Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Establishing the Head of the Hall in a New Space

In choosing the head of a new hall, the top may be placed at the end in which the orchestra is situated; if it is at the side, the end next to the ladies' apartment, should it enter into the hall, may be selected.
Halls already named, the superintendent will inform you which is the head.

(Howe, Elias. American dancing master, and ball-room prompter. Boston: E. Howe, 1862. p. 22.)

These directions do not mention the location of an entrance, but I think it is likely to be on the opposite side from the "ladies' apartment". Howe makes it clear that the organizers of an event in a new space get to determine the head of the hall, but we can also see that once the head is named, people are going to want to continue that convention.

If you are the organizer of a ball in a new space, one of your most important duties is establishing the head of the hall. Your decision will probably be remembered for decades, so you should make sure you make the best choice from the start, because changing what people "know" can be a very difficult process.

Most halls that you are likely to use are rectangular, with the entrance along one of the short sides. In that case, the head of the hall is the end farthest away from the entrance door. If you have a choice in situating the band, put them at that far end.

If the hall is rectangular, but the entrance is along a long side, you will still pick one of the short sides for the head. I like to use the short side to the right of the entrance, but there is no hard and fast rule.

If the musicians are in an alcove on a long side, you may choose to have two "heads". The head for contra dances will be on the short side (either farthest from entrance or to right of entrance). This gives you the longest possible lines. The head for quadrilles can be along the side with the musicians' alcove. This allows the first couple to stand with their backs to the musicians.

If the hall is square, you will probably still use the side that is farthest from the entrance door for the head. The band might set up in a corner, and it would be nice if that corner were as far as possible from the entrance, but the "head" should be lined up with the walls. You may choose to set up certain dances, like the grand march, on the diagonal, but in that case the dancers will generally understand that you are using a temporary alignment.

Some modern halls have irregular shapes and unexpected alcoves. In that case, the organizers' decisions about the head of the hall should be clearly announced.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Monstrous Charming Dance

A gentleman of the early nineteenth century finds the names of dance tunes mildly shocking:

Perhaps (thought I) the beauties of Conversation may be found readily in the mixed companies of men and women at the tables of persons of refined habits and taste. Away went I again, sanguine in my expectations, to the Honourable Miss Tambourine's hot supper; and here appearances promised much; the ladies looked all smiling and lovely, and the gentlemen pleasant and gay.

 I was happily seated next one of these complacent beauties, who, after a little pause, asked me if I danced the new steps, and whether I preferred the " Waltz," or the " Irish Shuffle."

I hesitated a moment, when a lady on the other side, with a red face, told me, that she liked " Drops of Brandy" very much ; and that " Go to the Devil, and shake yourself," was a monstrous charming dance. 

This staggered me a little at first, till it was explained to me, that these were reels called for by ladies of the highest distinction. I could not, however, help thinking, that those whose taste it is which settles the titles of country dances might find out names more adapted to the delicacy of the female character. (The European Magazine and London Review by the Philological Society of London, Vol 41, Jan-Jun 1802. p. 184.)