Sunday, January 24, 2010

When You Dance, Do Your Senses Tingle and Take a Chance?

The Whitehorn branch of the Caledon Library, in Victoria City, has a new exhibit: "To Move in Measure: A glimpse of 19th century social dance," curated by Miss Leslie Weston. The exhibit occupies both the first and second floor.

As is usual in these things, the exhibit consists mainly of wall hangings that, when clicked, offer notecards. Many of the pictures are of entertaining Victorian dancing scenes, helping to illustrate the dances or locations in the accompanying notecard.

From the introductory card:

Social dance has been around since man first figured out how to clap and stomp. Reconstructing the specifics of HOW man clapped, and stomped, in any given era or country can be tricky. Fortunately, when considering Western European and American social dance traditions, there is a wealth of primary source material available to us, from instruction manuals, literary references, musical evidence, iconographic representations, to the ephemera which accompanies dance events.

The 19th century was a period of immense social change. Men went off to fight long wars on foreign soil, and brought back new social dances. The industrial revolution created a new class of upwardly mobile people eager to access the gentility (and power) of the traditional upper classes, which they did in part, through social dance. The waltz, and other couple dances like it, created a revolution by putting couples into each other's arms.

The first set of cards describe various dances and their origins, including the quadrille (an "elaborate set of steps and danced by sets of four, six, or eight couples" that was "introduced in London in 1815"), the waltz ("first danced in Vienna in 1773," this is "a dance in triple time"), and the polka (first referened in 1835).

The waltz was quite a revelation: "At first, society was shocked at the innovation of a lady dancing in a gentleman's embrace, but despite opposition and charges of laciviousness, it was enthusiastically adopted." As an editorial aside, one might suggest that "despite" be changed to "because of."

Below, Dr. Tesla Steampunk (in his white tie from Mr. Mako Magellan) and I dance a waltz on the second floor of the library.

Other notecards discuss dancing venues, musicians, dance notation and choreography, sheet music, and dance cards, and provide references to works of ballroom etiquette.

In order to better illustrate the various dances, a Moving Picture Device has been installed on the first floor. This Device has a dozen or so moving illustrations of dances, some performed by a lady and gentleman in scandalous clothing in what appears to be a studio, others performed at a [replica of a] society Event, as can be seen in the photograph above.

The exhibit runs through April.

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