Thursday, August 27, 2009

Minuet Shoes

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dancemistress shoes CW '09 Susan reports:

Adding my two cents (or is it two steps?) into Loretta’s minuet discussion. . . .

As Loretta said, we were fortunate enough to attend a “ball” at the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg during our visit last fall. We also spoke with one of the authorities on 18th century dance, too, who not only answered all our Nerdy Girl questions, but demonstrated the various steps and dances as well. No, she didn’t wear John Travolta’s patent-leather platform oxfords, but she did dance in a beautiful replica pair of brocade shoes. Those are her feet, above left, after we asked her to raise her petticoats indelicately for our cameras.

Also, Vanessa mentioned reading about Beau Nash dancing a minuet with his partner while everyone else watched. This was quite true, alarming though it seems to the klutzs among us. A formal ball opened with a minuet, danced by the highest ranking lady and gentleman present. It was a showy, complicated dance with no place to hide, which explains why practice and instruction from dancing masters was so important. Who wants to screw up that publicly? There's good reason that minuets were danced at the beginning of the evening before the “strong waters” started flowing and clumsiness followed. 791px-William_Hogarth_035

Unable to follow Loretta’s minuet chart from yesterday? Here’s an excellent video of a most accomplished couple in period dress, and though they’re performing before a group of tourists in an art museum, their talent show why the minuet was such a popular display of grace and refinement.

And also why most people at a ball couldn’t wait for the cheerful, forgiving mayhem of the country dances to begin later in the evening (such as the ball sketched by William Hogarth, right, in 1744.)

10 comments:

Sara said...

How high are the heels on the eighteenth century dance shoes? With the strap across the instep to keep them on, they're not that different from modern dance shoes.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Oh, my goodness! That video makes me want to faint! The minuet is so beautiful and graceful, and scary - especially for the guy. The woman at least has the coverage of her gown to hide any little missteps. That couple is really, really good.

I never thought of it until you mentioned it, Loretta, but of course folks in the Georgian and Regency era wouldn't have the same level of distractions. You would need to concentrate to learn those complicated steps!

And love the brocade shoes.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sara -- Interesting that you saw a likeness between modern dance shoes and the 18th c. style; I hadn't thought of that, but of course you're right.

The 18th c. shoe is pretty much the standard shoe style of the time for both men and women -- the difference came in the fastenings, the material from which the shoe is made, and the heel height. These particular shoes didn't have a very high heel, maybe 1-1/2" - 2" tops. The shape was curving, but thick, and (I imagine) very stable.

Not so different, either, from what Adele Astaire is wearing in the photo below.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Vanessa, doesn't that video just make you sigh? The dancing and the music are that beautiful...though I'm guessing the 18th c. autdiences weren't always as reverential as this one!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Susan, I was thinking that, too. I bet there was lots of gabbing and wandering around to speak with friends.

News From the Holmestead said...

Wow. I'd heard the minuet was difficult, and now I know why. I loved how graceful the guy was. His feet just twinkled! With his legs and feet on display, as opposed to the the woman's, I can see how important it was to not make a misstep. No wonder dancing masters were such a part of aristocratic life.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Vanessa -- I bet there was a lot of yacking, and flirting, and just wandering around. Maybe not while the first couple is starting off the night, since they'd be the most important people there, but later it was probably like any other party. Even during the CW ball, the participants spoke and laughed as they danced, making everything very social and jolly.

Still, I'm betting that the minuet probably required a whole lot of concentration from the dancers, without much to spare for chit-chat.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sherrie, I can't imagine how long it must have taken to learn such a complicated dance! So many steps, and they don't repeat often. I would definitely have been one of the wallflowers when a minuet was called. :)

Loretta Chase said...

Susan, shall we mention that neither of us volunteered to get up and dance when those nice people at CW offered to let perfect strangers kick them and step on their feet--I mean, learn to dance 18th C style?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

What, you mean how we slunk to the absolute back row of seats and clung to our chairs when the nice gentlemen offered themselves to our abuse?

But there's always next time, Loretta, always next time....

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