Pictured at left (click to enlarge) are two dance cards which I purchased as a set. The first is clearly as the card as the Programme from the Annual Alumni Ball of Solon High School held on June 23, 1918. Music was provided by Lyon's Orchestra, and the location was Caratunk Hall. There are several Solons in the United States, but the hall name enabled me to trace this card to a tiny town in western Maine.
Caratunk Hall, built in 1840, was named after the Caratunk Falls, and was standing at least through 2005 as the "Solon Flea Market". The card is printed in color, and a green cord and tassel for an attached pencil are still present.
The second card is labeled only as that of the Second Annual Senior Ball, June 19, 1919, but since it arrived tucked inside the first card and has a very similar list of dances, I believe it to also be associated with Solon High School; a senior ball another term for a senior prom. The card is very plain, with pinked edges.
The dance lists of the two cards are an intriguing look at dance in small-town New England in the 1910s and how much it could differ from the modern conception of the era as completely dominated by couple dances. That may have been the case in the big cities, but not in little Solon. Comparing the two cards also hints at changes in social dancing over the year between them.
Both begin with an unnumbered waltz, then open with a "Grand March and Circle". I would guess that the latter refers to the Sicilian Circle, which a number of late nineteenth-century dance manuals suggest was used as an ending to a Grand March:
The floor manager will inform you when he is ready for the Grand March. Select a 4-4 march, and play moderately, when he is ready to stop he will also inform you, and if there is a Cicilian Circle, rap on your stand to attract attention, and say, Please form for the circle, every other couple face about.
--- Professor L. H. Elmwell in the Prompter's pocket instruction book, Boston, 1892.
The couple dances in 1918 consist of both individual waltzes, one-steps, and a two-step and dances paired in a fashion I have not previously seen: "Waltz and One Step" or "Waltz and Two Step". Intriguingly, there are also two listed "Round Dances" (plural), which are something of a mystery to me at the moment. In the late nineteenth century, Maine dancing master M. B. Gilbert (in 1890) and his New York colleague Allen Dodworth (in 1885) both used the term "round dances" to cover all the unchoreographed couple dances of the 1880s: waltz, polka, schottische, redowa, galop, and their many variations. Marguerite Wilson, whose manual Dancing, published in Philadephia in 1899 and copied liberally from Dodworth, employed the same usage. Modern practice, however, reserves the term for choreographed ballroom sequences, where the moves are directed by a "cuer" who calls them out in sequence, just as in modern contra or square dancing. It is not clear to me exactly when this sense of the term developed, but since the waltz, two-step, and one-step are all listed by name, I don't think the inhabitants of Solon were using "round dances" simply as a synonym for "couple dances". Perhaps they meant choreographed sequences, or perhaps used it to refer to more old-fashioned couple dances such as the polka or schottische. Another possibility is that they referred to some sort of circle mixer, like the 1914 Round Two-Step or a Paul Jones.
In 1919, the round dances and paired dances have vanished, as has the two-step. Five of the nine couple dances are waltzes, accompanied by three one-steps and a foxtrot. Was the foxtrot newly come to Solon, or newly acceptable? Was it demanded by the students, while the alumni of the previous year were more old-fashioned in their preferences?
The contra dance are identical between the two cards: Hull's Victory, Boston Fancy, Portland Fancy, and Lady of the Lake. Boston Fancy (better known as Lady Walpole's Reel) appears twice on the 1918 card. Were these four dances particular favorites? The sole surviving local contra dances? In an era perceived as dominated by couple dancing, it's interesting to see evidence that the one-step and foxtrot mixed in the rural ballroom with New England's living contra dance tradition. I also find the lack of quadrilles fascinating; had that tradition come and gone in this corner of Maine, never displacing the contra dance as it had in other areas? Or never reached it at all?
Both cards end with spaces for three extra dances, but, alas, no indication of what such extras might have been.
The closest I've ever seen a modern event come to this mixture of couple dances and contra dances are the annual Harvest Balls held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, by contra caller Chris Ricciotti and the Boston-area gender-role-free dance community. Another such event, combining 1910s dances; choreographed sequences; and country dances (though more of modern Scottish than New England contra dance tradition) was held in November, 2012, in St. Petersburg, Russia, under the direction of dance historian Eugenia Eremina-Solenikova. I'd be interested to see this dance mix tried more often.