'll note that when Mrs. B. describes Jane's experiences at the ball she counts off most of the dances in twos ("the first two with ..." etc.) Given the potential length of each dance, in the five or so dances and dance-pairs she mentioned she may well have summarized the entire ball, and Jane dancing two pairs of dances with Mr. Bingley being significant suddenly makes a lot of sense - they could easily have spent three hours together.

Fragano: Two things. First, I've not yet found any documentation of the use of dance cards that far back. The concept of dance card is so embedded in our culture that we tend to apply it to any historical period. (I made this same criticism of an alternate-Regency novel from Tor which was simply loaded with dance errors.)

Second, tedium is relative. In the 18thc, country dancing would have been preceded by a series of minuets and other formal dances where one couple at a time danced in strict order of precedence while everyone else sat around and watched. For hours. Compared to that, waiting a few minutes for a dance to come down the set is nothing. And we have also lost some of the social context: keep in mind that the dance floor was the only place where young men and women could be more or less unchaperoned together. Lizzy & Darcy using the breaks in the dance to talk in Pride and Prejudice is (naturally) dead on. The waiting-out bits were valued chances to flirt and talking during them prevalent enough that dancing masters preached against it.

Abi: Leading off a dance was a high-pressure job. Everyone watched intensely because the first lady in the set would be the one who determined the tune, the dance figures, and the steps to use. The entire rest of the set picked it up by watching. It's amusing to watch at my assemblies which dancers try to get to the top of the set and which ones try just as hard to make sure they're at the bottom so they have a chance to watch before having to do it. This element of performance-for-peers is something else that has vanished in most modern dance contexts and is worth a post of its own sometime.

Susan: Of course tedium is relative (and life in the 18th century moved at a far slower pace than our own, and was more driven by the cycles of nature).

I can't claim to be much of a historian (except in my own narrow areas of geographic and axiological interest), so I shall have to revise my image of what a formal dance would have involved in the days of the Regency or earlier.

FYI, I linked to this from my LiveJournal. Turns out one of the people I was thinking might be interested already knows you! (That would be Dr. Becky from Boston -- I know her by 2 different online names, and am completely blanking on her mundane last name.)

But repeating it until everybody is satisfied is very boring for the musicians!

Marilee:
Yup, and there are occasional disapproving mentions in early 19thc dance manuals of musicians, ah, taking the bit in their teeth and changing the tune partway through; this seems (at least to the dancing masters) to have been regarded as disrespectful of the lady who determined the tune.

When doing period-style country dances (for me, primarily when doing Regency, since I've no good opportunity to do entire events set in the late 17th or early 18th centuries) nowadays, along with limiting the set so there are no more than 24 repeats (seven couples, though I prefer only six and 20 repeats), I also explicitly let my musicians change the tune midway through. It's always an interesting process trying to balance period style and modern sensibility, but I feel that the "snowball" starts bring in at least a smidgeon of that performance element which is so little a part of modern country dance.

At the assembly I ran in October, I had ladies "call" (state) the tune and dance figures, too, though we pre-rehearsed the specifics since ladies today are prone to freeze in terror if you just suddenly turn to them and tell them to call a dance.

This post has also given me an "oh, so that's what that bit in [book] is about!" moment. For me, it's the description of Fezziwig's party in A Christmas Carol, where there's a dance that starts off properly and ends up in chaos (but everybody's having so much fun they don't care); I'd been able to make out that much, but now I can also interpret the details of the scene as well.

Oh how I love the minutiae of dance geekery. I really appreciate how you try to bring forward all these interesting little details of how dancing actually *worked* in the past. Not just the figures and steps, but the cultural context is so interesting and important to understand.

Some time I think it would be amusing to run a ball that begins with hours of tedious minuets (oh, the performance anxiety). Then again there might not be *hours* because I bet I might be the only person who wanted to attend such a ball!

The formula can be generalized to:

r = (c+1)(s-1) [if s>c]
r = c (s-1) [if s=c]

Where:
r = the number of repeats through the music required
c = the number of couples required to perform the dance
s = the number of couples in the set.

(The case where the number of couples in the set equals the number of couples needed for the dance is degenerate.)

I can provide a derivation if anybody is interested.

If someone is aware of a dance form which uses n-tuple minor sets for n greater than three, this should work correctly.

If you use the Regency option of having the lead couple dance a final time through to the bottom, the formula becomes:

r = (c+1)(s-1) + c [if s>c]
r = (c+1)(s-1) [if s=c]

Marc:
I haven't actually tested the formulas, but very cool. Two notes, though:

(1) When the top couple leads off a second time, they do not dance all the way to the bottom. The original bottom couple dances all the way to the bottom and that ends the dance. The top couple ends a few places higher and then they drop to the bottom for the next dance, everyone else in the set moving up one place. So there would be no difference in the length of the dance and no need for a separate formula.

(2) Wilson (first quarter of 19th century) actually recommends that all dances include neutral couples between the dancers, which means that his triple minors are functionally danced in quadruple minor form, with one couple never doing anything at all. The object was to provide a "spacer" couple so as not to get figures tangled between adjoining minor sets and to provide a sort of static background for the dancers. In a triple minor dance where the third couple already had nothing to do (possible; the Regency default was triple minor even if the third couple was entirely inactive), then there would be no need for a fourth couple to act as spacers.

Since (1) I've never found anyone other than Wilson espousing this idea of spacer couples; (2) even Wilson doesn't espouse it that heavily, as his diagrams don't show them; and (3) sheesh, not more repeats in a dance, I don't use spacer couples and thus, happily, never have any need for formulas for quadruple minor sets. There are other period formats for dances, but to the best of my knowledge none that involve larger than triple minor sets.

Susan:

1) Ah, my mistake. I had somehow assumed that the lead couple would dance all the way to the bottom, rather than dancing most of the way then dropping. It made sense to my aesthetic for completeness, leaving them conveniently in the right place.

2) I'd forgotten about the spacer couples. I suppose if you could handle the sorts of very large sets previously discussed, adding 1/4 again to the number of repeats wouldn't be such a big deal. I wonder if it would avoid confusion more than it would result in confusion when people who were supposed to be spacers tried to dance. Given how often we see that at the top and bottom of the set, even among experienced dancers . . ..

(Note that for practical purposes, what I wrote can be remembered as one formula [r = (c+1)(s-1)] plus memorizing that in the unusual case of 3 couples for a 3 couple dance you need only 6 repeats)

I happen to much like the out time in the sets. My habit is to dance not more than one dance, per section of the evening (assuming there to be intermezzo), with someone.

Admittedly, being male this is easier for me to pull off, because as a rule, men are under-represented at the events I attend.

pecunium:
What sort of dancing do you do? (just curious)

In case anyone is interested in a comparison figure, modern American contra and ECD groups seem to go somewhere around 13 times in most cases, unless the sets are extremely long (over 20 couples or so, perhaps?). I understand that in the UK, they run longways dances shorter.

I am constantly being frustrated by recordings which run 7 times through, which is one repeat too many for a three-couple Regency set. I can usually trim them down fairly easily with editing software for 6x through, which is perfect, but it would be nice to have recordings long enough for a longer set (12x would allow a 4-couple set) since it's harder for me to loop them cleanly with my nonprofessional software and modest ability with it.

I should add that two CDs aimed at Regency dancers have the correct number of repeats on several dances:

Lady Caroline's Regency Romp has three country dances at 6x and two waltz country dances at 6x, plus one at 8x; no idea what the idea was with that last.

The Spare Parts CD The Regency Ballroom (see the far right column for the cover) has a 32b country dance 12x for a four-couple set, a 24b country dance run 6x for a three-couple set, and a 40b waltz played 6x for a waltz country dance ("Spanish dance", as they were known in the late 1810s.)

(I served as dance advisor to The Regency Ballroom and Lexington folks who did Lady Caroline's had taken a Regency workshop from me and had access to these numbers.)

This is really fun! I attended a Regency Write's conference years ago where a dance master taught us to dance, but I guess the modernized it because I don't remember waiting around very much. We were in groups of two couples but we did move down the line until we got to the end and could take a breather (much needed by then!) before we got drawn into the pattern again. It sure was fun!
Thanks for further clarification.

Hmmm. At least one version of Pop Goes the Weasel implies spacer couples as an option. Knowing that Wilson advocated them makes that direction make more sense to me than it had.

Michael:
Interesting; which source? What would make sense to me is not spacer couples per se, but the dance itself being considered triple minor, with the third couple simply having nothing to do and thus being a de facto neutral couple.

Given short modern attention spans and the apparent difficulty of counting to three in mid-dance, I don't think neutral couples have a big future in reconstructing period dances.

I suppose nobody will read this anymore after two and a half years, but I've got a couple of points here.

- You can't dance a triple minor more than twice per couple in a four-couple set, as once the first couple have started a second time through, they run out of supporting couples. This may make more sense in a diagram:
o--x
o--x (1st time through, o dancing couple, - supporting couple, x standing/waiting couple)

xo--
xo-- (2nd time through - so far as you describe)

xxo-
xxo- (3rd time through - supporting couple lacking!)

In 'modern' Scottish Country dancing, triple minor is very common and is normally danced twice per couple: from first and second position, after which the second couple starts from first position while the original first couple, who ended their second time through in third position, go to fourth position.

Therefore, the formula for triple minor in a four couple set coming to twelve repeats is slightly flawed. This is also where the 8x through country dance comes from, and gives you an automatic 'spacer couple', who then have a (valuable, in some dances!) chance to catch their breath before they are third couple when the couple originally below them dance the second time through.

In Scottish ceilidh dances, the sets are more often made up in 'longwise sets for as many as will' and the dance is repeated in duple or triple minor as you describe. This saves explaining as many dances to an often inept or inebriated audience, but can indeed get a bit boring especially with inept, inebriated or otherwise incompatible or undesirable partner - I prefer more different dances and partners, especially as ceilidh dances often have less challenging figures.

- Bored musicians may well have played a variety of tunes with matching speeds and rhythms. Again, very common in Scottish Country dancing: the first and last repeat tend to be the tune the dance is named for or the tune that was written for the dance, with different tunes in between as the musician(s) see(s) fit.

Saskia:
I'm sure you're correct about modern practice, but you don't seem to understand that modern practice (RSCDS and/or ceilidh) is not necessarily the same as historical practice and what modern dancers "can't" do is more a matter of "don't want to", not physical impossibility.

Historical practice would indeed involve dancing a triple minor three times per couple down a four-couple set. The last time you dance it with only one "supporting" couple, tweaking the figures as needed. It's not difficult with most figures; I teach this progression to beginners routinely. And thus you do indeed need twelve repeats. The RSCDS practice of dropping to the bottom after two repeats is a modern cheat.

You might want to read a bit more of this blog so that you understand that I'm discussing historical practice, not what folks are doing in modern revival traditions or community dances.

And here is another comment appearing many years after you've posted this, years after the discussion has ended, as I've come here from a more recent post of yours and feel compelled to post.

While, as you note, dance cards are likely anachronistic for this era (for that matter, I've had some difficulty finding examples of extant printed dance cards from the 19th century outside the US that fit the modern conception), there were tickets with numbers for calls (eg, Wilson 1808, p. 134), and a comment Wilson makes in The Danciad, “Come, show your number—is it B or A?” (p. 149) suggests to me that these tickets may also at least in some cases (or Wilson's ideal world!) have included a specification of set, making the tickets themselves a determinant of how many sets there would be. Or am I perhaps misinterpreting this? In starting to look at eras before those I usually consider, the notion of numbered tickets affixed to dresses has come as somewhat of a surprise to me in general.

On the matter of multiple sets and progression, Wilson's description of calling for multiple sets is a bit confusing to me combined with historical progression, and perhaps you could comment on that as well. Wilson seems to have a couple in one set call for all sets at once:

The top couple in A calls the first dance, then the top couple in B, and so on through each set; then the second couple in A, then B, &c. (1808, p. 136)

In this case, though, a naive reading would suggest that the top couple in B, for example, would have no time to watch the top couple in A leading off at all! What am I missing?

Hi Constantine! Nice to hear from you! And with source citations at the ready! Nothing makes me happier than someone citing sources. :)

I could do a whole set of posts on your questions, but let me give you some quick answers:

Dance cards do turn up early in Germanic areas, but I still have no evidence of their being used in England or America in the Regency era.

I have found recognizable dance card references outside the USA in the mid-century (eg Henderson, c1854, pp. 20-21) but I'm not sure I have seen any actual printed cards. I haven't made a deliberate search, though.

I have many, many references to number-tickets outside Wilson, so they're not just something he made up. They would have been more characteristic of public subscription Assemblies than a private ball given at someone's home.

I've found one surviving ticket (in America) which I believe to be a lady's number-ticket. It is, sadly, unused, so it just has "Lady, No." and then space for a number to be written in.

Tickets could certainly have set-letters as well as numbers. Wilson states (Companion to the Ballroom, p. 262) that "When tickets are not made out for different sets..." the dancers can be divided by putting the odd numbers in one set and the even numbers in another.

I also have a description in a letter of a very crowded ball in Savannah, Georgia, 1811, mentioning the ladies drawing numbers, and that they had been divided into three sets. The implication is that the number determined what group of dancers you were in and that only one set danced at once. So that's a similar sort of use for numbers, though not the same as multiple sets at once.

Wilson also addresses the problem of communication between sets (p. 265): "The couple about to call the Dance, should inform the Master of the Ceremonies of the Tune and Figure, that he may give directions to he different Sets, (if more than one) and direct the band accordingly; the tune should be once played over before the Dance commences." He also gives the MC veto power over the figures, if they're too long or complicated or otherwise unsuitable.

The MC had a very different role in balls of this era than we are accustomed to at either Victorian balls or modern contra/ECD. It's very hard for us to recreate these balls accurately because we don't train our ladies in the necessary skills of composing (or memorizing) and calling figures. I've faked this at balls by giving ladies prearranged figures to call, but since I wasn't using number-tickets we also had to prearrange for certain ladies to be at the top of the set at certain times.

If you're starting to do more with this era, which is one of my specialties, I'd love to come back out there and teach for you guys again!

Just in case anyone is interested, below is the progression down the line of dancers for nine couples, with positions shown at the start of each repeat of music. So the list labelled ONE is where the couples are at the start of the dance, the list labelled TWO is where the couples are after the first lot of music, at the start of the second repeat, the list labelled THREE is where the couples are after two repeats of music, at the start of the third repeat and so on.

This is based on having each couple dance to the bottom of the line and then stop dancing. It uses three couples per figure.

Nine couples take 32 repeats of the music, as per the formula above. The list labelled Thirty-three is simply to show that at the end of the thirty-second repeat, all the dancers had returned to their original positions.

Nine Couples - The dance tune will be repeated thirty two times

* ONE

first couple - start dancing

second couple

third couple

fourth couple

fifth couple

sixth couple

seventh couple

eighth couple

ninth couple

* TWO

second couple

first couple - dancing

third couple

fourth couple

fifth couple

sixth couple

seventh couple

eighth couple

ninth couple

* THREE

second couple

third couple

first couple - dancing

fourth couple

fifth couple

sixth couple

seventh couple

eighth couple

ninth couple

* FOUR

second couple - start dancing

third couple

fourth couple

first couple - dancing

fifth couple

sixth couple

seventh couple

eighth couple

ninth couple

* FIVE

third couple

second couple - dancing

fourth couple

fifth couple

first couple - dancing

sixth couple

seventh couple

eighth couple

ninth couple

* SIX

third couple

fourth couple

second couple - dancing

fifth couple

sixth couple

first couple - dancing

seventh couple

eighth couple

ninth couple

* SEVEN

third couple - start dancing

fourth couple

fifth couple

second couple - dancing

sixth couple

seventh couple

first couple - dancing

eighth couple

ninth couple

* EIGHT

fourth couple

third couple - dancing

fifth couple

sixth couple

second couple - dancing

seventh couple

eight couple

first couple - dancing

ninth couple

* NINE

fourth couple

fifth couple

third couple - dancing

sixth couple

seventh couple

second couple - dancing

eighth couple

ninth couple

first couple - stop dancing

* TEN

fourth couple - start dancing

fifth couple

sixth couple

third couple - dancing

seventh couple

eighth couple

second couple - dancing

ninth couple

first couple

* ELEVEN

fifth couple

fourth couple - dancing

sixth couple

seventh couple

third couple - dancing

eighth couple

ninth couple

second couple - dancing

first couple

* TWELVE

fifth couple

sixth couple

fourth couple - dancing

seventh couple

eighth couple

third couple - dancing

ninth couple

first couple

second couple - stop dancing

* THIRTEEN

fifth couple - start dancing

sixth couple

seventh couple

fourth couple - dancing

eighth couple

ninth couple

third couple - dancing

first couple

second couple

* FOURTEEN

sixth couple

fifth couple - dancing

seventh couple

eighth couple

fourth couple - dancing

ninth couple

first couple

third couple - dancing

second couple

* FIFTEEN

sixth couple

seventh couple

fifth couple - dancing

eighth couple

ninth couple

fourth couple - dancing

first couple

second couple

third couple - stop dancing

* SIXTEEN

sixth couple - start dancing

seventh couple

eighth couple

fifth couple - dancing

ninth couple

first couple

fourth couple - dancing

second couple

third couple

* SEVENTEEN

seventh couple

sixth couple - dancing

eighth couple

ninth couple

fifth couple - dancing

first couple

second couple

fourth couple - dancing

third couple

* EIGHTEEN

seventh couple

eighth couple

sixth couple - dancing

ninth couple

first couple

fifth couple - dancing

second couple

third couple

fourth couple - stop dancing

* NINETEEN

seventh couple - start dancing

eighth couple

ninth couple

sixth couple - dancing

first couple

second couple

fifth couple - dancing

third couple

fourth couple

* TWENTY

eighth couple

seventh couple - dancing

ninth couple

first couple

sixth couple - dancing

second couple

third couple

fifth couple - dancing

fourth couple

* TWENTYONE

eighth couple

ninth couple

seventh couple - dancing

first couple

second couple

sixth couple - dancing

third couple

fourth couple

fifth couple - stop dancing

* TWENTYTWO

eighth couple - start dancing

ninth couple

first couple

seventh couple - dancing

second couple

third couple

sixth couple - dancing

fourth couple

fifth couple

* TWENTYTHREE

ninth couple

eighth couple - dancing

first couple

second couple

seventh couple - dancing

third couple

fourth couple

sixth couple - dancing

fifth couple

* TWENTYFOUR

ninth couple

first couple

eighth couple - dancing

second couple

third couple

seventh couple - dancing

fourth couple

fifth couple

sixth couple - stop dancing

* TWENTYFIVE

ninth couple - start dancing

first couple

second couple

eighth couple - dancing

third couple

fourth couple

seventh couple - dancing

fifth couple

sixth couple

* TWENTYSIX

first couple

ninth couple - dancing

second couple

third couple

eighth couple - dancing

fourth couple

fifth couple

seventh couple - dancing

sixth couple

* TWENTYSEVEN

first couple

second couple

ninth couple - dancing

third couple

fourth couple

eighth couple dancing

fifth couple

sixth couple

seventh couple - stop dancing

* TWENTYEIGHT

first couple

second couple

third couple

ninth couple - dancing

fourth couple

fifth couple

eighth couple - dancing

sixth couple

seventh couple

* TWENTYNINE

first couple

second couple

third couple

fourth couple

ninth couple - dancing

fifth couple

sixth couple

eight couple - dancing

seventh couple

* THIRTY

first couple

second couple

third couple

fourth couple

fifth couple

ninth couple - dancing

sixth couple

seventh couple

eighth couple - stop dancing

* THIRTYONE

first couple

second couple

third couple

fourth couple

fifth couple

sixth couple

ninth couple - dancing

seventh couple

eighth couple

* THIRTYTWO

first couple

second couple

third couple

fourth couple

fifth couple

sixth couple

seventh couple

ninth couple - dancing

eighth couple

* THIRTYTHREE - no music, no one is dancing, everyone is back in original positions

first couple

second couple

third couple

fourth couple

fifth couple

sixth couple

seventh couple

eight couple

ninth couple - stop dancing

*

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Support Kickery!

Support Kickery by subscription for as little as $1 a month for extra access and rewards!

Support Kickery with a one-time tip!


Use this link for your Amazon shopping to send Susan small commissions at no extra cost to you!

Follow Susan on Social Media

Historical Dance Music For Sale

Fancy Dress Balls & Masquerades


  • Kickery's sister blog. Currently dormant but includes brief discussions and illustrations of historical fancy dress and masquerade balls.
Blog powered by Typepad