Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Smallsword Demonstration

This week I am doing a baroque dance week at the Longy School of Music. This is neat, since I have never done any baroque dancing before. It is seriously intense, but I am enjoying the challenge immensely. But this is not the point.

The point is that we were talking about 18th century clothing, and I tried to find a picture of me in an 18th century dress. I didn't find one easily, but then I remembered that there is a video of me on youtube. So if you haven't seen this before, check it out! This is edited together, so the actual choreography I do for demonstrations with the Higgings Armory Sword Guild is shorter than that video. It looks awfully spiffy, though.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Event Announcement - Inspiration: Renoir! La Promenade

I am insane. I am doing two back to back dance weeks, directly followed by a performance. Not a day of rest between these three things. On the bright side, I am only doing this because they are all really exciting events. So this post is to announce that I will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a Renoir inspired event organized by the lovely Shien Lee of Dances of Vice. The event is on August 6th at 5 PM, and admission is free with museum admission ($12-$16). There are going to be several performances, and I expect to have a super-amazing-exquisite new ballgown done by then (currently about 45% completed...), so if you are in the area it will be very worth seeing. Get more details from the Dances of Vice website here. See you there!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ellen Emerson Doesn't Polka

Fair warning: Today will be a wordy and philosophical post. Also, I owe you pictures of my new dress at the Nahant Ball, but due to some technical difficulties (my camera is lost, the cord for mother's camera is lost...), I will have to continue to owe them.

A while ago I read a wonderful letter written by Ellen Tucker Emerson to her mother. I am familiar with the Emersons from my days of working at museums in Concord, but the fun part of this letter is what she says about the polka. Here is the letter as a whole, but part about the polka is bold if you want to skip the irrelevant bits:

Letter from Ellen Tucker Emerson to Lidian Jackson Emerson, January 08, 1856

My dear mamma,

It is rather late now so I can write only a little. Yesterday William [Emerson] and I went to call on Kitty Cobb, but she and her sister were out, and Mrs Cobb unable to see company. William is to leave Cambridge finally, in a week or two, and set himself up as a N. Y. lawyer. I was so surprised when he told me that he had to tell me once or twice that he wasn't a baby. Sunday night I went to Mrs Ward's to dinner and to spend the evening. Mrs Agassiz's mother and sisters were there, Mrs Hooper and Anna, Mr and Miss Huntington and Mr Drezel. Miss Sally Cary sang. Miss Emma Cary talked to Anna Ward and me about school. Mr Drezel played. Anna Hooper looked very pretty and talked to me a little while. And altogether it was very pleasant, only I was sleepy. Yesterday was dancing-school night. I enjoyed it wonderful to tell. I felt more like it than before and besides, Mother, there was another Washburn there! Ellen Washburn, exactly as lively and kind, almost as pretty, and with even more jump than Lizzy. She took care of me a good deal and when I danced with her I was surprised to find how difficult it seemed for her to keep on the floor, she seemed all the time in the air and only came down to jump up again. Lotty Hemenway was there too with her favorite Susy Minns, a very nice girl who danced with me once. But I did one thing that spoiled the evening. I don't dance the polka with boys, neither do most of the other girls. There was a polka going on and a man came up and asked me to dance. I forgot that it was polka, I didn't think at all about anything, but I just came down onto the floor and the man took hold of me. Then alas! I remembered that it was polka. Oh sorrow I felt so frightened and all round the room I considered all the vexatious consequences of a little forgetfulness, till when I was set down I ran right to Mrs Washburn and asked what I should do. She said I had better keep out of the way of gentlemen in polka-time that night and the next night it would be forgotten, nearly, and I could say as before that I didn't dance with boys. But for all that I keep feeling so bad about it. I must tell Mrs Ward and see what she says before I am comforted. Good-night. Don't work too hard Mother dear, and never do anything in the evening but enjoy yourself with the children.


Isn't that interesting? I was reminded of this letter because I was talking to a vintage dancer who was complaining about people who use bits and pieces of "Victorian Etiquette" out of context, then complain that it doesn't work. Specifically, we were discussing the issue of the whole "a woman can never refuse a dance" myth. In fact, a woman should not refuse dance partners, unless she has a good reason. But she should if she has a good reason! Here is my break down of what constitutes a "good reason" historically, and how to apply it to the modern ballroom.

1) This is mostly a modern concern, but a lady may certainly refuse a dance with someone who is not behaving like a gentleman. So if a gentleman is harassing you or monopolizing you, you may absolutely say no. This is not being modern and icky, ignoring real rules of etiquette - this is being reasonable. They would have been just as reasonable (or perhaps harsher on him) in period. It is unfortunate that this comes up more often in the modern world, where men may not know how to behave like gentlemen. But you need not hold yourself to a rigid level of etiquette if you are dealing with someone who does not do the same. The "women not turning down dances" part of the equation only works if the rest of the system is functioning too, where men obey the social standards of that time period. So stop complaining about not being allowed to turn down obnoxious partners!

2) Period etiquette manuals give women permission to turn down dances with good (or only ok) reason. The key here is consistency. If a gentleman asks you to dance, the manuals give you permission to say no on the grounds of fatigue, or even of "fear of fatigue." I love that phrase. Once you have said that, though, you must sit that dance out... it is unacceptable to say you are too tired do dance with one person, then be seen doing that dance with someone else. Of course, more dramatic good reasons also are acceptable. I would certainly take "I can't dance with you because I am feeling violently ill and must leave" or "I can't dance with you because my skirt has ripped off and I have to go McGuyver an outfit for the rest of the ball." But I expect you to go to the ladies room and fix your skirt, not dance half naked with someone else. Seriously. And yes, I have seen a skirt get stepped on and then ripped practically off.

3) As Ellen Emerson showed us, you can even refuse dances as a matter of policy, as long as the policy is consistent. That is why she makes such a fuss about accidentally dancing a polka with a gentleman - not because that one dance was an awful experience, but because now it would be very rude to turn down a partner because she doesn't "polka with boys." Her excuse is no longer a polite way to refuse a partner, but would look like an insult. So be consistent. If you hate quadrilles, you may refuse them on principle, but if you use that excuse I better not see you dancing any quadrilles.

Now, I make it a policy to include something visual in every post, so even if you don't read all the boring things I say you can get something out of the post. I looked for pictures of Ellen Emerson, but she is not that well-dressed or fascinating for the most part. So instead, a random picture about a polka. Specifically, the Hippopotamus Polka. I think it is hilarious and cute.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Event Announcement - Nahant Day Victorian Ball on July 17

This is not technically a Commonwealth Vintage Dancers event, but it is organized by one of the members for the benefit of the Nahant Historical Society, so there is a lot of overlap. If you like CVD balls, you will probably like this event just as much. There is also going to be a picnic in Boston, with rides on the Swan Boats, the next day. So go make your reservations! Here are the details, from the Vintage Victorian website, where you can also buy tickets right now (here). See you there!The Nineteenth Annual
to Benefit the Nahant Historical Society
Saturday, 17 July 2010
Nahant Town Hall, Nahant, MA
7:00 to 10:30pm
Free Dance Workshop, Saturday July 17th
Nahant Town Hall, 3 to 5pm

with live music by Spare Parts
Bill Matthiessen, Liz Stell and Anne Hooper
and Mr. Ben Bishop, Prompter

Ball Admission:
$30 per person ($15 student) at the door,
Advance Registration Discount:
$25.00 per person, ($10 student)

And here are some details about the picnic the next day:

We are planning something a little bit different for this year’s after-the-ball afternoon event. Please join us for a ride on the Historic Swan Boats in Boston’s Public Garden. The Swan boats, introduced in 1877, are a unique Victorian Summer destination.

We will meet at 1 pm near the Dock to join the next available trip; the boat ride lasts about 15 minutes. After we ride we will stroll in the gardens and find a shady spot under a tree in Boston Common for an informal snack. We ask that you bring your own refreshments. The event will end by approximately 3:30 pm. Please check back here for further updates on pic-nic and promenade plans. In the event of rain or excessive heat the trip will be cancelled, please check here, email or call (see below) for last minute updates.

This event is free. The only charge is for the actual boat ride. Payment will be made individually at the dock. Reservations are not required, but we would like to have and idea of how many people are planning on attending, please let us know if you can come.

Suggested dress for this event is Summer day dress of the Victorian or Edwardian eras or modern Summer wear.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Where did Robinson Crusoe Go - Ian Whitcomb

Ian Whitcomb is a very neat fellow. In the 1960s, he was a british rock star (check out his hit - "You turn me on"). At some point, he started playing ukulele and doing really adorable ragtime music. Too much fun. But for something incredibly neat, check out this video of him, in the 1960s, playing the adorable vintage song "Where did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night." Check out his entertaining outfit, and be certain to note the Shindig dancing girls, doing some variety of suspicious charleston in their faux-flapper fringe dresses.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Waltham Adventure - The Tea Leaf, Gore Place, and Stonehurst

Yesterday was a grand adventure with a rocky start. A friend invited me to go see Lyman Estate, which was supposed to be having an open house as part of the Historic Waltham Days (lots of wonderful events and thing are happening in Waltham right now). Unfortunately, when we showed up at the Lyman Estate, we were informed that the open house was not Thursday, the 8th, even though all the publicity had given that date. There must have been some misunderstanding somewhere, but so much for that plan.

Since we were looking so lovely, and this is a friend who has been telling me about a particular teahouse nearby forever, we went there. The Tea Leaf is absolutely darling, and the woman who runs it is delightful. We had some delicious tea and tasty cucumber sandwiches for lunch. Yum. Definitely go there when you get a chance. We chatted, both with the woman who owns the Tea Leaf and with some other very nice people eating there, and they all suggested that we go check out Gore Place, since the Lyman Estate hadn't worked out and because Gore Place is lovely. She even called them so they would know we were coming, and they set up a special tour for us. Here is a picture taken at the Tea Leaf - note the seersucker.Gore Place is absolutely gorgeous, and the gentleman who gave us our tour did a spectacular job pointing out fascinating things. I can heartily recommend going to look at it some time. I would tell you all about the house, but there is just too much! Some highlights are the incredible stairs, the fascinatingly large billiards table, the super lovely reproduction wallpaper (especially with the birds... I love that stuff), a particularly beautiful vainty, pretty marble floors, Mr. Gore's outfit for going to court (regal, not legal, if that was unclear), etc. Too many lovely things. Here's a picture in front of the entrance.Next, we went to take a look around Stonehurst, but as we arrived a woman came to the door and told us we could take a look around inside if we wanted, which was very sweet. So we wandered around, inside and out, and I was very much photographed. My favorite is the picture with the big windows... I really love that one for some reason.
So yesterday was an adventurous day, full of Waltham History and good clothing. The end.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Seersucker Suits

Yesterday I went to a clothing store (Vintage Revenge in Harvard Square) with a gentleman who bought, among other things, a seersucker jacket. While I was talking to the woman who runs the place (a delightful character, really), she mentioned that seersucker suits are a big deal right now. She had just sold several, and was worrying about not having more in stock. Yes, that's right, seersucker is trendy.

Surely not, I thought to myself.

This morning on the news, one of the anchors was wearing a seersucker suit. Then later they had one of those trendy clothes analysis people narrating a trendy-summer-work-appropriate fashion show. Sure enough, the first thing featured was a seersucker suit.

No way. Then again, this does look sort of trendy, doesn't it? I guess so.I will support any item of menswear that I think would be at home in the Drones Club (go look up some P.G. Wodehouse!). I'm just not used to anyone normal enough to be a news anchor or a trendy-clothing-analyst agreeing with me. This could be good. Next thing you know, we'll have men wearing hats, and then the world may well be saved. I'm pretty excited.

But then, perhaps I should have known. Maybe it is all a Chuck Bass inspired craze. I could certainly forgive that... there are far worse male fashion icons to emulate, and not enough people have heard of Bertie Wooster.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Green Striped 18th Century Dress

I am not an 18th century kind of girl. It is a lovely time period, yes, but I am firmly rooted in the 19th, and in the 1860s in particular. As my father would always say, so many centuries, so little time. But I can appreciate beautiful things from any time period, and this is one seriously smashing dress. I love it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ragtime Hair Accessory from Urban Outfitters

I bought two headbands from Urban Outfitters. I had been mooning over this original 1920s hair accessory:

The ones I bought only have two bands, not three, but are otherwise quite lovely and similar. Of course, wearing this, it is a headband. I am now a bit concerned about where the medallions on the original would sit. Is it less of a headband? Do they sit on your ears? Looks uncomfortable, potentially.

Either way, I've decided I like these headbands plain anyway. Doesn't this look like an awfully nice ragtime hairstyle? I am considering wearing two of them together, to make two or three bands (the middle one thicker for three, obviously), but I haven't quite gotten them to lay right. May be better to just do this instead. Thoughts?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Violet Syrup

A few days ago I was walking with mother and we went to an odd little organic-type grocery store. I was drawn to nothing but sugar! Seriously, they had such incredible beautiful decorating sugar, and maple sugar, and sugared violets, and more! But the thing I had to have was the violet syrup. First of all, it is pretty. Second of all, it sounds unbearably romantic. Third of all, it sounded almost potentially tasty. So I ran home and made some violet soda for myself, with seltzer and a splash of violet syrup. The syrup itself it quite sweet, but mixed like that it makes a very delicate soda. Mother says its like drinking perfume, but I am determined to like it anyway for the dramatic and romantic effect. Also, she says it tastes better with food coloring. She is a bit nutty.

It does look sort of pretty with the food coloring, though. Naturally it makes clear soda.

I will have to experiment more. I think it would be lovely poured on deserts... perhaps a nice vanilla pudding?