Monday, October 10, 2011

Croton Poole Leads the German - Part I

Here is a wonderful description of a German in 1855. The story it appears in is called "The Beauty" and it tells of the sad fate of a beautiful rich girl whose fancy education has not prepared her succeed in life after her father loses all his money. Let's not read to the sad end, but linger on this description of a beautiful ball.

You will remember that the German is a set of party games and dancing. It requires a leader, and it is clear from the dance manuals that there is no such thing as a professional leader for the German. The hostess asks a young man with an outgoing manner and ingenious mind to lead the games.

A typical ball would begin around 9 pm with dancing. There would be a supper at midnight and then the second half of the dancing afterwards. Just after supper would be a logical time for the oldest and  the very youngest guests to go home to bed. That leaves the most enthusiastic dancers to stay and dance into the wee hours of the morning.

The German is set up with a ring of chairs and space for dancing inside the ring. The couples who will participate take seats.They stand up to waltz around the room and then sit again. Various games are announced and people are chosen to get up and take part. Then, the waltz around the room begins again.

It is necessary to have a partner if you want to join in, but once the German begins there are plenty of games that allow you to dance with a variety of partners. This is one reason that some ladies refused to dance the German. If there is a gentleman in the German to whom you object, you really can't join in and run the risk of getting him as a partner.

The ball was a splendid one. Flowers seemed to have been rained over the rooms. The soft light of the myriads of wax tapers lent a charm even to the most tender complexions; and splendid silk brocades, and innocent tarletane skirts, rustled against each other in the crowded rooms with a voluptuous sound.

"The German" commenced at one o'clock, and then it was that Croton Poole appeared in all his glory. Up to this period he had condescended to few dances. His waltz was languid ; his polka redowa indolent. In the intervals, he leaned against the scagliola pillars, and watched Constance, who never seemed to tire, swimming through the rooms. 

But when that universal movement began; when that bringing of chairs down from unknown and mysterious corners in the fourth story commenced; when the bad male dancers began to look hot and anxious in the search for partners; when the plain young ladies, who had not been asked, assumed an expression utterly condemnatory of dancing, indicating that if they had a thousand offers of partners they would not so condescend; in short, when all quiet non-dancing people were ruthlessly routed out of their corners in order to make room for the performers, and the German cotillion reigned triumphant, then it was that Croton Poole awoke from his lethargy, and became the life and soul of the revel.

He instantly enthroned himself upon a dictatorial eminence, and ruled every thing. He made people sit closer, whether they would or no, in order to form the circle. He ordered the musicians what to play, and even bearded the immortal Kammerer himself. Then, seizing the fairy-like Constance, he whirled her for a few turns round the room, and proceeded to lead the first figure of The German. (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, July 1855 p. 194.)

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