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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet in the 1700's


balletstar811

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I absolutely adore the eighteenth century, and I am constantly learning and reading about it. I know for a fact that the people of the times loved to dance, but it was social dance. Did they talk about thinks such as turned out feet and flexibility yet?

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Not only did they talk about it - the social dances of the period contained a lot of steps that we would think of as confined today to ballet. The people themselves, especially the men, tried to affect a constantly turned-out stance - just think of the furniture of the period with its turned-out legs! Ballet in the eighteenth century was doing the same things that music was doing. It went from the Baroque to the Classical period, in which the dancers began to wear distinctive clothing for dance, which were often in imitation of Graeco-Roman togas and tunics. The shoes went from the "street shoe" of the early century, through the pumps worn by Camargo and Sallé, to kothurnoi, or classical sandals at the very end of it. Back to that turnout - there was a horrible vise-like device called a tourne-hanche that people would be strapped into at night to produce "turnout while you sleep"!:eek: Just proof that the twenty-first century has no monopoly on hare-brained ideas.

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Well that device does not sound... ah... helpful! I was doing my research, and I came across a website that explains certyain steps from the popular dance of the minuet. I found it interesting that they did such things such as tendus, jetes, pirouettes.... also, an inetersting fact: one way to tell if a male was a gentleman was to look at his calves, and if he had "good" calves, so to speak, it meant that he was a good dancer, and therefore a wealthy person, because the minuet required the man to stand in parallel releve for four minutes!

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A word about the minuet: It was not a terribly common or even popular dance by the end of the 1700s. For one thing, it was not danced by most of the people who could dance, and was only done in formal ball situations. It was a "pecking order" dance only done by one couple at a time, and started with the guest of honor dancing with the "first lady", usually the wife of the host. Then the host and the "lady of honor", usually the guest of honor's wife, and so on down the social scale. One infamous minuet lasted for hours and progressed all the way down through the guest list, then through the guests' children then on down through the house servants, which must have looked pretty ridiculous.

 

The pirouettes you mention were actually flic-flac turns and they could be done by the men, but the women were in big trouble if they had to turn quickly, especially if the dresses they were wearing had panniers on the hips. The men's legs could be seen, so some of them (Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury being an example) would wear flashy stockings to show off their shapely legs and fancy footwork. They even sold "falsies" made of cork for the men's calves. However the ladies could also purchase "cork rumps" for those extra curves!:)

 

Minuets were individual dances and could be of any length and complexity, and each couple had their own version of it. So the man need not have always stood waiting on relevé while the woman did her figure. One dancing master advised that "it is better to dance a simple minuet well and briefly, than to dance a long and difficult one indifferently."

 

These, however, are social dances - the theatrical dances of the period are even more complex and difficult.

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Thanks for the info, Mr. Johnson. However, all of my sources, books and what not, state that the minuet was a very popular dance in the late 1700's. Interesting.

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The minuet had been a very upper-class social dance in the early and middle eighteenth century, but was losing ground rapidly, especially to the contradanse, or English Country Dancing, and the growing threat from Germany and Austria, the Waltz, by the end of the century. After all, there are few people around now who dance the Turkey Trot, the Maxixe, or the Castle Walk, although they were all the rage 90 years ago.

 

I would suggest looking into some of the works of Melusine Wood on Historical Dance, as well as recent books written or edited by C. Cyril Hendrickson, who was the Dancing-Master at Colonial Williamsburg. It seems that most people's assumptions about the history of middle-class dance of the eighteenth century has been skewed by assuming that what the wealthy did was what everybody did.

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I suppose I did not word my sentence correctly, I did mean to say that the minuet was very populkar among the wealthy. I am aware that peasants did not take part in such ######, as they were poor and always working. But thank you very much for the book suggestions, I shall definately check those out! :)

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Additionally, I'd check anything out that deals with dance in the 1700s written after about 1980. Social and cultural histories included. There's been a lot of good writing on the subject of the socioeconomic classes that's not based on the assumptions of previous generations. It seems that the "working poor" and the small middle class of preindustrial times had much more disposable time than previously thought. The American Revolution Bicentennial sparked a lot of this research.

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