Friday, December 02, 2005

DANCE FOR A DIAMOND - how a story was born


The popularity of the current TV series Strictly Come Dancing shows just how much we enjoy dancing, and as I watched the dancers gliding round the floor during the first series I started thinking about the origins of the waltz. Today waltzing is considered very tame, but it wasn’t always so.

At the end of the eighteenth century there were more revolutions going on in Europe than the bloody one in France. Attitudes were definitely changing, but until the early 1800s dancing for the English gentry and upper classes was restricted to the country dances and formal courtly processions, with no more than handholding between the sexes. Think of the scandal then when the waltz hit town. Suddenly the man and woman were embracing on the dance floor, spinning round the floor breast to breast. Is it any wonder that society tried to keep such indecent behaviour out of the ballrooms?

The origins of the waltz are obscure. Some sources claim it comes from the Italian Dance the volta (which had been danced at the court of Queen Elizabeth) others from the German folk-dance the Landler. It made its appearance at Almack’s in 1812 but was not universally accepted, and as late as 1816 the Times was protesting against the “voluptuous intertwining of the limbs.”

This started a train of thought for me, beginning with a young woman who sets up her own dancing school in a bid for independence. Thus Antonia Venn was born. Of course every young lady aspiring to join the fashionable world would want to learn the waltz, so into Miss Venn’s academy comes the lively Isabella Burstock. Antonia’s efforts to keep Isabella’s high spirits in check naturally bring her into conflict with her autocratic half-brother, Sir Laurence Oakford.

As the story developed, I realised that it was following the early form of the waltz, which began with a slow movement, “la Marche”, followed by the quicker “Sauteuse” and ending with the “Jetté”, an energetic third movement.

So when you hear people decrying modern dance as disgusting or immoral, you might like to remind them that it’s all been said before.

Melinda Hammond

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