Note from Alan Winston: I asked on the list whether anyone could clarify
the motivations of the Early American dance publishers of 1975 (Keller&Sweet,
Morrison), particularly with regard to the apparently contradictory impulses
toward authentic (but difficult) footwork and attempting to spark popular
interest based on the Bicentennial. Roger Broseus passed my query along to
Kitty Keller and she wrote the following note, which she was gracious enough
to permit posting on the website. The brief intro below is from Roger. My
sincere thanks to both Roger and Kitty for passing along and responding to my
somewhat impertinent queries. -- APW
Kitty Keller passes on these thoughts on the subject of motivation for Early American publication. Kitty is not a subscriber to this list and is quite busy and unable to field responses. I hope you enjoy reading Kitty's reflections as much as I did . . . a wonderful blend of personal thoughts and scholarship. /Roger
To put the Keller/Sweet book in perspective, perhaps it would be of interest for people to know that when the Bicentennial loomed, most of the books available to the general public touted the "Virginia Reel" (usually to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw") and "Country Gardens" as American's favorite dances for the whole 18th century. We know now that these are the least likely to have been danced!
In the 1970s, CDS members who were called upon to present costumed demonstrations usually turned to the Apted Collection, which was from the right period even though many of the dances were significantly changed when they were interpreted in Sharp style in the 1930s. We did not know that dances and tunes survived in handwritten books made by soldiers who served in the Continental Army and by young ladies who were attending itinerant dancing masters' classes in rural Massachusetts.
Working with a local fife and drum corps in Coventry, Connecticut, Ralph Sweet and I began to look seriously for authentic American material in 1973. We were working entirely independently from CDSS; in fact, I had never heard of country dancing until I met him. One Sunday afternoon in the early spring, we were at the Coventry High School: my kids were practicing the fife; Ralph and his son were teaching; in between sessions, Ralph and I were comparing notes about a 1777 manuscript fife tune collection that I had just found. In walked a petite lady, immaculately turned out in a Persian lamb coat and hat and wearing white gloves. She introduced herself as Joy Van Cleef, a member of the Country Dance Society, who said she had been asked by the State of Connecticut to produce a dance sequence for a state Bicentennial film, and a book on dance in Connecticut as a bicentennial project. She had several photocopies of dance manuscripts and printed books from the 1780s and 90s that Frances Jackson had found in the 1940s, but these only had dance figures. She needed the tunes and thought we might know some of them. We looked over her list and knew immediately that we had a match! We had the tunes she needed, and more than that, we had accurately dressed people who wanted to learn dancing as part of the re-enactment of the daily life of the Continental officers and soldiers.
Wendy Hilton was a close friend of Joy's and came to visit often. She was hard at work on her path-breaking interpretation of 18th-century movement and step technique, and she and Joy shared the new information with us. The more we learned about the people who lived in America during the 1770s and 1780s and the clothes and shoes they wore, the more we realized that their movement style was different from ours. We learned that their expectations from an evening of dancing were different. And, moreover, we learned that we needed to be clear on who we were talking about. Surely the foot soldiers moved differently from the officers who were gentlemen and had been to dancing school. (In some winter quarters, notably in 1778 in Valley Forge, the officers hired a dancing master to instruct them in off hours.) Scottish immigrants in the Virginia piedmont must have danced differently from the Virginia planters in Williamsburg. The farmers in Coventry, Connecticut probably moved differently from the Yale students in New Haven. They still do! But they seemed to share a basic repertory of dance types and the country dance was the most widely mentioned dance.
Ralph was dead set against steps for recreational country dancers. He kept saying, "that'll kill it for today's dancers." And he was right. But there was a large group of people interested in accurate dance movement that matched the historical clothing they wore and the period pictures they saw. We did not know enough about the steps at the time, and decided to include only those steps that were called for in the dances, a balance and a rigadoon. The first suggested rigadoon in the book was Jim Morrison's suggested compromise with the authentic three-hop baroque rigadoon that he thought would be too much for the people we expected to use the book. It was a good idea because it gives people the general feeling of the step, but it isn't an accurate rigadoon. The second one is accurate.
The collection that Ralph and I created gave the public authentic dance figures and tunes that we knew had been widely popular in New England in the 1770s and 1780s. Although the State of Connecticut was prepared to publish our book, Joy took our book to CDS and they offered to publish it instead. It seemed more appropriate and ensured the work a more permanent home. At our own expense, we made a recording (CDIC-1) in contradance style so that teachers could use the dances in their classrooms. This was one step in the right direction--and an alternative to inappropriate "Virginia Reel!"
In 1974 I met Pat Shaw and Chip Hendrickson. Encouraged by Pat, Chip and I continued to work with Joy on authentic period movement. We attended Wendy's seminars and tried out simple steps with Chip's bicentennial demonstration team in Newtown. Somehow, things seemed to click. By the 1980s, we had sufficient evidence that cultivated social dancers in the 18th century learned basic baroque steps and used them. The steps they used depended on the occasion, the space, the dances, the heat of the day, and the people who were dancing and watching. Most 18th-century balls were not romps. Formal minuets were followed by informal country dances, but the dancers still cared about how they looked on the floor. If they bothered to wear the latest fashions on their bodies, they used the latest steps when they moved. I was asked to present my findings as a keynote address at The Historical Dance Foundation's 1989 International Early Dance Institute at Goucher College. My talk was enthusiastically received and published by the Foundation as "If the Company Can Do it! Technique in Eighteenth-Century American Social Dance." (1990)
Since that time there has been more and more demand for our research findings and we have now published several books with more accurate steps and plenty of documentation. In the meantime, Bob and I continue to enjoy traditional Sharp-style English Country Dancing. In fact, we prefer to dance this way. The other kind of dancing is chiefly for those who dress up in old clothing and try to portray our ancestors. If they do, they must make the whole commitment and learn to move correctly for the clothing they are wearing or their interpretation will lack accuracy. For more information, I recommend Alicia M. Annas's essay, "The Elegant Art of Movement," in, "An Elegant Art: Fashion & Fantasy in the Eighteenth Century" (Los Angeles County Museum of Art: 1983). For American dance citations, look at "The Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, 1690-1783" (1997) available here
Followthis link for a description of ECD
Followthis link to find Regular English Dances in the US
Followthis link for Alan Winston's article on ECD and Contra history and differences
Followthis link for Gene Murrow's notes on ECD origins and evolution
Followthis link for Gene Murrow's take on how ECD figures got into Contra dancing
Followthis link for Kitty Keller's reminiscence on reconstructing Early American dance
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