Drawing Room Dances by Henri Cellarius Chapter 12
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Of all the dances that of late years have been introduced into the Parisian ball-rooms, there is none that has a character more marked with vigour and originality than the mazurka, the Polish origin of which I need hardly mention. I will only here repeat what I said of the polka; the mazurka now finds itself naturalized in France, thanks to the gracious reception it met with, almost on its first appearance, from the elite of the public.

The waltze, or any other dance, is partly composed of a certain mechanism, with which the dancers—even the most opposed—end by becoming familiar with in the long run, and which a master may in a given time strictly inculcate. It is not so with the mazurka, a dance altogether independent and truly inspired, which has no rule but taste and the peculiar fancy of every one, the performer being, so to speak, his own master.

I do not hesitate to affirm that only one part of the mazurka can be taught; the rest is invented, is extemporized, in the excitement of the execution; and it is precisely this circumstance of constant inspiration that renders the mazurka so attractive, so varied, and makes it perhaps the first of the fashionable dances.

Here, as in my lessons, I shall confine myself to pointing out four principal steps, which will enable the pupils to follow the time, the rhythm of which, however marked it may be, still does not fail to present difficulties to beginners. Those who possess these four steps will be far from dancing the mazurka well, but they will at least know the elements, and will be in a condition to direct themselves.

The first is called the pas glissé, or mazurka step. It is executed by springing lightly on the right foot, and allowing the left to glissade to the fourth position in front, which employs two beats of the bar. Then the left leg is raised to the fourth position behind; this lifting up of the foot is performed on the third beat of the bar. Then you recommence with the other leg, and so on with the rest.

This step is called the mazurka step, because it is the most usual and is unceasingly repeated, either alone or in combination with other steps. The pupil should endeavour to be quite perfect in it before undertaking other and more complicated steps.

The second is called the pas de basque.

We are here speaking of the Polish pas de basque, which we must be careful not to confound with the French pas de basque. The first of these is executed in three, in order to mark the measure.

For the first step you jump, changing the leg as in the French step, but holding up the changed leg in the fourth position in advance.

For the second beat, you bring this leg to the ground; glissading it slightly; and for the third, you make a coupé under the other foot, beating sharply with the heel, and flinging up the same leg to recommence another step. It is necessary to try and advance well at the second beat, setting the foot to the ground, and avoiding to make the steps by jerks. The pas de basque of the mazurka should be made by stretching out without crossing.

The third step has been called the pas boiteux (hobble-step) because the novices, who can only execute it imperfectly, have all the appearance of hobbling.

The first beat is the same as for the pas de mazurka; but instead of lifting up the right leg behind at the third beat, you strike the coup de talon with the right foot on the left, and at the same moment quickly raise the left. The heel is placed close to the lower part of the right calf as in the polka; this step always attacks the same foot.

The fourth step, called the pas polonais, or coup de talon, is executed by striking the right heel with the left for the first beat; for the second you place the left foot in the second position aside; for the third, you bring up the right foot with a glissade and without springing to the left, and give a fresh coup de talon to recommence.

In the course of the promenades this step is executed solely with the left foot; in the rounds it is made with both feet.

The position of the foot is the same for the mazurka as for the waltze à deux temps; you must not seek either to bend it or to turn it out, but leave it in its natural position.

The coups de talons, which are introduced into various steps of the mazurka, and which are even one of the indispensable accompaniments of the dance, ought to be given well in time, with a certain degree of energy, but without exaggeration. Too loud a coup de talon will always be considered in the ball-room as evincing bad taste.

By the help of the four elementary steps, which I am going to point out, the pupil will be enabled to execute that which in the mazurka is called a promenade.

The promenade is executed by holding the lady by the right hand and making her perform a course according to fancy now long, now broad, one moment slanting, the next square, according to the space at command.

The promenade may be called the foundation of the mazurka; it is indispensable, before each figure. The Poles, such excellent masters in affairs of the mazurka, and to whom for my part I am so much indebted, since they were my first models, delight particularly in the promenades, extending and diversifying it to infinitude. In fact it is there, more than in the figures, that the real character of the dance can be displayed.

Every promenade should be terminated by a round of the gentleman with the lady. This round, at one time known under the barbarous and inharmonious name of the holubiec, is now simply called a tour sur place. Its execution requires particular attention in the pupil, and requires to be attacked with a grace and vigour that only long practice can give. We may judge a mazurka-dancer, by the more or less attraction and character which he is able to impart to this step alone.

To perform the tour sur place the gentleman should face his partner, draw her to him, and fling her with a certain decision into his left arm. At the same time he raises the right leg behind, and lets it fall into the fourth position in front. He then pivots on both feet, rising on the toes, and changing his position so as to find his left foot in the fourth position in advance. At the end of the pirouetting, and upon the third beat of the bar, he raises the right leg to the fourth position behind, to recommence the step.

When the gentleman has executed the step four times in advance consecutively, he changes the position by passing the lady into his right arm and continuing to turn in the same direction. For the two first beats of the bar he makes the pas d'assemblé behind with the left foot; and for the third, he executes the sissonne tendu; this step he performs four times consecutively, and then takes the lady's hand if he intends continuing the promenade; or, if the promenade be ended, he contents himself with disengaging his arm from the lady's waist as in the rest of the waltze.

It should be observed that when the gentleman makes the pas tombe in advance, the lady makes the assemblé sissonne behind; and when in his turn the gentleman attacks the assemblé sissonne, the lady makes the pas tombe.

The tour sur place, one of the most elegant but difficult steps of the mazurka, is the only one that does not vary as to the movement of the feet; it may, however, be executed in many ways.

The gentleman, without turning round, and while continuing to mark the step, may make his partner turn about him. He first passes her from his right to his left hand, turning the left arm about himself. When the lady has got back to her original place, he passes his right arm under his left, taking her by the waist, and executes the tour sur place by the assemblé sissonne, while the lady makes it in advance by the pas tombe.

Sometimes also the dancer flings his partner into his right arm without any entwining, and makes her execute the tour sur place, as described above. This method, less practised than the other, has something brusque about it, but it is deficient neither in grace nor in decision. It is well to employ it from time to time, were it only for the sake of variety, for it can not be too often repeated to pupils that variety is one of the greatest charms and most fundamental laws of the mazurka.

With the exception of the tour sur place, which presents the same difficulties to the lady as to the gentleman, the ladies have not to execute steps in the mazurka by any means so complicated as their partners. In the course of the promenades they have only to perform the basque polonais, omitting the coup de talon, which belongs especially to the gentlemen, and to mingle little glissading steps that should be made with great rapidity. For the general round they must have recourse to the fourth step pointed out above, called pas polonais, except that in marking the coup de talon, they will disengage the leg towards the side.

The ladies, though apparently less active or less occupied, than the gentlemen in the mazurka, yet do not fail to have also a very decisive and influential part in the success of the dance, as we shall see directly.

I shall here repeat what I have said when speaking of the waltze—that there never can be a good dancer with an inexperienced danseuse; and I do not fear the being contradicted by those, who have acquired a thorough knowledge of this dance, when I affirm that it is as rare to find a lady skilful in the mazurka as it is to find a gentleman so qualified.

I will push no farther these preliminary observations on a dance, which less than any other can be explained by words, and which in part even defies all analysis. I prefer rather devoting a separate chapter, as I have done in the waltze à deux temps, to every thing concerning the style of a dance, which I may say without vanity I have studied with peculiar care, and which I do not even now cease to study every day.

I dare not affirm that the mazurka is an art, for fear of seeming to attach too much importance to a thing of mere amusement. If however it be true that the principal characteristic of any art is variety and imagination, the mazurka most assuredly deserves that title, for not a day can pass that a real dancer will not see something in it to innovate and invent, which would not be the case in an exercise of mere routine.

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Drawing Room Dances by Henri Cellarius Chapter 12

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