Drawing Room Dances by Henri Cellarius Chapter 3
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III.
PRELIMINARY EXERCISES.—THE SALUTE.

It is an error to fancy that the new style, from its apparent facility and improvisation, can dispense with any of those preliminary exercises, intended to supple the frame, and prepare for the execution of steps and attitudes, and which at all times have formed the basis of every kind of dance. On the contrary, dances that have for their principal characteristic nature and expression, require as much, and perhaps even more than the others, to be preceded by those steps and studied movements, which will always be to the dance, what vocalization, sustained notes, and preparatory exercises are to the singer. Unluckily for many years this study has been neglected. In spite of its antiquity the art has been considered almost as an unimportant accessary, as a mere superfluity which might be omitted in a superior education. People have imagined that the knowledge of the quadrille figures, which might be easily acquired in two or three lessons, was sufficient even for young men, who were entitled to aspire to the ranks of fashion. The time that was once devoted to the study of steps, has been employed in bodily exercises of a very different nature—in gymnastics for example, a modern invention of which I am far from contesting the merit, but which can not in any way, I imagine, be a substitute, and particularly with ladies, for the advantages of pliancy and grace that the dance alone can impart. Hence it happens that we have every day ungraceful bodies, and arms and legs of desperate stiffness coming to learn dances, the true practice of which requires so much ease and freedom. We are in consequence often reduced, except in the case of great natural capabilities, to teach rather the mechanism of steps than the steps themselves. In truth is it in the power of the master during the course of a few lessons to improvise pliant limbs, arms detached as it were from the body, heads which can play freely upon the shoulders, and so many other conditions which make all the merit of the natural dance?

When I say that it is useful, nay, even indispensable to acquire first principles before attempting the study of novelties, I do not wish to alarm either parents or pupils, who might even now be tempted to judge of us by the method of the ancient masters. Thanks to Heaven, the way of teaching the dance has also its share in modern improvement, and has been able to free itself from the superannuated practices that too long maintained their ground. Let the pupil be of courage; we have no longer in our schools those instruments of torture, known under the name of boots, in which they did not hesitate to imprison unhappy children, under the pretext, as they used to say, of turning out their toes. It is no longer the custom to make the pupils practice the same beats or any other exercise of frightful monotony, for hours together, a custom which may in part explain why the teaching of the dance on principle has fallen into discredit. It is for the master to proportion the preliminary exercises to the capabilities of the pupil, and above all to the taste of the time. It is not requisite to enter here into the details, but there exists a great variety of steps, or study-dances, calculated to supple the pupil's limbs, and which may be so varied as to avoid ennui, that incurable evil for all the arts. I will, for example, cite a dance, which still finds partizans in some countries—the court-minuet. It is, indeed, much too opposite to our manners to be ever revived; but as a study it offers great advantages; it impresses on the body postures that are by turns noble and graceful; and, as I have already used the comparison with singing, I will call to mind that it is with these dances of another time, as it is with pieces of the old operas, which have disappeared from the repertory, but which young singers are made to practice in order to make their voices flexible and form their style.

To conclude all that relates to preliminary exercises, and fix, if it be possible, the duties of the master, I must also observe that we no longer pretend, as in former days, to regulate the manners of our pupils in what regards the ordinary actions of life. There was a time when the dancing-master taught his pupils to sit, to walk, to cross the room, to get out of the carriage, to pull on a glove, to use the fan, &c., all of which has, no doubt, contributed to turn the fashionable dance into ridicule, and to make it be looked upon as a puerile and illusive art, which was too frequently exercised at the expense of nature and good taste. We have now renounced all these Gothic traditions; we no longer hold it indispensable that the lesson should commence with a courtesy or formal bow; and in any case, when we have to give an idea of saluting to the youngest of our pupils we do not teach by making them take, "the first position in advance—the third—the second—then disengage the foot placed in the first position behind by bringing it to the fourth position in front, &c."—as we find it set down in essays of a sufficiently recent date. In every thing we consult nature, and though beyond doubt the master may assist and develope her by the resources with which his art supplies him, still it is nature that above all should be his rule and guide. A pupil who is able to execute with tolerable perfection those modern dances, which I do not fear to call natural, will of himself know how to walk, bow, and present himself with grace. The master has little or nothing to do with these details.

I will not carry any further these remarks on the preliminaries of the drawing-room dance, having said enough to show that study should not be excluded from the teaching of it. The real amateur will easily comprehend the necessity of submitting to certain introductory exercises before commencing the practice of steps and figures. We may now, therefore, enter upon the particulars of each of the dances, but I cannot ask too much indulgence for the indications that I shall attempt to give. Dancing, as may be imagined, can scarcely be explained by word; it is made much less to be apprehended by the mental eye than by those of the body. I have therefore chiefly confined myself to describing the style and character of each dance, and painting, so far as is possible, its peculiar physiognomy, while I leave the details of the steps to the teachers, for without great familiarity with the chorographic language, they are scarcely to be understood unless through the medium of practice.


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Drawing Room Dances by Henri Cellarius Chapter 3

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