Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Bal Masque in Worcester, MA 1896

Ball ticket from the American Antiquarian Society

Don't you feel the need for a little Frohsinn? It means cheerfulness, glee, mirth, or gaiety. This costume ball was held in the late winter of 1896, in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was sponsored the Frohsinn Gesang Verein chorus, which had been founded in 1858. Grab your mask and tambourine, or put on your gaucho outfit with the spurs and silly pink hat and have a great time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Swing versus Turn

In the early nineteenth century, Thomas Wilson described the difference between swinging and turning this way: "The only difference between swinging and turning is that swinging is always performed with one, and turning with both hands."

There. That's an easy rule to learn and remember.


If you look at Wilson's diagram below, you will see that his standard turn is clockwise. By the mid-nineteenth century, this is more likely to be called a two-hand turn and it is still done clockwise.

Thomas Wilson, The Complete System of English Country Dancing, London, 1815, p. 9


Wilson explains that a swing is done by the lady and gentleman joining hands (notice, this is different from a turn where they "join both hands") and moving in a clockwise path. This means that the lady and gentleman take right hands in a regular swing A swing by the left hand would go counter-clockwise. Wilson's note makes it clear that if you need to use two swings in a row ("turning" and "returning")  the first swing will be by the right hand and the second will be by the left hand..
Thomas Wilson, The Complete System of English Country Dancing, London, 1815, p. 10

I like that Wilson has another way to think of directions. Instead of  "clockwise", he says "the course of the sun" and instead of "by the right hand", he says"to the left".

One big jump you have to make to get into an early nineteenth century mindset is to get comfortable with the idea of "to the left" and "to the right".

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Masqueraders

The Masqueraders by Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta, 1875
When the calendar rolls around to February, we all feel a little need to cut loose.We enjoyed Christmas, with it's goodwill and charity and presents and parties. We dutifully returned to ordinary life in January. Now it is February and we have just remembered that winter is long and spring is far away. It's time for a party. Fortunately, there are already a few holidays scheduled including Valentines Day and Mardi Gras. Oh, and don't forget Fasching.

I think this painting is perfect for any February need. It has a pretty young couple madly flirting with each other. It has costumes, very restrained hedonism and genteel abandon.

The painter was European (Spanish); the painting was bought by a wealthy American. We don't really know where the scene is taking place but, again, this is an all-purpose scene. It could be taking place in  an American  mansion or Parisian casino or Viennese ballroom.

The gentleman is dressed as a landsknecht. You have to commend his willingess to commit to the full outfit, including floppy hat and silly shoes.. After all, when Mrs Oelrichs held her famous White Ball in 1904 Newport, most of her male guests simply refused to get into costume.

The young lady must also be impressed. She is dressed as a generic shepherdess. Her hair is powdered as a nod to the eighteenth century. She has a mask that hides her identity but not her beauty. Her skirt is short enough to show off her trim ankles and pretty shoes. Her bodice is not any less modest than a ballgown bodice would be, but the situation allows her to get a little outrageous. The fact that she has been taking refreshments means that she isn't wearing her gloves. Her hand flutters in front of her decolletage and her eyes sparkle.

Yes, this painting is perfect if you've been longing for a little February fling.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Charlotte Russe Will Never Fade Away

Did you see the Charlotte Russe in the recent episode of Downton Abbey? Mrs. Crawley has rescued Ethel, the ex-housemaid, ex-prostitute, by offering her a job. Since Mrs. Crawley's cook quits rather than work alongside an ex-prostitute, Ethel becomes the default cook.

Mrs. Patmore, the cook at Downton Abbey, takes pity on Ethel and gives her a crash course in cooking so that she can serve Salmon Mousse to Mrs. Crawley's guests. At the moment of highest drama, Ethel brings in a classic late 19th style Charlotte Russe surrounded by lady fingers and tied with a ribbon.

Check it out. Charlotte Russe triumphs.