As an antidote to the enervating heat wave which has descended on New England this week, I'm ending the month as I began it, with ballroom silliness that make Fair Light of Liberty look positively dull. Here's another pair of cotillion figures, in the dance-party-game sense of cotillion, taken from H. Layton Walker's Twentieth Century Cotillion Figures (Two Step Publishing Company, Buffalo, New York, 1912). They are both prop-intensive and a little bit, ah, weirder than most. But what could be better for a summer ball than wholesome outdoor things like roses and hooples?
Despite the complexity of the setups and props, the directions for each figure are relatively straightforward. I'm providing them word-for-word below with my own commentary interspersed, because these directions just demand it.
Presenting...Hoople Race and Rose Bush!
The Hoople Race figure caught my eye mainly because of the title. "Hoople" is an absolutely hilarious word. But it seems to have been just another word for hoop, as in the sort of rolling toy that children historically made a game out of guiding around with sticks:
a rolling hoop or "hoople," -- iron for the boy and wooden for the girl, with hoople-stick to correspond (the girls used to put bows of favorite colored ribbon on the end of their "hoople-sticks")
-- from "Thoughts for Toy Buyers", in Kindergarten Review, Volume 12, 1908, p. 191.
I do hoopdancing for exercise when it isn't hideously hot and sticky outside, and from now on I plan to refer to my hoop as a hoople and the activity as hoopling.
Proceeding to the actual figure...
Music, waltz in the beginning gallop for the race and back to waltz again, the "Merry Widow" to the end of the figure. Leader calls up twelve couples and waltz. Place the twelve ladies around the room so as to mark off a race course. Give the gentlemen twelve large hooples and hoople sticks, which are to be decorated with ribbons and small sleigh bells. Start the gentlemen at equal intervals around the race course, pinning large numbers on their backs in a pursuit race. While the race is taking place, smaller hooples appropriately decorated with ribbons and artificial flowers are presented to the ladies grouped around the room, outside the race course, as spectators, and as soon as the gentlemen who are racing, finish their race, they are allowed to choose partners from among any of the ladies who are present,
So far, this is relatively conventional figure, as cotillion figures go. Waltz, separate, music changes to a galop. The gentlemen, who are given numbers for no obvious reason, must roll their jingling, decorated hooples around the room. Once they finish, they can choose any lady to dance with; at some point the music will change back to a waltz.
But first, things get a little bit weird:
but in order to complete the race, they must drive their hooples with a stick around the circle and arrive at the place they have started from, which will be directly opposite their own partners, then they must pass the hoople which they have been driving over their body, arms and legs, after which they are at liberty to run for the lady of their choice;
Right...the gentlemen complete the race, ending in front of their original partner, and then must perform a little ritual in which they pass their hoople over their body and limbs. One limb at a time, one wonders, solemnly back and forth, or just by dropping the hoople over their head and letting it fall to the floor? Or stepping into it and drawing it up over the head?
After these individual demonstrations of hoople-passing technique, the hoople and hoople-stick magically vanish, and the gentlemen find new partners. There is more waltzing, then the gentlemen abandon the ladies and join hands in a line. Now their original partners get to play, too. Remember the small decorated hooples?
to finish the figure, all of the gentlemen join hands in a long continuous line and circle around in front of the ladies who have the small hooples, and as the pass the ladies will choose a partner by placing her hoople over the genteleman's head.
Again, this is relatively normal for a cotillion figure; anyone could foresee the use of the hooples as snares the moment the ladies were issued small hooples with no hoople-sticks.
But, of course, there's a twist:
After she has captured the gentleman, she places the hoople over her head and they will dance thus, joined by the hoople which will be around their necks, at the same time taking each other's hands in a crossed position, the leader to make this plain and clear to show exactly the position with the hooples and the hands with his own partner.
Stop for a moment and picture this scene. The couples are linked by the small, flower-and-ribbon-bedecked hooples, which are around both their necks. They dance in a crossed-hand position, which the leader has clearly demonstrated (complete with neck-hoople) with his own partner, presumably during the process of giving instructions before the figure began. The nature of a crossed-hand position is that the hands will be between the dancers, which necessitates some separation of their bodies. Just how big are those hooples?
Lest anyone think that the idea of decorating a hoop with bells is unique to the partygoers of 1912 or to the mind of Layton Walker, here is an illustration from a 1924 patent application for a hoop that has not only chimes but an inside channel for balls to roll around to hit them:
The complete patent may be seen here (PDF).
The Rose Bush figure is even more bizarre...
The properties -- The hostess should have her florist provide her with the branches of a rose bush. It should be made in a circle three feet in diameter and six feet high, tied together with red ribbons two inches wide. Three or four dozen American beauties should be tied daintily to the bush -- the bush to places in the centre of the ball room.
Yes, one really must build one's own six-foot-tall rosebush out of rose branches and ribbons. And then, assuming it hasn't just been sitting in the middle of the ballroom the whole time, get it into the room. Or maybe constructing it is a group exercise during the cotillion?
At this stage, the three or four dozen American beauties tied to the bush refer to a specific variety of rose, not, say, a selection of the ladies in attendance. But that's next!
Figure -- Twelve men are selected by the leader and sent to an ante-room. Six ladies are selected and tied with ribbons to the bush.
Let's just pause for a moment and visualize this: a six-foot-tall fake rosebush, three feet in diameter, with six ladies tied around it amidst a few dozen bright pinkish-red roses. Ladies and roses attached with two-inch red ribbon. To what part of the ladies are the ribbons tied? Who ties them up? What kind of party is this anyway?
Hopefully all the other dancers, presumably seated around the edges of the room, can hold that completely bizarre sight in mind, because now we turn out the lights:
The lights are then put out. A single candle gives the only light, and is placed on the floor of the room. The room now is so dark that when the twelve men are called in by a whistle signal from the leader, they then can hardly find their way. As soon as they enter the ball room those who can distinguish a lady upon the bush rush to her and untie her.
Twelve men blundering around a darkened ballroom with a giant prickly fake rosebush covered with thorns, flowers, and tied-up ladies in the middle of it. And a candle on the floor somewhere. Yeah, that should end well. Because the easiest way to find the lady-laden rosebush is going to be to run into it.
But let's first spare a thought for the six gentlemen who don't manage to find the rosebush, and a lady, by feel, and untie her:
This will leave six unfortunate men who shamble to their seats.
The losers do not just return to their seats. They shamble. Like zombies. Not that anyone will notice their ambulatory style, because it is still dark. Finding one's seat in the dark, or at least a seat in the dark, while shambling, is presumably part of the fun.
Meanwhile, the winners get both a dance partner and a party favor:
The gentleman who unties his lady first receives a prize favor, while the others are given a rose.
As soon as they have freed the ladies they dance the two-step.
Because all the best parties feature two-stepping in the dark around a giant fake rosebush. There's just no way that can go wrong.
I feel like at some point the lights were supposed to be turned on, and the instructions just neglected to mention it.
The rest of the party, meanwhile, treats this as a blood sport...
Great amusement is caused by the gentlemen pricking their fingers on the thorns.
...when they aren't getting in touch with their deepest fantasies of well-dressed ladies tied to rosebushes:
It is one of the prettiest sights to see this large rose bush with six ladies handsomely gowned tied to it with ribbons.
I daresay that for some people, it is.