A comment from one of my Russian correspondents that the schottische was rarely, if ever, danced in Russia in the nineteenth century* started me thinking, after a series of mental jumps**, about how well-accepted (or not) the schottische was in America in its early years.
There appears to have been some dissension on the merits of the dance after its introduction to America around 1849. Edmund Ferrero claimed in The art of dancing (New York, 1859) that the schottische had "acquired great favor", and all the major dance manuals from the end of the 1850s onward include it. But the anonymous author of Beadle's dime ball-room companion and guide to dancing (New York, 1868) claimed that the schottische was considered "vulgar". Since it appeared regularly on dance cards from at least the late 1850s all the way into the early twentieth century, that can't have been a universal opinion. But was it really anyone's other than, presumably, those of ministers and others who condemned dancing altogether?
Two short stories from the famous nineteenth-century women's magazine Godey's Lady's Book suggest that the popularity and vulgarity were not mutually exclusive, and that there was continuing concern in some circles about "fashionable" dancing.
"Mrs. Peabody and the Schottisch", by Alice Grey, appeared in the July, 1856, issue of Godey's. It describes what happened when the rustic Mrs. Peabody (memorably described as "rather verdant") came to New York to see her daughter Ellen, a parlor-boarder at a city school who
adored the Polka, was fond of exhibiting a pretty foot and ankle in the Bolero***, and was an adept in the schottisch.
During the visit, they attend a ball, where Mrs. Peabody tries to rationalize the acceptance of the new dances:
Mrs. P. was entirely engrossed by the scene before her. When the first couple began to Polka, she opened her eyes very widely; but she soon said to herself, "Of course they are brother and sister, or engaged, perhaps married."
Sadly, she is disabused of this pleasant misconception when Miss Taylor, the hostess's daughter, joined in with a non-relative:
"Dreadful, dreadful! And did Mr. Taylor actually sanction such improprieties!"
Worse, Miss Taylor presented a stranger to her daughter, and
Ellen rose, and the stranger, encircling her waist, whirled her away to the music of the fascinating Schottisch.
Her daughter, yes, it was her own daughter that that impertinent man was whirling round the room in that style! And her own daughter that so cooly and quietly permitted such a librty! Had Ellen no delicacy, no sense of propriety left? This had never entered her thoughts, even as she watched the others, that her own daughter could be made a partaker in such an improper exhibition. And how dared the man do such a thing? to take her from her very side, right before her eyes!
Mrs. Peabody cracked!
Suddenly recovering her powers of speech and locomotion, Mrs. Peabody darted across the room, and seizing Ellen by the arm in the midst of a graceful balancé, exclaimed, "Let go of my daughter, sir!"
The astonished gentleman almost unconsciously retained his hold, not certain whether it was not a crazy woman who was addressing him. Mrs. Peabody then grasped his arm and shook it violently, repeating, "Let go of my daughter, sir, instanly; I will not have this. She shall not disgrace herself, if others do."
The poor man fled, leaving Mrs. Peabody and her daughter Ellen the center of everyone's attention. Poor Ellen dashed sobbing from the room, while her mother
stood still, fanning with renewed zeal, her eyes glowing with "righteous indignation."
There was a general uproar. Ladies, after some calculation, either screamed or fainted. Mrs. Peabody left the city, commanding her daughter to never again dance the fashionable dances. And "Mrs. Peabody and the Schottisch" became a byword among the Taylors' guests.
Grey's story is a good reminder that the close-hold ballroom position which seems so normal to dancers now was considered a shocking innovation in the nineteenth century, and that there are often differences in custom between cities and small towns or rural areas. But while the schottische is what sent Mrs. Peabody over the edge, it seemed to be more the idea of her own daughter dancing in close hold with a stranger than the schottische in particular that set her off. And Grey does not portray her unsophisticated reaction positively.
It's an interesting insight into either rural attitudes toward big-city sophistication or, perhaps, into big-city sophisticates' idea of what rural attitudes were like. From this distance in time, it's difficult to judge.
Six years later, "Dancing the Schottische", a short story by "Ethelstone" (Ethel Stone?) appeared in the July, 1862 issue of Godey's. This is a more complicated story centering on the romantic entanglements of several fashionable young people: the dandy Charles (Charlie) Thorn, his sister Hattie, their demure cousin Jessie, shy Frank Montfort, and the elegant and dignified Grace Livingstone. Frank and Charlie were college classmates and currently are good friends who work in the same firm, though Frank apparently has "expectations" from his father and only works out of a sense of reponsibility. Charlie is more frivolous; seeing him looking doleful, Frank teases him with the suggestion that the problem might be that there is "a new dance out, and you cannot get the step?"
As the story opens, Charlie is trying to match Hattie with Frank, but Hattie demurs because Frank is too serious and, above all
he would not allow his wife to dance, unless it might be a stately quadrille, while I dote on the schottische and polka
She recommends steering him toward Cousin Jessie, who was shocked by the dancing at Saratoga the previous summer. Charlie recommends Jessie to Frank as someone who does not dance "those detestable dances", as Frank refers to them. Frank mistakenly believes Jessie to be a country miss, and tells Charlie
that, I suppose, is the reason she does not dance the schottische; not from any feelings of delicacy on her part, but because she cannot; no more credit to her than if she did dance, in my opinion.
Upon meeting Jessie, Frank soon realizes his error and they fall in love. Meanwhile, Charlies is attracted to Grace, who is
so reserved in her manners that she atracts from being unlike the majority of our light-hearted, free-spoken American girls
They become engaged, and Charlie teases the solemn Frank by worrying that he has forgotten to ask her a matter of great importance:
"I did not ask her if she 'danced the Schottische.' and if she does not, why, you see..."
Thought Grace does not, in fact, dance the schottische, she and Charlie marry, and the young people all go off to Newport together for the summer holiday. At a ball one evening, Jessie, Frank, and Grace find themselves sitting out while the other guests "whirl by" dancing. Frank starts a conversation with Grace:
"The more I see of these dancers the more I am convinced that it is instinctive delicacy that keeps some ladies from joining them, is it not, Mrs. Thorn?"
"I can scarcely answer in the affirmative when I see my sisters dancing, lest it should imply a want of delicacy on their part," said Grace, smiling. She paused a moment, then added: "You at least give it a pleasanter name than most gentlemen do; even Charles used to call it prudery.
"And yet," replied Frank, "when he sought a wife he chose one of those prudes; so I woudl do. I could not consent to see my wife whirling round the room in the arms of any man who chose to ask her."
Frank's opinion, word for word, could easily have been offered fifty years earlier about the waltz. He goes on to comment that while men might call such refusal to dance prudery, they still secretly admire it. A friendly dig at Charlie? Grace, still trying politely to agree with him without insulting her sisters (and, presumably, her husband) by implication, resorts to a bit of American exceptionalism:
"I have been surprised since I have been here," said Grace, "that so many young ladies decline to join in these dances; yet I cannot admit that there is a want of delicacy in those who dance, at least not all of them. I attribute it to the freedom and purity of American manners. It is not ncessary for our ladies to be on their guard against insult, they seldom if ever receive it; and, not withstanding their apparent carelessness, how quickly and decidedly any undue familiarity from a gentleman is checked."
Ah: the invincible purity of Americans protects them from corruption by those of other nationalities. Frank -- who has visited Europe -- is quite willing to snipe a little:
"It is best," replied Frank, "to see it in the most charitable light; yet I sincerely regret that the wives and daughters of our Republic should have permitted it to become a fashion there; it seems to me to be only suited to the depraved state of society in some parts of Europe."
Grace's point basically wins the day. Frank and Jessie marry. Hattie, despite her love for the schottische, likewise marries and is "as gay as ever". And Charlie, tamed by fatherhood,
has been heard to say that when his daughter grows up she shall not "dance the Schottische."
Once again, it's not entirely clear whether the schottische is being singled out more than the polka (or the waltz -- interesting that neither story mentions it), or whether the objection is to "whirling" in close hold in any dance. But the schottische is the one in the title, and the one that comes up as the symbol of Charlie's love for dance and then of his respectability as a parent.
It's fascinating to me that in 1862 the editors of Godey's, a perfectly mainstream publication rather than a religious tract, considered it reasonable to question in fiction the delicacy of indulging in dances over a decade old. Godey's published plenty of serious articles and moralizing tales, but it was also known for its fashion plates and other frivolity. Presumably the conflicted tone of stories like "Dancing the Schottische" reflect some continuing uneasiness about the popularity of close-hold dances in general and the schottische in particular. The author tries to resolve this tension between the popularity of these new dances and the concern about the "delicacy" of women with an appeal to Americans' patriotic snobbery. Meanwhile, the schottische just kept turning up on ball cards.
Now I just want to know why the schottische doesn't seem to have made it to Russia.
* I'm taking this more-or-less on faith, since my Russian is not good enough to attempt to either prove or disprove it. There certainly seems to be a notable absence of evidence for the schottische being in Russia before the advent of the Barn Dance/Pas de Quatre late in the nineteenth century.
** My mind is like that. Imagine a browser with fifty tabs open at once.
*** I'd like to think it was this Bolero, but more likely it was a fancy dance, a solo performance piece.