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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle Chapter 12
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XII
PROPER DANCE MUSIC

MUSIC is really more expressive of the era in which it appears than books or pictures or any of the arts. To every nation belongs its music, and every nation expresses in its music national characteristics and national dreams.

Of course, the operas and the great concertos and symphonies are like the gods—of no age, but of every age; they are harmonies of life itself, and therefore are always beloved and considered beautiful; but dance music is the expression of the moment. It spells for us in its subtle rhythms the joys and the fashions of the season, when it attains the zenith of its popularity. Looking back across the years, one cannot fail to be struck by the changes which new dances have brought out in the music of every nation. Back in the days of powdered hair and gallantry were the stately Minuet and the Gavotte, to be superseded in later generations by the Waltz, the dance once considered so shocking and so beautiful.

During the era that followed the Waltz there was the Polka, the gay figures of Cotillions, and all other dances of our mothers' youthful days. Then came the vogue of the Two Step, with its Sousa music and its swift tempo. The Quadrille and the Lancers and the Polka alike were forgotten in the joys of what was, I think, the biggest romping dance that we have ever had. There was neither dignity nor beauty in the fast Two Step; but every piece of music that lived to be whistled and hummed in those days was set to Two Step time.

Then came the rag, the rag with its syncopated tempo and its subtle phrasing, to which the world turkey-trotted. New we have the slower and more artistic music of the moment in the merry One Step, the Hesitation Waltz, and the stirring Tango. What will come next no one can prophesy, but we all, I imagine, must admit the fact that the music of to-day is far prettier than the music of yesterday—if it is not played too fast. That is a mistake that is often made, particularly by amateur musicians and dancers; too swift a tempo is set for the music and the dance steps.

All of our modern Tangos and Waltzes to-day should be slow and graceful and full of pretty measures that are stepped in a fashion almost as stately as the old-time Minuet. And for such dances one requires a slow tempo. A fast tune means rapid dancing and a lack of ease that robs the dances of their grace and makes them as rompish as the Two Step or the swift Turkey Trot. What is more, the time must be marked, a slight accentuation on the first note of every bar being a great aid to the dancer who is just learning, since it beats time for him. In some dances, notably the Innovation, where a man cannot lead his partner as he may in a dance where he holds her, it is necessary for the two dancers to keep perfect time, or else the entire effect of the dance is lost.

In many respects this dancing alone is a splendid way to learn—if the dancer will count under her breath every beat of the music and keep her steps exact For the lady who is not sure of the tempo of a dance this is an excellent method of learning the rhythm. The 1, 2, 3, 4 of the One Step is very marked in the better music for this dancing, while the 1, 2, 3 of the Waltz is easily caught and can be counted under the breath, no matter how elaborate the tune. The bass almost always marks the time.

I might, of course, give you a long list of the music of to-day which I consider best for dancing, but in a month or two the list would be passé. There is always in every shop a man to play selections for you. You can tell in an instant whether the time is right and clearly marked, or whether it loses beats, now and then requiring the holding of notes over two beats—all of which is apt to put the amateur dancer out of step.


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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle Chapter 12

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