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Dance Rhythms: a guide to research


Introduction | Dance Cards | Tune Books | Websites | Ballets with Social & National Dances in them | Books and Articles | Electronic Sources |


In England, 'dance rhythms' - by which we usually mean the music associated with dances such as the polonaise, mazurka, polka, hornpipe, sarabande, tarantella and so on, have traditionally formed a significant part of the repertoire chosen by ballet teachers for technique classes. Our focus in researching dance rhythms is to put them in their social and cultural context. Why do we use them in ballet classes? How did they get there? How can we use knowledge about dance forms through history and repertoire in the education of dancers?

This page is an introduction to some of the ways that we can learn about social and national dances of the 19th century, together with some useful sources in print and on the web. Dance rhythms are by nature things that find their expression in music and dance - the best way of finding out about them is to watch dance, and listen to music!


"It's Millicent - she's got a mazurka stuck in her hornpipe"  

Dance Cards

The Dance Card Museum | Six Dance Cards | More Dance Cards |

Part of the paraphernalia of 19th century ballroom culture was the dance card (called Ballspenden in Vienna), a card - often very elaborately designed - on which the order of dances for the evening would be written on the left hand side, with a numbered space on the right against each one for the ball-goer to 'book' a partner. A pencil would be attached to the card, so that you could write the name of the person you planned to dance with against a particular dance.

You might have kept the card as a souvenir of the evening; perhaps it was useful for trying to remember what happened the night before! Some people of an older generation still say "sorry, my dance card is full" - meaning "I'm fully booked". Likewise, the expression "Save the last dance for me" probably meant rather more in the 19th century than it does now: at a ball, you'd know exactly what the last dance was, and who you'd dance it with. Not quite the same as rushing for cover as the houselights go up when the bar closes.

These dance cards - which were popular for a long period between the middle of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th - provide us with a very useful insight into what people danced when they went to balls. The interior of the Studentenball dance card, for example, tells us that the evening began with a polonaise and ended with a waltz, with a number of quadrilles, waltzes, polka mazurkas and polkas by popular composers of the day: Lanner, Strauss, Lumbye, Zeller, Bizet. Notice, too, that the evening began with a march from Wagner's opera Tannhäuser.

Tune Books

Village Music Project (Salford) | Ceolas Introduction to Celtic Dance Music |

Another source which tells us a lot about what people danced when in the British Isles are fiddlers' tune books. These were collections of tunes for the violin which provided musicians with a large repertoire of music for social dance occasions (one book might contain over 400 tunes, for example). Why Celtic music? Because that's where you'll find reels, jigs and hornpipes (and polkas too).

The Village Music Project contains a list of tunebooks currently being researched. In some cases, such as the Browne Family Tunebook , you can view an online index which names the tunes, and their time signature.

Ceolas, probably the best known source for Celtic music on the Internet, is a phenomenal resource. They have searchable databases (one 34,000 tunes, the other 55,000), which will tell you exactly where certain tunes were published and when, how to find them on the internet (if you're lucky), and much more. Most useful for research into dance rhythms is the Ceolas Introduction to Celtic Dance Music.

Websites about Social/National Dance generally

Western Social Dance (Library of Congress) | Sonny Watson's Streetswing | Links from the SDHS | Polish Dance | Chris Brady's Homepage | Mixed Pickles Vintage Dance Company |

One of the most impressive resources in this subject is the article (link above) which acts as an introduction to the Library of Congress's collection of dance instruction manuals circa 1490 - 1920 . This collection is extraordinary in that it really is online - you can view every single page of each manual, either in facsimile (i.e. what it really looks like) or in plain text. If you do nothing else, read the section on Nineteenth Century Social dance.

For a detailed and readable account of European social dancing over three centuries, see the Earthly Delights history pages. Well researched and written, these pages contain many quotations from social dances from contemporary sources.

Sonny Watson's Dance History is (to my knowledge) on of the best sources on the Internet for information about social dances - including pre-18th century and late 20th century dances too. What this site does best is give you lots of related information for each dance, which is what helps when you're trying to research a new subject - as an example, see how many extra search terms he provides for the subject of tango.

The Society of Dance History Scholars' links to 18th and 19th Century dance sites has a few links to relevant pages, some of which will be useful if you follow through more links.

Maja Trochimczyk's site on Polish Dances is invaluable. If you are researching the mazurka, you need to look at mazur, oberek and kujawiak, since these three types of dance are often referred to in ballet circles simply as 'mazurka'.

Chris Brady's Homepage has some links to sites about research on traditional & social dancing (down the left hand side of the page), particularly on quadrilles and Irish dancing.

Mixed Pickles Vintage Dance Company "research, perform and teach American dances from the colonial period all the way up through the 1940s". There are more interesting dance cards to look at here, and a lot of useful information about different dances, including a bibliography.

Learning Musical Elements through Listening (Rhythm) - Resources for Guided Listening is not strictly about dance rhythms, but there is a very large table of different pieces of music with a description of the rhythm and metre of each one (scroll down the page to find it). Many of these are dance pieces, and even those that aren't are still very useful as examples of music which you might use in classes.

Social Dances in the Ballets

This is where life gets more difficult - how do you know whether there's a dance in a ballet, unless you've seen it/heard it/read the score? Below is the beginning of a list of sources. This is a work in progress, so please forgive the missing details such as dates, choreographers etc. I'll fill these in as time goes by.... Many of these works are available on CD in the Royal Academy of Dance library, and those that are out of copyright are available to listen to online at Naxos. You'll need to register there, but that's free. Naxos is a terrific resource for listening to music - don't miss out.


Other info
Boutique Fantasque Respighi (after Rossini) Tarantella, Mazurka, Cossack Dance, Can-Can, Waltz, Galop.  
Carmen (Petit, Bizet Habanera, Seguidillas  
Cid, Le Massenet Numerous Spanish dances  
Cinderella Prokofiev Gavotte, Waltz, Passepied, Mazurka, Galop  
Coppélia Delibes Waltz, Csardas, Mazurka  
Don Quixote Minkus Waltz & some 'Spanish' dances  
Elite Syncopations Joplin Rag/Cakewalk  
Etudes Riisager Tarantella, Mazurka  
Façade Walton Polka, Foxtrot, Tango and many others  
Five Tangos Piazzola Tango  
Gaîté Parisienne Offenbach Galop  
Giselle Adam Waltz (of the early, Ländler type), Galop  
Golden Age, The Shostakovich Polka  
Graduation Ball Strauss Waltz, March, Polka Schnell/Galop  
Liebeslieder Waltzes Brahms Waltz  
Napoli Helsted, Paulli Tarantella, Polonaise  
Night Shadow Bellin/Rieti Polonaise  
Nutcracker Tchaikovsky Waltz, Polka, Spanish dance (see La Cachucha)  
Onegin (Cranko) Tchaikovsky arr. Stolze Mazurka, Polonaise, Polka, Waltz There is a ballroom scene in Act II, and a Polonaise opens Act III
Onegin (opera) Tchaikovsky Ecossaise, Galop, Waltz, Polonaise This is used for Grade VIII
Paquita Minkus et al Waltz, Polonaise, Mazurka, Galop, Polka Schnell  
Pas de Quatre Pugni Waltz  
Pineapple Poll Sullivan Hornpipe, Tarantella  
Raymonda Glazunov Waltz, Gavotte, Polka, Czardas, Polka Schnell (coda)  
Red Poppy, The Glière Charleston  
Romeo & Juliet Prokofiev Minuet  
Scènes de Ballet Glazunov Waltz, Mazurka, Polonaise  
Sleeping Beauty Tchaikovsky Waltz, Polka, Mazurka, Polonaise, Farandole, Sarabande, Tarantella  
Soirées Musicales Britten Ländler, Tarantella, Bolero  
Solitaire Arnold Polka  
Swan Lake Tchaikovsky Mazurka, Polonaise (danse des coupes, Act I), Bolero, Czardas, Waltz Act I Pas de Trois is very similar to a quadrille. Likewise, codas are related in tempo and feel to the Polka Schnell
Sylphide, La Lovenskjold Reel  
Sylphide, Les Chopin arr. Douglas Waltzes, Mazurkas  


Books and Articles

IF you see the sign by a reference, that means this is not to be missed!

Arkin, L., Smith M. (1997) National dance in the Romantic ballet in Rethinking the Sylph, New Perspectives on the Romantic Ballet. Hanover: University Press of New England, pp. 11 - 68.

Cavalli, H. (2001) Dance and Music: A guide to dance accompaniment for musicians and dance teachers. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida.

Dickson-Place, G. (1988) Music in the dance studio. London: Royal Academy of Dancing.

Dziewanowska, A. (1997) Polish Folk Dances and Songs: A Step by Step Guide. New York, NY: Hippocrene Books.

Jewitt, D. (ed) (2000) Understanding Victorian Society Through Dance from "Monarch" to "Mudlark". London: English Folk Dance and Song Society; Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society; Grand Union of Folk Dancers. [A CD of the same name to accompany this book is also available]

Jordan, S. (1981) The Role of the Ballet Composer at the Paris Opéra: 1820 - 1850. Dance Chronicle, , vol. 4 no. 4, pp. 374-388.

Quirey, B. (1976) May I have the pleasure? The story of popular dancing. London: Dance Books.

Smith, M. (2000) Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Teck, K. (1994) Ear Training for the body: A dancer's guide to music. Pennington, NJ: Princeton Book Company/Dance Horizons.

Twiner, A. (1986) The Muncey Music Book. London: Dance Books.

Wiley, R. J. (1988) The Dances in Eugene Onegin. Dance Research, vol. VI, no. 2 (Autumn 1988), pp. 48 - 60

Zorn, F. , trans. B.P. Coates (1970) Grammar of the Art of Dancing, theoretical and practical. [Burt Franklin research and source works series, 543] New York: Burt Franklin. [Translation of Grammatik der Tanzkunst]

Electronic Sources

American Hungarian Folklore Centrum. [Last accessed 22nd May 2004] Available at: http://www.magyar.org/index.php?projectid=3

Balletmet's Ballet Notes (n.d) [online] [Last accessed 30th October 2002]. Columbus, Ohio: Ballet Met.

Czekanowska, A. (1990) Polish folk music : Slavonic heritage, Polish tradition,
contemporary trends.
Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Dreisziger, K. (2000) Csárdás! [online] [Last accessed: October 31st 2002] Teaneck, NJ: Csárdás! The Tango of the East. Available at http://csardas.org/csardas.php

Garden, A & J (2002) History of Dance [online]. Last updated 22nd May 2002 [Last accessed November 2004]. Yarralumla, A.C.T: Earthly Delights. Available at: http://www.earthlydelights.com.au/history.htm

Hungarian Music Special (2000) in Central European Review, Vol 2, No 12, 27 March 2000. [Last accessed May 22nd 2004]. Available at: http://www.ce-review.org/index_00_12.html

Kelemen, L. (2000?) trans. Peter Laki. Hungarian Music, Gypsy Music, Folk Music from the American Hungarian Folklore Centrum, q.v. [Last accessed 22nd May 2004]. Available at http://www.magyar.org/index.php?projectid=3&menuid=79#99

Kodaly, Z. (1971) Folk Music of Hungary. London: Barrie & Jenkins.

Ling, J. (1999) A History of European Folk Music. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music 1870 - 1885 [online database]. [Last accessed 30th October 2002] Washington, DC: Library of Congress (American Memory Collection)

Polish Music Journal. [online] Los Angeles, CA: Polish Music Center, Flora L. Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California. [Last accessed 22nd May 2004] Available at: http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/PMJ/index.html

Rogers, E. (1998) Resources for the Study of 19th Century Social Dance. Historical Dance Volume 3, Number 5, 1998. [The full text of this is also available online - if you get a free password from the Dolmetsch Society for Historical Dance. Even without a password, you can get the first page online]

Strajber, S. (2001) Hungarian Peasant and Folk Music. [Graduate paper from Institute of Hungarian Studies at Indiana University: see http://www.indiana.edu/~iuihsl/1papers.html for index]. [Last accessed 22nd May 2004]. Available at http://www.indiana.edu/~iuihsl/1thesis7.htm

Thomson, A. (2000) The Felicities of Rapid Motion: Jane Austen in the Ballroom. Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal Online, Vol. 21 No. 1, Winter 2000 [online] [Last accessed 30th October 2002] Towson, MD: Jane Austen Society of North America. Available at http://www.jasna.org/pol02/thompson.html

Trochimczyk, M. (2000) Polish Dance [online] Updated August 2001 [Last accessed: 31st October 2002] Los Angeles, CA: Polish Music Center, Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California. Available at: http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/dance/index.html


© Jonathan Still October 30, 2002. Last updated: Thursday, November 11, 2004 7:13