Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Playing to the Audience

As we were preparing for a performance, a small question came up about how to do a particular turn. One of the dancers commented that in modern contradancing one decides little things by how good the move feels rather than how good the move looks from the outside. I find this a very interesting concept.

It is clear that mid-19c contradances are different from modern contradances. Completely leaving aside the ways that dance clothes have changed and the way music has changed, you can see from the original dance manuals that nineteenth century dances were constructed differently. Usually there are active and inactive couples. Sometimes the inactive couples help the active couples, sometimes they just stand there. In contrast, modern contradancing delights in keeping everyone, active and "inactive", moving as much as possible. All that movement can create a bubble effect, where the most vivid thing you are aware of is your own movement and your own sensations. In contrast, all that standing around in nineteenth century contradances can create an audience/performer effect, where you watch the dancers around you, and are aware that when you are dancing others are watching you.

What do you do when you pop out the end of a contradance and have no new couple to dance with? Many modern contradancers will keep dancing, throwing together moves that they can perform with just their partner, making sure that they end in the proper place at the proper time to continue the dance with the next couple that comes available.

At recreations of nineteenth century balls, however, I encourage dancers in this situation to relax, take a breath, play audience to the other dancers and then be ready to jump back into the dance when a new couple comes available.

From reading the dance manuals and etiquette books, I get the sense that people thought it was polite to watch and appreciate others, and likewise polite to think about how your behaviour could give pleasure to those who happened to be watching you.

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