The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
Hillgrove's Ball Room Guide
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Information: A book.
Hillgrove's Ball Room Guide and Practical Dancer, by Thomas Hillgrove, New York: Dick & Fitzgerals, 1863
History is often looked upon as something dismal, dark, and of little interest since most of us think of it as that 'subject' we had to take while in school. However, when we become intensely interested in an activity or a subject digging into it's (sic) past is not often thought of in terms of history but rather as something exciting and adventurous. So it is with square dancing for those who follow this great American past-time with a durious [sic] eye and an inquisitive mind. Some people, of this type, have collected materials over a period of many years and therefore have amassed creditable libraries of valuable reference material and therefore can quench their thirst for historical knowledge on this subject and have, in many instances, pasted [sic] along to others their interesting findings.
A friend of mine who is quite interested in square dancing passed on to me sometime ago a very interesting little book and after browsing through its pages it struck me that some few items contained there-in just might be of interest to our readers. I do not qualify as a collector of historical materials concerning square dancing and to a limited extent neither does my friend but happening upon this book by mere chance has to some extent excited our interest in the possibility of maybe finding more and oler [sic] books of this same kind.
The title of the book is HILLGROVE'S BALL ROOM GUIDE AND PRACTICAL DANCER. Published by Dick & Fitzgerals, 18 Ann Street, New York, 1863. Author, Thomas Hillgrove. The book is divided into six parts. The first part is titled 'Dancing and Its Happy Influences' with subsections devoted to: The Toilet, Introductions, Deportment - etc. In regard to The Toilet, the author points out, "ladies should remember that men look to the effect of dress in setting off the figure and countenance of a lady, rather than to its cost. Few men form estimates of the value of ladies' dress. This is a subject for female criticism. Beauty of person and elegance of manners in woman will always command more admiration from the other sex than costliness of clothing." In regard to Deportment the author points out, "No persons engaged in a quadrille or other dance that requires their assistance to complete the set, should leave the room or sit down before the dance is finished, unless on a very urgent occasion, and not even then without previously informing the master of Ceremonies, that he may find substitutes." Further pointers explain that, "If you can not waltz gracefully DO NOT attempt to waltz at all! In this dance the gentlemen is more conspicuous than in any other. In waltzing a gentlemen should exercise the utmost delicacy in touching the ladies waist." Good advice even for 1949 - yes?
The second part is devoted to such subjects as, Private Dancing, Rudiments of Dancing, Positions in Dancing, The Bow, The Courtesy and Exercises for the Feet and Legs. Positions in Dancing refers to the five positions of the feet commonly used in quadrilles. The third part and perhaps the most interesting concerns the quadrille as danced in and around New York in 1863. The author relates that, "Quadrilles are formed of eight persons, four gentlemen and four ladies, divided into first, second, third, and fourth couples, called heads and sides. The first and second couples for the head couples and stand opposite to each other; the third and fourth couples form the sides, standing at right angles with the first two couples." The interesting difference is of course the face [sic] that the quadrille second couple is now the third couple in modern square dancing and the fact that we still often refer to the first and third as head couples or as in some instructions - head and foot couple. The Right and Left is described as follows: "The first and second couple join hands and dance forward toward each other four steps, then cross to opposite places, each lady passing between the opposite couple. The gentleman then present their left hands to the left hands of their partners, turning them half round and then turn themselves, so that each couple may face the opposite couple, having only exchanged places. This is repeated by other couples returning to their own places in the same manner." Note here that the ladies do not touch right hands with the opposite gentlemen as they pass through. Furthermore in turning the ladies the gentlemen do not place their right arms around the ladies waist to make the turn to place as we do now.
The ALLEMAND, spelled this way, was described neither as an Allemand right OR left. The description reads as follows: "This figure is performed by each gentlemen turning the next lady on his right, with his right hand, and then turning his own partner with his left hand. This, the four gentlemen march to the right four steps, and the ladies to the left (forming a square figure) and turn the corner partners with the right hands once round. Then march back to places and turn partners with the left hands." We have, of course, departed somewhat from this particular way of executing the Allemand.
The Dos - A - Dos, spelled this way, was executed quite like the present day method providing your section of the country uses the term at all. The author describes it as, "Dos - A - Dos means [sic] to run forward and pass round the opposite person, back to back, without turning, and back again to places." Last but not lest [sic] the "Promenade" or "All Promenade" as the term seemed to be then, was described as, follows: "Each couple face their own partners, joining both hands, with the right hand uppermost. And all promenade, with a slide or gallop step, passing to the right in a circle round to their own places, being careful not to extend beyond the limits of their own set".
There are dozens of other interesting differences to [sic] numerous to mention but short glimpses of past ways of doing present day dances appeals to me as good fun so if you can find a copy of this little book it will afford you many good laughs as well as make you wonder about our constant reference to 'Ole Tyme Dancing'. Oh, well, how "Old" is "Ole" anyway, or better still "How old can you get?"
Foot 'n' Fiddle, 3:9, 1949, by A.P.
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