The Fashionable Dancers Casket for the Ballroom Instructor

by Charles Durang

Review by Cathleen Myers

Applewood Books has released a neat little pocket-sized reprint of Charles Durang’s classic 1856 dance manual, including detailed descriptions of both fashionable and "new" couple dances, quadrilles and set dances currently danced in American ballrooms as well as tips on ballroom etiquette and costume. Priced at $7.95 (via Amazon), this release is a little gem and certainly useful for both dance historians who can compare it with later manuals which plagiarized it, and for bewildered dance students struggling to tell the difference between the Cellarius Valtz and the Cellarius Waltz Mazurka. Quadrille fanciers will find Durang’s 1856 description of The Quadrille interesting because it retains some of the Regency "solo" patterns of the 1815 quadrille, which would eventually morph into completely "Victorian" communal dance we generally dance today.

Tango aficionados will discover an often-quoted early 1850’s description of the tango - clearly a dance master’s choreography rather than a genuine "South American" folk dance; still, there is enough Tango attitude in the description to suggest that the dance was a much earlier creation than traditionally believed. The romantic tangueros’ claim that the dance originated in the late 19th century in either the brothels of Buenos Aires or out of the frustration of the city’s poor and unemployed immigrants and ex-vaqueros would appear to be not entirely accurate.

Costume historians will note with interest that the interpolated essay on "The Toilet" by Philadelphia dance mistress Mrs. Henderson actually describes the ball fashions and "look" of the 1830’s and early 40’s rather than the 1850’s as do the book’s illustrations.

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