Historians and Michievians

A dance historian friend of mine hosts quarterly invite-only dances. For her, they're a chance to work out some of the figures that she can't quite get perfect without watching actual people. For us, it's a chance to dance a lot of very interesting figures and footwork, in a reasonably experienced setting. I went to one of these recently, and found myself having to coin a new word, to describe the difference in how she and I approach dancing.

She is very much a historian. She spends her time looking through ancient dance manuals and resources, reconstructing dances that no one has done in two hundred years, and getting every small detail as perfect as she can. For her, accuracy is the chief goal. She is trying to bring back to life dances no one has touched in years, and she wants them to be as exact a recreation of the nineteenth century experience as she can get. This results in very precise footwork, arguments over hand-holds, and endless repititions of figures as we try to figure out how the great dancemasters would have split setting-traveling-setting1 over eight bars.

And the dances she teaches are beautiful, and exciting, and accurate. I've been to some of the balls she's hosted, and it's a joy to watch a room full of period-costumed dancers whirl through a period-accurate dance.

But I can't do that.

I am too dramatic, and too distractible. I want my dancing to include flourishes, I want to show off. I want to be silly, I want to goof-off, and I want to do whatever is the most fun over whatever is the most accurate. Most importantly, I want to take the good pieces out of every dance form, and put them into other forms. My perfect dance has the intimacy of a waltz, the flirtation of Scottish Country, the solos and fancy footwork from Regency, and the mindbender from squares. And most importantly, the gender(s) of the people dancing doesn't matter a whit to what role they start (or end!) in.

Perhaps the simplest example of this comes from my favourite couple dancing group, hosted down in Maryland. At Oella, they dance a lot of vintage dance forms, to a lot of modern music. Sure, you can get period music for some stuff (or have it recorded, as my historian friend does), but there's a lot of great modern music that just happens to make a good waltz, or one-step, or even schottische3. Dancing the dances I love, to the music I love? What could possibly be wrong with that?

Ultimately, the two of us are just going to have to work around each other. This is where that ever-important relationship skill of "communication" comes in --knowing whether a dance will be strictly historical or a looser interpretation beforehand will help the dancers adjust their expectations. If it's really important to you to have mischief, you can ignore the historical sector. If it's really important to be accurate, skip out on the more ridiculous balls. For me, it's not particularly a problem --I like dancing, and helping her to create accurate dances ensures that they'll be around for the next generation of dancers to enjoy.

And for her? Well, I'll limit my compulsion towards doing the macarena during boring set dances to cases when it would be amusing rather than insulting. Chaos is fun, after all, but only when it's controlled enough to keep the dance coherent. If I combine my differing dance ideologies and come out with something less than the parts, I will consider myself to have done something wrong.

1: I'm not actually joking about this. I think we did eight bars of dancing at least a dozen times, going back and forth between "set for 2 bars, travel for 2 bars, set for 4 bars" and "set for 4 bars, travel for 2 bars, set for 2 bars". (No one liked my suggestion of "set three, travel two, set three"2.)

2: For good reason --I tried dancing that and it was horrible in every possible way. Don't set for an odd number of bars. It's terribly awkward.

3: I have been told quite firmly that Sweet Home Alabama is not _actually_ a schottische. I continue to be unsure of this fact, and think you just need a pairing willing to do a damn fast schottische. Any volunteers?

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