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Drawing Room Dances by Henri Cellarius Chapter 13
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XIII
OBSERVATIONS ON THE MAZURKA.

Supposing that the pupil is able to execute with facility the elementary steps just detailed, he will yet be far from having finished his education, and possesses only a sketch, and, if I may so express myself, a rough draught of the dance.

It now remains to unite these different steps, to pass freely from one to the other without losing the time, to introduce into the movements and attitudes those fancies, those innumerable graces—such as rest in the middle of a bar, double coup de talon, goings to and fro with the lady, and so many other shades which compose the real character of the mazurka.

It is necessary to attain that degree of practice and facility, which allows the dancer to spring forward with his lady, without in the least troubling himself about the step he is going to form, above all things relying on the inspiration of the moment. Every one will doubtless comprehend that those who content themselves with uniformly making the ordinary step of the mazurka or the pas de basque, according to the instructions of the masters, regularly accomplishing their promenade without any variety of step or attitude, will execute the mazurka imperfectly, or not at all. It is not thus that the Poles understand it, who have the great advantage of having danced it from childhood, and almost without study, which of course gives them a superiority of style and originality.

The real dancer of the mazurka not only varies his steps, but more frequently invents them, creating new ones that belong only to himself, and which others would be wrong in copying with servility. One of the great advantages of this dance is, that it leaves to each his individuality, and prevents those, who practice it, from seeming as if formed upon the same model.

In my notice of the waltze à deux temps, I have spoken of the importance of good carriage to the dancers; this is yet more applicable to the mazurka, which is above all others a dance of attitudes.

It would be difficult, if not childish, to attempt any literal indication to the pupils of the attitudes they ought to assume while dancing. It is for them to obey their inspirations, and to take care what they do with the head and body, so as to avoid monotony and stiffness. "We do not dance with the legs only," said Marcel, "but with the body also and the arms." This might seem to have been said chiefly with a view to the mazurka.

I have observed that most Poles at the first step made an inclination of the head, and raised themselves at the second step with a sort of decision full of gracefulness. When a new direction is given to the lady, there are also peculiar movements, which practice suggests of itself to intelligent pupils.

The mazurka is compounded of impulse, majesty, its freedom from all restraint and piquancy; it has at the same time something of pride and even of the martial. It is requisite to mingle seasonably these various characters, which ought to be found with all their shades in the attitude of the dancer, who in no case should remain languid or inanimate. Whoever should think of executing the mazurka with no more movement or variety than is thrown into the French country-dance, would do wrong to undertake it. It is necessary to dare, and not to be thinking of what may be said, to dance for one's self and not for others, with a previous conviction that the freedom of the dance, its invincible warmth, and the real pleasure it imparts to those who are executing it, will soon get over that slight degree of strangeness that it may have for the French spectators. I like to see my pupils venture something even in their first attempts, and seek to take attitudes although at the risque of a little exaggeration, which it is always easy to correct. It is a fancy with some professors to set a mark upon all attitudes, that savour of pretension or of the theatrical. Nevertheless I must say that hitherto the French dancers have rather erred on the side of too little than of too much, and have given more cause to complain of the want of fire than of the contrary excess.

The Poles, whom one cannot help constantly quoting, when one talks of the mazurka, excel particularly in the art of directing the ladies. They have the power of making them describe such graceful undulations, those volts, if I may be allowed the expression, so piquant, and so much in the spirit of the dance. A promenade has particularly for its object to occupy the lady, to assume an appearance by turns of flying, rejoining, removing, and recalling, with movements easy, piquant, and sometimes also mingled with a certain authority, which the final tour sur place, ought particularly to express. After this it may be imagined, as I have said above, that the part of the lady is not unimportant, and that upon her more or less dexterity, depends, in a great degree, the success of her partner. She ought to follow him whatever may be the rapidity of his paces, to stop when he stops, to recommence with him, and never to be surprised nor put out whatever may happen. The tour sur place above all requires on the lady's part much decision and presence of mind. She should give herself up entirely without restraint to the movement of the gentleman as he throws her into his arm. The least hesitation on her part would ruin the effect of this step, which loses its character if there is not a perfect harmony between her and the gentleman.

It would be superfluous, I imagine, to repeat here what I have already said of the waltze à deux temps—that ladies would be wrong in attempting the mazurka in public, without having previously received the instructions of a master—that they would find neither success nor pleasure from this dance, if they did not know the first elements of it beforehand.

When the pupil has acquired a sufficient knowledge of the step, and of directing the lady, he may then execute the figures, of which I shall give the details in an article on the cotillon. But I cannot too often repeat how much the practice of the promenades appears to me to be necessary—indispensable even, not only in regard to debutants, but even to pupils more advanced. A master, who should make his pupils practice the figures from the beginning would never form true dancers of the mazurka. The promenade alone enables the professor to attend particularly to the step and attitude of every one. Whoever submits for several lessons to this exercise, monotonous it is true and little attractive for the novice, will not in the end regret the experiment. He is sure to never fall into common-place, and to possess that ease and variety of step, which double the pleasure of the dance. He who can well execute a promenade may say that he can dance the mazurka; the study of the figure is a trifle, requiring only memory and a little attention.

I can not conclude my observations on the mazurka without remarking that it has been and still is, the subject of many reproaches, which I should not mention except that it gives me a fresh occasion of better discussing the principles and nature of the dance. It has been accused of being too little spread, of but rarely making its appearance in the ball-room, and of being the appanage as it were of a chosen few. As it did not become popular at once upon its first introduction, some have imagined that it must sooner or later be entirely forgotten.

I think it is wrong to judge of any dance by its greater or less popularity; provided it lasts, preserves its attraction, and above all maintains its rank in the world, that is beyond doubt sufficient, and it is not absolutely necessary that it should become at once the prey of the multitude.

I need not call to mind that from its debut in France, the mazurka has been admitted into the most distinguished ball-rooms, and is perhaps still destined for a certain time to confine itself to such assemblies; for this there are many reasons, which may be easily comprehended. In the first place the very difficulty of the dance, that I have not attempted to conceal; the necessity of previous and continued study, which of course requires leisure; then its character, which is compounded not only of boldness, of warmth, and freedom from restraint, but also of dignity and elegance. I much doubt indeed if a person of vulgar form and deportment can ever completely succeed in the mazurka.

Now because a dance is not within the reach of the first comer, represents an art altogether peculiar, and even maintains, if you like, even to the new mode a certain aristocratic varnish, is that a reason for rejecting it? is it not rather a pledge for the future?

It has also been objected to the mazurka that it is not French; it has been said that its foreign name would always prevent it from obtaining letters of naturalization, which however have been granted at various times to other dances much less deserving.

I shall not enquire whether any dance belongs to a particular people, rather than to another, or whether in a certain point of view, all dances, and more particularly the natural, are not citizens of the same country, which is that of elegance, taste and gracefulness. Without either examining whether those dances that we call French—dances of etiquette for the most part, traditions of the ancient court—without examining whether they have been, and still are, the faithful expositors of our manners and customs, I will only observe that we meet in the mazurka with vivacity, unrestrainedness, variety, dignity, and a little of that martial spirit, that we love in France to mingle with our pleasures. Now is all this opposed to our character? and ought we to contest the rights of a dance, which perhaps is foreign only in name, and which in any case is not presented for adoption, without having first shown its adherence to our colours? In a word, here as in the waltze à deux temps, I will make but one answer to those, who would absolutely deny the peculiar impressions, impulse, and pleasure which the mazurka communicates to those engaged in it— Dance it. I feel confident of the result, and do not fear to appeal from the judgment of the mere spectator to that of the dancer, which cannot fail of being at the same time more competent and more favourable.


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Drawing Room Dances by Henri Cellarius Chapter 13

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