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August 21, 2008


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Now, I was at the class for new Officer's Wives (my mother was too sick to go) and I was taught very close to Hillgrove's, but at the beginning, instead of moving one foot forward and the weight going onto the other one, I was taught to half-circle one foot to the back and the weight going on that one. Then bring that one up straight when rising. I can still do this movement -- I held onto the grab bar in the shower and tested. I'm quite sure I can't do it without the grab bar, much less in a dress. But I also learned to dance with a partner wearing a sword. Did your women have to do that?

The first movement isn't so much forward as sideways - if you aren't facing the way you need to be you step forward and simultaneously make a quarter-turn so it ends up as a sideways step to second. This would be especially relevant in a quadrille where you start standing facing in, side by side with your partner. Before a couple dance or when simply standing in front of someone it would be a pure sideways step.

When I learned a modern curtsy I also learned the circling bit. It was more-or-less the same as Hillgrove's shortened version that only uses the second and third movements, except that I recall the weight being balanced equally between the two feet rather than more on the back foot.

I have never had to do any sort of close-hold ballroom dance with anyone wearing a sword. Nor, I think, did anyone in the 19th century, so that wouldn't have been a factor.

Well, if they're kind, they get another officer to hold their sword & scabbard while they dance. But they're not required to, and if you ever turn to their side, you have to be careful that the sword doesn't bang your legs.

I think it should be the gentleman's job to keep his sword from banging into your legs!

The only experience I have dancing with a man wearing a sword is in Renaissance, where you don't for the most part take any sort of close hold, so there's little danger of being thwacked.

Ah, so that's how it's supposed to be done!

(For those of us who didn't go to dancing classes, could you explain sometime what the positions are?)

See the diagram here.

Thanks - that clarifies things.
(I got 'dance' in phys ed in high school. Waltz and foxtrot, as I recall, and this sort of fine detail was not in it. (Neither were the boys, but that's another matter.))

The huge change in social dance in the early decades of the 20th century (foxtrot dates to the early 1910s - see here for a little discussion of the earliest versions) was that movement became based on the natural walk rather than on ballet technique, so these sort of technical details no longer apply even with very high-skill dancers nowadays.

Professional dancing masters were quite distressed by this development, but they had about as much luck in fighting it as any group of grownups wailing about the degenerate ways of young people has.

I have an idea what Hillgrove was saying here
"The difference between the courtesy on entering a room and the bow of recognition when passing a friend in the street or ball-room ..."

There is a russian book [Zorn, 1890] http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01003627955#?page=1 In my opinion, it is the most useful historical dance book in russian language.
It has lots of information about bows and courtesies (pages 315-346).

And it says, that if a lady meet a lady-friend in the street, she should greet her by inclination of head or inclination of body from the waist without any sinking and without bending of her knees.

I think it is the lady's passing bow.

PS You know, in Russian "bow" and "courtesy" is one and the same word "поклон" so I don't know what English word would use Zorn himself for his lady-lady's greeting.

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