Category: Dance programms

Series: Dancing Back into the Future

For those who wouldn’t know: next year is 2015. Nothing to worry about, one could arguably say, as this year is 2014, etc. But it isn’t that simple, really. Not for hard boiled fans of Back to the Future like me. Next year will be 30 years since Doc Emmet M. Brown started one of his journeys into the future riding (or is it flying?) his De Lorean time machine. The question we must all ask ouselves, is then of course: will he arrive safely next year or not?

He cast off in “good old” 1985 and for those who wouldn’t remember: that year started with the most gripping news breaking to us that Greenland had just decided to leave the European Union. The year had just only begun. Merely a week or two later, Ronald Reagan swore in for his second term as President of the USA, and what a memorable term it would be! On the other side of the iron curtain, Michaïl Gorbatjev made it to Secretary General of the Communist Party of the USSR, with the known consequences. Until then the world was neatly split in two: the East and the West Blocks. The said curtain still hung safely in place and no one could by any means foresee that only four years later, the whole game would change dramatically.

Like any year in human history, it was one of ups and downs. The “New Coke” was launched and to our great relief, retired even before it made it to Belgium, Commodore released it’s fabulous Amiga and the first Super Mario games went for sale. The wreck of the Titanic was dicovered miles under the ocean and Space Shuttle Atlantis made it’s maiden flight into outer space. But it also was the year of the Great Ethiopian Hunger, the Heysel drama, the Schengen Deal and the attack on the Rainbow Warrior, just to pick up a few interesting items from the “1985” wikipedia page.

About terrorism: it proved a rather fruitfull year, alas. We tend to forget easily, but unlike today, bombs exploding in public places and plane hijackings used to be regular newsitems, back then. In Belgium alone no less than 12 terrorist attacks by the CCC (Cellules Communistes Combatantes) shook the nation that year. The one from the 4th of November clearly stands out in my mind. It totalled the headquarters of the Banque Brussel Lambert, since evaporated into the Parisbas Fortis Group. It happend only a few blocks away from where I used to live with my parents. As for that one, the commi’s applied around a ton of TNT, so naturally, the windows of all houses in the area shattered. Those were the day’s my friends!

But by December these public ennemies Nr 1 to 4 were arrested in a Quick Hamburger restaurant near Namur. Rule number one in Mao’s red book: never, ever eat capitalistic burgers, you morons! More Belgian than that it doesn’t get. But those little red boys were relatively small beer compared to their fascist countreparts, the infamous “Gang of Nivelle” (Bende van Nijvel). After two years of radio silence they completed three more deadly raids on supermarkets, shooting around and causing 16 deaths. And we even weren’t the only European country seeing regular terrorist action. They weren’t called ‘The Bloody Eighties’ for nothing.

Of course, the cultural world mimiqued some of that. U2 scored an iconic hit record with Bloody Sunday that still stands, etched into the eardrums of my generation. The song is a few years older than that, but it didn’t make it into our Top 30 hit parade unless 1985. But, that of course, was only a minor musical fact of that most remarkable year, for there also was Life Aid, the Woodstock of my generation. What a remarkable series of concerts and performances!

One just can’t image the impact of it, living in an age when live streams are the norm. Back then, we only had something called “Mundovision” and that was used once or twice a year, dedicated to very strickt occasions like the New Years Concert Live from Vienna. Not only Live Aid was all about rock & roll, but it was very chaotic as well and it took place in two places – London and Philadelphia – simultaneously, broadcasted completely in sync on television and radio. Perfect clear sound on the living room hifi and rather dull black and white (grey and still more grey would be a more adequate description) on the television set. A wonderful, unique, experience for the pre-internet age.

Meanwhile Amadeus won 8 Academy Awards, Karpov & Gasparov played their longest game – the top of their rivalry – and Rock Hudson died as one of the first aids V.I.P’s followed by so many famous and less famous individuals. But most important: BTTF I was released in the USA on the 3rd of June. Nothing in the world would ever be the same. It used to be the golden age of pop-posters. Magazines without posters, just didn’t last and Michael J. Fox – Marty Mc Fly in the movie – was the most popular item at the time, at least with girls. I, for myself, lived in a rather daft and distant world back then, where the earthly worries about pop-icons or film hits didn’t penetrate all too clearly. So I didn’t see it myself originally and am a convert of later age. And as converts are the most dedicated fans, guess what?

I discovered that the pivot point of all three BTTF movies, is a ball scène! So the next few weeks I will annoy all of you and rest of the world with my personal views on “The Enchantment under the Sea Dance” – “The Village Festival” e tutti quanti.

To be Continued…

Series – The Story of a Single Ball – Part 1: You find the dance programm

In this first part we will concentrate on the meaning of the dance programm of our ball. I discovered this one years ago in the archives of what is today the Silver Museum in Antwerp. The cover of the programm announces a “ Bal donné en l’honneur des artistes étrangers’ (Ball given in honour of the forgeign artists) for the 20th of August 1861. It seems to have been a Bal Paré. Nowhere the booklet says where the ball will be held. Further on in this series I will dive deeper into the meaning of this information, when I will treat the eyewitness accounts of this event.

Strange as it seems, a dance programm rarely shows any direct link with the reality of a ball. To begin with, you seldom know for sure whether the dancers actually danced the anounced programm or went through the dances in that particular order. Even more scarce than the programms themselves, are eyewitnesses from people having been present during the ball, actually describing the dances. If one considerers the relatively rareness of dance programms in comparison to the number of balls organised in a city at a given time, one should certainly reconsider their importance as a source for dance history. Thus dance programms are mostly offering isolated facts. And scientific paradigma suggest you better discard them or consider them with a lot of caution. Personally I’am not convinced that one can run to any conclusions based on dance programms alone. For example, it is hard to state:

That a particular dance or programm was “typical” for a certain era. There usually are statistically more exeptions than certainties

You can use them as a source for studying changing dance fashion. Dance programms are rather conservative compared to i.e. fashion press or dance manuals.

About this particular case I can only state that is follows dance fashion broadly from between 1855 and 1880. At that timeframe dance fashion rather changed little compared to the era just before and the one following. It is not particulary conservative compared to what you read in the dance manuals of the time.

I now will consider the relatively stable state of European dance fashion between 1855 en 1880 more in detail. It is generally acknowledged that polkamania conquered the Western world around 1845 starting from Paris. The polka then was followed by a complete series of fashionable couple dances like the Schottisch, Redowa & the Polka Mazurka as shown on this program. After 1855 it seems that this dance craze lost a bit of it’s inpiration on the matter of which dance historians have speculated heavily. Only to conclude that there is no reasonable all explaining theses to put foreward.

But also for the contredanses on the programm – rather quadrilles we would call them today – style changed considerably after 1845. Before, dancemanuals stressed the imporance of prodiguous footwork, acrobatic paces were from then on banned. For gentleman, that is, who were encouraged to walk lightly, cooly and even showing utter boredom through the entire dance. Ladies were still foregiven prodgidies on the dancefloor, albeit they were warned no longer to compete with ballet dancers. Ballerina’s by that time started to dance on pointes and floated around on the scene lightly clad in tule, remarkably different from the crinoline – style attire more commonly found in the ballroom.

Please notice the prominent position of the Quadrille des Lanciers ( Lancers), a tad before midnight, just before a break. A very similar position the dance was granted during the new year’s eve ball organised by ‘De Kunstvrienden’ in 1905: just before midnight. There seems a case in the making for defining a certain tradition here, altough it should be substansiated. The parrallel fascinates me all the same. And of course the gallop and the walz are present as old school viennes ballroom tradition from around 1780.

The only name of a dance I strugled with to discover what it actually meant, was the Mousquetaire. Historically there existed a Quadrille des Mousquetaires al right. It seems to have been an adaptation by Philippe Musard from 1846 of the musical themes of Halévy’s opera ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires de la Reine’. The opera was of course based on the Alexandre Dumas Père’s novel‘Les Trois Mousquétaires’ having appeared in 1844. The Musard quadrille is mentioned in the online Hofmeister XIX catalogue as having been published in 1846. It was in all likeliness one of those typical carnival – quadrilles Musard composed by the dozen. The link to Antwerp is nevertheless remarkable because the opera ad been performed there already in 1846, if we my believe this libretto printed by Ratinckx and which can be found in the Henrick Conscience Library there. And as we can deduce from the preserved musical library of the Société Royale d’Harmonie d’Anvers which resides in the library of the Antwerp Conservatory, the orchestra of the Société played several fantaisies and pot-pourries based on themes from this opera around the same time. The same orchestra happened to be well acquainted with quadrilles, walzes, polka’s and the like from the famous Musard or Julien.

Yet another possibility is of course that the dance was something completely different, if it were for example a member of the Cotillon family, of which dancing master Desrat mentions no less than 3333 different forms, among which a “Mousquetaire”. Around the middle of the 19th century the cotillon had become a kind of play-dance, led by the best dancers of the ball, following a certain theme. The musketeers in this case, I guess. A Cottillon was largely imporvised so the dancers didn’t know what to expect. To enhance the amusement all kind of attibutes like scarfs and sticks were used and special deals were made with the orchestra to insert appropriate music for the occasion.

There are elements to go for the cotillon idea. At the one hand a cotillon nearly always used to be the final dance on the programm. In this case the Mousquetaires is not explicitely called a cotillon so we remain in doubt. But surely the Cotillon was more fashionable around 1860 than a quadrille from 1846 could possibily be. The fashion of great thematic quadrilles laid years behind and dated even from before the polkamania. In fact the quadrille was so dreaded around that time that the Belgian dancing master Hazard says the polka saved our ballroom from utter boredom. Such an ‘old school’ quadrille on a dance programm from 1861 can only be considered conservative, which is, of course, another arguement ‘pro cotillon’. But because no eyewitness described the “Mousquetaires”, we will probably never know for sure.

In part 2 I will talk about the venue were the ball took place.

Image: courtesy of Zilvermuseum Sterckshof – Antwerp, Belgium

This article is part of series – the other parts are here