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January 26, 2015


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This figure can be founded in russian sources, for example, Stukolkin L., "Prepodavatel i Rasporyaditel balnyh tancev", 1890 p.149, figure 13.

I know, you understand russian language :) Russian text here:

"Игра в снежки", которая обязательно должна быть последней, так как проиходящий от нее беспорядок затрудняет танцы. Есть в продаже, преимущественно в иностранных магазинах, так называемые boules de neige (снежные шарики), мячики из тончайшей папиросной бумаги, плотно наполненные мельчайшей, крошечной, такой же бумагой, - это-то и будет в данном случае изображать снежки, в которые играют участвующие в танце и, расшибая их, устилают пол как бы снегом. Фигура эта устраивается так: несколько человек раздают мячики по две, по три штуки, каждому из участвующих. Все дамы делают круг dos-a-dos, лицом к своим кавалерам, которые остаются на своих местах. Затем начинают перебрасывать мячики, прежде все дамы, одновременно, потом кавалеры. Не поймавший мячика оборачивается спиной к кругу и следующий мяч летит ему в спину, отчего рассыпается и бумажки обсыпают с ног до головы провинившегося. Если мяч пойман, то пара идет promenade и по окончании, становится крайней справа в своей линии. Затем promenade в две пары, между линиями - в них, желающие бросают снежками. Те, в свою очередь, взявшись левыми руками, отвечают тем же, и так все пары до конца, и затем, общий promenade. Во время общего promenade все, у кого еще не истрачены шарики, бросают друг в друга и тем заканчивается финальная фигура котильона.

(Returning to this post during yet another snowstorm...)

Bodhi, you vastly overestimate my ability to read Russian! I'm going to get some help on the translation, but for the other non-Russian readers, the Russian description confirms the idea that these are paper snowballs filled with confetti. The figure starts out with the similar formation of ladies back to back in the center throwing snowballs at the gentlemen around them, with the gentlemen having the opportunity to catch them, and if they fail, turning their backs so they will then be covered with confetti by the next snowball. There's a bit at the end about promenading which I can't make sense of.

I'm going to send my Google-assisted translation effort off to someone who can fix the last few ambiguities. When I get it back I'll add it to the main body of the post. Thanks for the reference!

Since no one has translated the Russian in almost 3 years, and it's snowing outside, I thought I'd give it a try. I am no expert in 19th-century Russian, with or without dance terminology. I've retained the French terms from the original; in my translation, they're in italics. Editorial comments are in [brackets]. Hopefully I didn't mangle the meaning too badly!

[begin translation]

"Snowball fight" [lit. "game of snowballs"], which must necessarily be the final figure, since the chaos it engenders will make [further] dancing difficult. You may find for sale, generally at foreign shops, so-called boules de neige (snow globes [sic]), balls of fine tissue paper, densely packed with tiny, minuscule [bits] of the same paper. These will represent snowballs which the participants will use for a fight and, when smashed [no, not the participants!], will cover the floor as if with snow. The figure is arranged thus: a few people give the balls out, two or three to each participant. All the ladies form a circle dos-a-dos [a back ring?], facing their own gentlemen [partners], who remain in place. Then they begin to throw the balls, first all the ladies at the same time, then all the gentlemen. Anyone who does not catch a ball turns around so that his back is to the circle. The next ball will hit him in the back, whereupon it will burst and the guilty one will be covered from head to foot in paper bits. If the ball is caught, that couple [presumably the thrower and the catcher] promenade and finish at the extreme right of their line. Then promenade in two couples, between the lines, from which those who wish may pelt them with snowballs. These [latter], in turn, taking left hands, respond in the same manner [i.e. the next two couples promenade], and so on for all couples until the end, then general promenade. During the general promenade, all who have not yet exhausted their supply of balls throw them at each other, and so ends the final figure of the cotillion.

[end translation]

The big question for me is how everyone gets from circles to lines. I suppose that as couples form from playing catch, they promenade over to the right of any couples standing there. But how does this relate to the two volleys of snowballs? Is the second volley only from the men who haven't already caught a ball thrown by a lady? If so, that would answer another question: the instructions talk about distributing only two or three balls to each participant, and yet the ending of the figure suggests that the author expects there to be a lot of leftover balls. Perhaps if most of the men catch the balls from the women's volley, there won't be many men to participate in the second volley, so this would be a way to use up their balls? I don't know.

It certainly seems chaotic and fun, and one can appreciate the advice to put this at the end of the cotillion!

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