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An essay by Jenny Wren

On Dancing

Title:     On Dancing
Author: Jenny Wren [More Titles by Wren]

I was looking through a "Querist Album" the other day; one of those dreadful confession books in which you are required to answer the most absurd questions. Dreadful indeed they are to write in, but not altogether uninteresting to peruse, though the interest comes not so much in the answers themselves as in the manner in which they are written.

Some go in for it seriously, and describe their inmost feelings on the pages; some take a witty strain, and put down the most ridiculous things they can think of; while others write just what comes first.

Some are such hypocrites, too. Here is a man who describes his wife as his ideal woman; and when we know that he scarcely ever addresses a civil word to the poor little woman, his admission is, to say the least of it, amusing.

"Have you ever been in love? and if so, how often?" This is one of the questions. The answers to it are of doubtful veracity. All the single ladies reply "Never!" underlining the word three times. "Yes, only once," is the statement of the married ones. According to the Querist Album, "The course of true love _always_ runs smooth." No one seems to be attacked by Cupid but they must immediately marry the object of their choice, and "all goes merrily as a marriage bell." The men, on the contrary, like to appear somewhat inflammable. It is generally the masculine writers who adopt the sprightly key. Twenty--forty--thousands of times they admit falling in love. Such one-sided affairs they must have been, too; for the girls, according to their own confessions, never reciprocated any attachment until their rightful lords and masters appeared on the scene. I am afraid we must be a very hard-hearted race!

But it is the question relating to your idea of "the greatest earthly happiness" that struck me most. "Never being called in the morning," was one lazy person's reply. "To write M.P. after my name," was the ambition of another. "Married life," wrote the bride on the completion of her honeymoon. Ah, little bride, you have been married some years now. Are your ideas still the same, I wonder? "A good partner, a good floor, and good music," said a fourth, and it is this one that has my entire sympathy. I agree with her. It is my idea also of "the greatest earthly happiness." I do not require much, you see. These are not very difficult things to procure now-a-days; and yet I am often taunted with my love of dancing. If I express disapproval of a man, "I suppose he can't dance," they say with a sneer.

Now though that accomplishment is a necessity in a ball-room, I do _not_ consider it indispensable in a husband. Unfortunately you cannot dance through life. I wish you could for many reasons. A continual change of partners, for instance, would it not be refreshing? You would scarcely have time to grow tired of them. And how much more polite our husbands would be if they thought we were only fleeting joys! What am I saying? I am shocking everyone I am afraid; the little matron who advocates married life, the newly-made brides whose ideal men are realized in their husbands--I am shocking them all! I humbly plead forgiveness. You see, I am not married myself. I can only give my impressions as a looker-on, and, as Thackeray says, "One is bound to speak the truth as far as one knows it, and a deal of disagreeable matter must come out in the course of such an undertaking."

But dancing _is_ indispensable in a ball-room. If a man cannot dance he should stay away, and not make an object of himself. Unfortunately, so many think they excel in the art when they have not the least idea of it. Again, with girls, dancing (in a ball-room only, of course) comes before charm of manner, before wit, even before beauty. I know girls, absolutely plain, with not a word to say for themselves, who dance every dance, while the walls of the room are lined with pretty faces, and dismal-looking enough they are too, which is very foolish of them. They should have too much pride to show their discomfiture.

Men have so much the best of it at dances--so everybody says. I am afraid I do not agree. I would not change our positions for anything. After all, a girl can nearly always dance with anyone she likes, and pick and choose as well as the men--provided, of course, that she is an adept on the "light fantastic toe" herself.

And think, on the other hand, what men go through! Reverse the order of things, as you are supposed to do at leap year dances--which system, however, is never properly carried out. But suppose you go up to a man and ask him for a dance, and he tells you with a smile that "he is very sorry, but really he has not one left." Suppose that the next minute you see him give three to another girl, would you speak to that man ever again? _Never!_ And yet this is what they constantly endure and, what is more, forgive.

After all, if you analyze it, what an absurd thing dancing is. Close your ears to the music and look around you when a ball is at its height. What motive, you foolishly wonder, could induce all these people--who are supposed to possess an average amount of brains--to assemble together to clasp each other round the waist, twirl round and round up and down the room, suddenly stop, and hurry one after another outside the dancing hall, seeking dark corners, secret retreats, anywhere away from the eyes of other men? "Ah, what a mad world it is, my masters!"

How our grandmothers exclaim at the present mode of dancing!--they who used to consider round dances almost improper. How the programmes must astonish them, too; those engagement cards that did not exist fifty years ago, and in their infancy were quite content to bear only two or three names on their paper countenances. But now times have changed, and as they grow older they become most greedy little cards. They are not only not content with being scribbled all over, but require two names on the top of one another, and thus causing dissensions to ensue.

There is a great deal of art in making up a programme. It is a mistake to be full up before you arrive. Someone may come whom you did not expect, and then you have no dance to give him. Arrangement of a programme requires two or three seasons' practice. There are the duty dances to be got through first; put them up early, so that they shall be soon over, and then you have the good ones at the end to look forward to.

Everyone has duty dances. There are your father's constituents, clients, patients, someone you are obliged to ingratiate, and these are generally the worst dancers in the room! One is so fat he shakes the hall as he walks, and yet is just as eager to join the giddy throng, and alas! to take you with him! Another resembles the little tin soldiers which schoolboys have such an affection for, in that he has been gifted with large flat stands, twice the length of himself, instead of feet. And oh, _how_ he kicks! Then there is the complimentary man, a creature who never opens his mouth without making or implying a compliment. Does he ever find anyone whom this system pleases, I wonder! The only antidote I can find is to take no notice, and pretend not to understand that the pretty speeches are directed at you. This discourages him after a time.

It is amusing to get hold of a man's programme, and find out how you are represented there. They do not put down names, but describe costumes, hoping thus to find their partners easier, but in reality plunging themselves into most hopeless perplexities. They scribble down "pearl necklace," and find later that there are at least sixteen in the room, and so are worse off than if they had written the name.

Some describe the personal appearance, but this is a very risky thing to do. A man the other day wrote down his partner as "Miss blue dress, with the nose," and subsequently dropped his programme, which, of course, was picked up by the lady mentioned. Now I do not know why you should dislike being told that you have a nose--you would feel very much worse without one--but when your nasal organ takes up double its share of room in your face, and is, moreover, prettily tinted with scarlet, which you try to conceal under a little pearl powder, and only succeed in making it purple--well, perhaps you would not like to be told you have a nose. At any rate, this lady did not, and hers very much resembled this description, I believe. But she was a wise woman. Not a word did she say on the subject, and he went home happily unconscious of her fatal discovery, until a few days later he received his programme back as a Christmas card, with "Miss blue dress with the nose's compliments." How very comfortable he must have felt when he met her next!

What a great many different styles of dancing there are! You have to change your step with nearly every partner. The girl should always suit hers to the man's, he has quite enough to do with the steering. You require about five good partners altogether, and can then spend an enjoyable evening. A different man for every dance is tiring. You never get beyond the theatres and the weather; you have not time to say much more, and grow quite weary of the same style of conversation. I always think I must be a most uninteresting partner when I am asked what theatres I have been to lately, or what is my opinion of the Academy, &c.;, &c.; I never begin this kind of talk myself except as a last resource, when I can get nothing else out of a man. Someone says, I forget who, that "a woman can always know in what opinion she is held by the conversation addressed to her," and is it not true? The foolish compliments paid to the pretty, but silly little _debutante_; the small talk to the fools; the sparring with the witty; the _risque_ tales enjoyed by those of a more rapid style. Men find out first what are our tastes, and then dish up their conversation accordingly, and they do not often make mistakes.

Some girls dance with one man the whole evening. How weary they must get of each other! Engaged people invariably pass the evening together, and sometimes do not dance at all, but sit out in some secluded corner. They have to endure one another for years to come, I wonder they do not get as much variety as possible now. At any rate, they might just as well stop at home.

Like everything else, dancing is hurrying along, and growing faster every year. The _deux-temps_, they say is coming back. May the day be far ahead when that step reigns once more! Perhaps before then I shall be converted into a chaperone, and shall sit watching others dance, not being able to do so myself; or, perhaps worse, not being _asked_ myself. I am afraid I should not make a nice chaperone. I should look very cross, and should hurry away as early as possible. Ah, sad indeed will the day be when I give up dancing, when only the remembrance of my past enjoyments will be brought back to me through the scent of gardenias and tube-roses, dear dissipated-smelling flowers!

[The end]
Jenny Wren's essay: On Dancing