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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle Chapter 2
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II
THE TANGO OF TO-DAY

ALMOST any one will admit that dancing is an art, but in truth it is really all arts in one; it is music incarnate, it is the poetry of motion, and it is painting. Often it is one of the loveliest of moving-picture representations—we refer, of course, to real dancing, and real dancing is not a species of gymnastic contortions, nor hoidenish romping, though we have recently seen both in the ball-rooms and on the stage.

Real dancing means graceful measures tripped to the lilting rhythm of fine music. To such dancing is our present Tango craze leading us. It began in the orgy that the world indulged in during the vogue of the Turkey Trot, the Grizzly Bear, and the Bunny Hug. They marked the dividing-line that turned the tide of dancing from romping toward the Minuet.

I don't for a minute believe that we shall ever dance the real Minuet again; but I feel—in fact, I know—that the tendency of the moment is strongly in the direction of the slow and graceful dances of which the Minuet was the first.

The Waltz, the Polka, the Two Step, and finally the Turkey Trot, ran the scale of dancing in a swift crescendo, from the solemn measures of the Quadrille or the Minuet to the shrill staccato of the rag. We are now going back to the graceful measures that tend not so much to show athletic prowess as to display the lithe grace of a well-poised body and a sense of rhythm.

It is a bit of the irony of fate that the Tango and other modern dances are the subjects of so much adverse criticism, when in reality they are the pathfinders, the pioneer dances of a new era of charming steps. The Tango as we dance it now is much modified from the first Argentine; the Hesitation Waltz has been evolved into a graceful dance seldom equaled; while the Innovation is really almost a Minuet, since the partners step the measures quite apart from each other. It, too, marks the changing ideas and ideals of the dancers of to-day. Here in America we are just beginning to wake up to the possibilities of dancing. We are flinging off our lethargy, our feeling of having time for nothing outside of business, and are beginning to take our place among the nations who enjoy life.

To be truly graceful in dancing presupposes a certain stateliness, a dignity of movement that has charm rather than gymnastic skill behind it. The charming dips and turns, the long, slow steps, and the various artistic measures of our dances of to-day all have a certain dignity. The hoidenish romping of the Two Step, the swift rush of the Polka and contortions of the Turkey Trot, have died a natural death because something finer has taken their place.

Shuffles and twists and wriggles and jumps are no longer words to be used in connection with dancing. What is more, the exercise gained through the new dances is just as great, the benefit just as lasting, and the pleasure much more than it was in former dances. If people had realized what dancing may mean, we should never have had the recent caricatures of it in our ballrooms. Dancing should be the poetry of motion; the steps are mere incidents. What is important is that the dancer should be so attuned to the music that he merely expresses the themes of the composer. He is, as it were, a poetical architect. who builds with his body the graceful formations that delight the eyes and express what the music breathes forth in its harmonies.

A beautiful dancer is a beautiful picture, man or woman; he supplies the words suggested by the music, adding nobility to melody. Stately dances are easier in some respects and really prettier than rapid ones. The slower the steps, the more intricate the measures, and the more subtly dignified the tempo of the music, the wider range one has for painting songs without words, and the more gracefully one can use one's body.

There will, I suppose, always be a certain element among the younger set who like to romp on the floor as if it were a kindergarten play-room, but this element nowadays is small. People have altered the idea that only youth and dancing are synonymous; the gray-haired matron and the sedate man of affairs are seen dancing as often now as the younger generation. That in itself proves that dancing has attained a new value, for it offers something as grateful to the old and middle-aged as to the young. Moreover, I do not believe that our present dances are the last word. I think the shifting season will find us dancing variations not only of the slow Waltz, the Berlin, and the Oxford Minuet, but that the dances of to-morrow will be a modified form of Sir Roger de Coverley and the Minuet itself. At any rate, I think we will go back through the range of the stately steps, and will probably adopt the old rule that the man should touch only his partner's finger-tips as they tread the measures of the dance. In all this reconstruction the Tango will play its part; a sublimated form of the Tango, I admit, but still the Tango. Also the One Step and Castle Walk, and the Hesitation Waltz, and all the dances of to-day. All of these are full of graceful steps, and all of them have essential qualities that are like a flaxen thread upon which we shall string our pearls of new dances.


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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle Chapter 2

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