Sunday, March 2, 2014

A "Crush"

Gentleman's Magazine 1856 You can imagine our bachelor in the evening dress on the right, and in the comfy dressing gown in the middle.

Here is an account from a set-in-his-ways, stout, old bachelor from America. The things that catch my eye are the men's changing room (back-room, second story), the dance cards (pieces of gilt-edged paste-board), the exciting new dance which is danced side to side and backwards and forwards (Polka-Redowa), and the march into supper (to the sound of martial music).

'There is one thing in this fashion-mad age that I detest worse than any other. It is a dancing-party, or 'crush,' as it is termed. How I was ever tempted to attend one, is my constant wonderment. I thought, when I received a card of invitation from my old friends, the Smiths, stating that they would be happy to see me on a certain evening, and heard privately that the young ladies were to make their first appearance in society on that occasion, or 'coming out,' as it is called, that it was to be a very select and quiet affair. 

Imagine my surprise, when, on getting within two squares of the house, and hearing a band of music in full blast, I said to a young friend who was also going to the 'crush,' 'They must be serenading some politician, by the noise,' and heard him reply:
"Oh! no! They are just commencing a polka-redowa.'
'With that he quickened his pace, dragging me along, and we soon reached the 'brown-stone mansion,' our destination. Every window was a blaze of light. When the door was thrown open, and we entered the hall, a babel of sounds struck my ear, such as it had never heard before. After ten minutes' unceasing struggle, I gained the stairs, wiped my perspiring brow, and gazed down upon the heaving sea of heads that filled every part of both parlors and hall, in perfect amazement. 

 While I stood thus stupified with the sight and sound, my hat in my hand, an impudent negro rushed down the stairs, shouted in my ear, 'Gentlemen in the back room, second story,' and disappeared. Directly my young friend also passed me saying, as he pointed over his shoulder: 'Back-room, second story.' I concluded to make my way to the 'back-room, second story,' to see what it contained. The door stood open, and I entered. It was filled with young dandies, some brushing their hair, some their boots, and some their clothes; but from what I heard, I should judge their conversation needed the most brushing. In every corner, on every chair, upon the tops of the doors were piled mountains of coats and hats. I took off my overcoat, a new one, tried every eloset-door to find a suitable place to hang it up; found them all locked, and was obliged to deposit it upon one pile of garments, and my hat upon another. 

I then descended to the 'regions below,' the hall; and after numerous unsuccessful efforts, reached the drawing-room door in safety. The deafening music had ceased, but the clatter of tongues was, if any thing, louder than before. Near to where I stood I noticed several young women consulting pieces of gilt-edged paste-board, and heard them whisper among themselves that same strange word, 'Polka-Redowa.' Very soon the music struck up in all its force; couple after couple embraced, and commenced whirling round and round in a very strange manner. I made up my mind to watch the damsels who had been whispering together, and see how they would act under the circumstances. As soon as a man approached and looked at one of them, out she stepped, he passed his right arm around her waist, took her right hand in his left, but said not a word: she leaned her head languidly upon his shoulder; both then commenced moving their feet rapidly, and away they spun, round and round like the rest, now to the right, now to the left, now backward now forward, bumping and bouncing against the other couples in the crowd. I caught a glimpse of my hostesses once in a while; but as for getting near enough to speak with them, it was quite out of the question. 

After several hours of this whirling, supper was announced; and into the supper-room the whole company marched, two by two, to the sound of martial music. Then commenced one of the greatest battles for eatables I ever saw or ever heard of. With the pushing, hauling, crowding and grabbing, the refreshments soon disappeared—the greater portion upon the floor; my clothes were completely ruined by the stewed oysters, ice-cream, jelly and champagne that was spilled upon them.

'I beat a retreat from that place in double-quick time, and was soon comfortably seated in my own chamber; a segar in my mouth, and slippers upon my feet, vowing 'never, positively never,' to be caught at such an affair again.'

(The Knickerbocker: Or, New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 55, 1860, p. 336-337.)

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