Laces and Graces is an American two-step sequence dance described by seminal American folk dance collector, teacher, caller, and historian Lloyd Shaw in his invaluable work, The Round Dance Book (1948). Shaw gives no specific date for Laces and Graces, so the best I can suggest is early 1940s. It does not appear in Shaw's earlier work, Cowboy Dances (1939).
Laces and Graces is easy for anyone who knows two-step and, importantly, has available music, including both sheet music and the very recording cited by Shaw in 1948.
Shaw called Laces and Graces a "dance built to fit an old-time piece of popular music", but didn't say anything else about the music, which was originally composed by Gustav(e) Salzer and John W. Bratton and published in 1903.
Out in Oregon, the Polk County Observer made note of the new hit in a short article entitled "Popular New Music" on November 27, 1903:
"Laces and Graces," an instrumental novelty by Gustav Salzer and John W. Bratton, is just what its title would suggest its being; that is, a dainty, graceful melody, full of the atmosphere of the ball room and reminiscent of frills and flirtations. It is a companion piece to Mr. Bratton's "In Cozy Corner," and while it has none of tho odd little twists and turns of its famous predecessor, it yet possesses an originality and charm which is already making it a great "go," although it has only been out a few months. The title page of this composition, gotten up by the house of M. Witmark & Sons, in the most artistic manner, represents a white lace handkerchief upon a dark back ground, and the design, though simple, is so remarkably striking that it is already a prominent feature of the window displays of most of the prominent dealers.
A scan of the original article may be found at Historic Oregon Newspapers. "Popular New Music" starts about a third of the way down the third column from the left. Part of the same text had appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, New York, on November 15, 1903 (here), suggesting that it was at least partly copied from some major newspaper or syndicated piece. A little digging turned up a copy of the original sheet music at the Parlor Salon Sheet Music Collection at the University of Maine, from which the image above, complete with its charmingly irrelevant picture of pseudo-1830s dancers practicing their steps, is taken. The lace handkerchief suggests that "laces" refers to lace in the sense of trim or fabric, not to shoelaces or corset laces.
Gustav Salzer was a musician, composer, conductor, and Broadway musical director with a long list of theatrical credits. "Laces and Graces" became famous enough that a few years later, when Salzer appeared as a pianist in a concert in St, Louis, Missouri, the St Louis Post-Dispatch referred to him as "the composer of Laces and Graces, etc." (October 9, 1907, page 5).
John W. Bratton was a prolific composer for Broadway and Tin Pan Alley who is best known today as the composer of the perennially popular "Teddy Bears' Picnic" (1907), a two-step often used for another sequence dance, the Eva Three-Step. It acquired lyrics in the 1930s and became a popular children's song.
"Laces and Graces" was originally an instrumental piece, but in 1905 it was adapted for the Broadway musical Buster Brown, which ran for only a few months on Broadway but was apparently more of a success on the road. Artist/educator/blogger Donna Grimm collected a number of clippings and photos from the musical a few years ago in her post "The Buster Brown Musical Comedy" (May 5, 2013).
For the musical, "Laces and Graces" was turned into "My lady of laces and graces", with lyrics by Charles Noel Douglas. The refrain:
In the presence of my lady
With devotion now I kneel
While the throbbing heart within me
My rapture and joy reveal
And I softly sigh I love you
And a heart's devotion swear
Unto my own, my lady
of laces and graces rare.
If anyone wants to sing the lyrics while dancing, copies of this version are available online at the Library of Congress and Baylor University's sheet music collections. I suspect that the success of the road production of Buster Brown had a lot to do with the lasting popularity of the tune.
So what about the dance?
Shaw was a collector of dances from all over the United States and generally explained where he got each one. Since he gave no choreographer for Laces and Graces, it is safe to assume he did not know, and I have been unable to find anything about its origin beyond what Shaw wrote.
Shaw's descriptions are clear and thorough, which is a delightful change from most dance writers. My description of Laces and Graces and its variations below is thus less a reconstruction than a summary of Shaw's descriptions from The Round Dance Book.
Shaw notated Laces and Graces as sixteen bars with four beats each, which I personally found confusing when listening to the music, which sounds to my ear like thirty-two measures of two beats each rather than sixteen of four. The sheet music is actually in 6/8. Fortunately, regardless of how it is barred or the dance is notated, the AABB pattern of the music is very clear and fits the dance nicely: two repeats of the first part (AA) and then two sets of eight two-steps each (BB). I'm going to avoid the whole issue of measures by giving the notes below in beats instead.
Shaw actually offered three versions of Laces and Graces. The original, he says, "was first shown me [Shaw] by Miss Ruth Wilson, of the faculty of the University of Washington." The starting position is side by side, gentleman on the left, near hands joined. The gentleman starts on the left foot, the lady on the right. The instructions below are for the gentleman; the lady dances opposite.
1-4 Touch left foot across right (1), out to the side (2), behind (3), and pivot three-quarters to the left, ending facing partner on (4); take two hands with partner
5-8 Step right (1), touch left toe behind (2), step left (3), and touch right toe behind (4)
9-12 Four-slide galop against line of dance (slide-close-slide-close-slide-close-slide, 1&2&3&4) starting on the right foot; drop one hand and turn to face line of dance again
13-16 Four walking steps along the line of dance (left, right, left, right)
1-16 Repeat all of the above
1-16 Eight two-steps forward, swinging arms forward on odd bars and back on even bars
1-16 Eight turning two-steps; open up to side-by-side holding hands to repeat dance
Shaw mentioned that the touches in the first four counts are done with "a little bounce and a slight bending of the supporting knee." I would interpret that as not actually hopping, but raising the heel off the ground a little on each touch.
The pivot is on the toes, with the heels coming down on (4) as the dancers face each other and take hands for the galop.
On the eight two-steps forward, take care to swing the arms forward on the odd bars (gentleman's left foot lead) and back on the even bars (gentleman's right foot). This gives the two-steps a "back-to-back, face-to-face" pattern, rather than the more natural "face-to-face, back-to-back" order.
The second version is uncredited by Shaw but may have originated with his own dance students:
"...in the third part where we two-step forward, swinging in and out. It seems a little tedious to some of us to do these eight two-steps in series. So instead we do the first four as always. Then instead of simply swinging away on the fifth we swing clear around..."
Here are the last thirty-two counts of this version:
1-8 Four two-steps forward, swinging arms forward on odd bars and back on even bars
9-16 Four two-steps to cast away, come together, back away, come together
1-16 Eight turning two-steps
Shaw emphasizes that the dancers must come together after the cast before backing up and coming forward again.
This is my preferred version and the one I teach, giving the option of turning it into a mixer as in the next version below.
Version Three (Mixer)
This one comes from a letter to Shaw from an H. E. Howell of Oklahoma City:
"... who tells me that Laces and Graces has become very popular as a circle dance with them."
A "circle dance" here means a mixer, with the dancers changing partners for each iteration of the dance. The mixer element happens on those same four two-steps that were altered in the second version. After the dancers back away from each other, instead of returning to their partner, they aim diagonally to the right, the lady moving forward along line of dance and the gentleman against line of dance, and take the next partner around the circle. The final eight measures of turning two-step are done with the new partner. The two-step segment in this version:
1-8 Four two-steps forward, swinging arms forward on odd bars and back on even bars
9-16 Four two-steps to cast away, come together, back away, come forward on right diagonal to new partner
1-16 Eight turning two-steps with new partner
The recording cited by Shaw is that of Al Toft and his Orchestra, the B side of Imperial 1006. This has been digitized and uploaded to YouTube here. It's a little bit scratchy but still usable, and has the virtue of being unambiguously correct for the 1940s. The Lloyd Shaw Foundation also offers their own version, which can be streamed or bought from Bandcamp here. This is a better-quality recording, but I personally don't care for the rather gooey style of it.
Of course, if one has access to live musicians for one's dancing, one can always provide them with the sheet music.
Laces and Graces is still in the "round dance" (American sequence dancing) repertoire today; the Lloyd Shaw Foundation offers a call sheet (PDF) for the modern version, which reveals only two alterations over the last six decades: the balance steps have become bouncier, acquiring a "1&2" rhythm of step-change-change, and the final turning two-step has become an underarm turn.
Folk dance being what it is, there are also other variations around. An Israeli group, the NOA-AM Folk Dance Society, has made a useful video which shows several changes in the dance: (1) the pivot has become bouncy two-step-in-place turn; (2) the balance steps are now step-kicks, crossing the kicking leg; (3) on the second repetition of the opening sequence, the march steps include swinging the arms forward and back; (4) the last four measures of forward two-step have changed to walking steps a sequence of cast away, bow, and two measures of coming together to take closed position. Whether these changes are purely local or more widespread I do not know.
Despite the differences from the 1940s version, I recommend watching the NOA-AM video as the quickest way to understand the correct correlation of steps to music in Laces and Graces.
Since this is a rather link-heavy post, here is a summary of the most useful Laces and Graces resources for dancers:
- Original 1903 sheet music here
- 1905 "My lady of laces and graces" adaptation with lyrics here and here
- 1940s Al Toft recording (video) here
- Later Lloyd Shaw Foundation recording (for sale) here
- Modern calls for the dance (PDF) here and folk-processed version (video) here
- Lloyd Shaw's The Round Dance Book for his original instructions