Since 1850, the Lancers have been the most popular English square or figure dance. Much more generally known and performed than the quadrille, from which they were derived, the Lancers speedily became popular from highest to lowest. From Court balls to Whitechapel "hops" is a long step, but the Lancers found a place in both, and in the many degrees between. Quadrilles have always been too elaborate and supposedly difficult for adoption by the masses, but Lancers present little difficulty, since there is now no etiquette, rule, or form attached to them. They are danced universally, and incorrectly; numerous abuses having arisen from this general and untutored popularity.
Photos, Martin Facoletue
A lady invented the Lancers. In 1850 Madame Sacre was the most fashionable dancing mistress in London. At the Hanover Square Rooms she held assemblies and classes; and such was the enthusiasm of those whom she taught that her older pupils used to look in and join in her fanciful and novel dances. Madame Sacre evidently possessed an inventive mind. So in 1850, at the summit of her success, she first thought out and suggested the Lancers, as a novel and welcome addition to ball programmes. Her dance was frankly based on the Parisian quadrille, which had reached London some thirty-five years earlier. The energetic teacher persuaded four young society ladies to learn her figures, and the young ladies induced four young men to join them. It was then considered an honour to be the pioneer of a new dance. Imagine modern young men taking so much trouble over a mere dance !
Doubtless these eight young people were encouraged by the fame which followed Lady Jersey's daring in 1815, when she first danced the Parisian quadrille. If so, their ambition was gratified, for they have gone down to posterity as the original dancers of the Lancers. The elaborate figures - as they were then - first fascinated the public at the Turkish Embassy, danced by Lady Georgina Lygon, Lady Jane Fielding, Mdlle. Olga de Lechner (daughter of Baroness Brunnow, wife of the Russian Ambassador), and Miss Berkley. The names of the four brave young gentlemen are not recorded, though they deserve due honour.
The Lancers were danced at Bath House and at Lady Caroline Townley's by the four expert couples; and soon became very popular. The due observance of the original stately steps was gradually relaxed, and the style changed to a more frisky measure. It'has gone on changing steadily, until the final product is a mere romp, known as the
"Kitchen Lancers." As a matter of fact, most Lancers nowadays cannot be called anything but "kitchen."
Periodicals in 1850 enlarged on the etiquette of dancing the Lancers; and it was then the custom for those who did not know how to perform the novelty to become lookers-on, while the initiated few demonstrated the figure with correctness, grace, and style. If that custom had only survived, the Lancers would never have reached their present level. Grace, ease, and prettiness were once the characteristics of this figure dance. To-day our principal aim and object seems to be to whirl, and whiz, and "charge" whenever and wherever possible, with a far from pleasing result.
Figure I. Corners. The top lady and opposite gentleman advance and retire four steps, re-advance and turn round, holding hands and finishing in their own places. The couples then change places and set to corners. The eight dancers advance and retire four steps with their corner partners and turn round and resume their original places. The whole figure is repeated by each couple
As the number of those attempting the Lancers increased, the rigid observance of the original form was of necessity dispensed with, and alterations swiftly changed the whole style of the dance. In 1850, as today, the Lancers comprised five figures, with a break between each. These figures were originally called La Chaine, Lodorska, D'orset, L'etoile, and Finale des Lancers. To-day they are known as corners, sides divide, ladies to the centre, visiting, and grand chain. French names were doubtless applied to the Lancers because of the vogue of the other French figure dance, the quadrille.
Though the Lancers were danced regularly in private houses, ten years elapsed before they received the final seal of public approval, by inclusion on the programme of her Majesty's State Ball. Only at similar functions can we hope to see the Lancers danced with any of their old grace and courtliness. It is doubtful if the original arrangers and dancers of the Lancers would recognise some of the figures as now performed, or if they would appreciate the change.
At the present time (1911) there are two distinct ways of dancing the Lancers. The first is to "walk" them - which means dancing them in practically the original form. The second is to "valse" them, which means that modern, would-be smart dancers, ignorant of the real steps, seize their partners and valse every figure. This is sometimes done by one couple alone, or by all four couples at once. The youth of to-day does not believe in standing still and "wasting the music,", so they valse vigorously, regardless of time, step, or the other couples. The correct and genuine Lancers are "walked," and in that way this figure dance is still performed at Court balls. Since other courtly dances no longer figure on our ball programmes, it is not unnatural that we should resent and dislike this stately promenade, the more so because the average dancer has not the faintest idea how to dance the Lancers. The introduction of valsing, though utterly opposed to the original scheme and conception of the Lancers, is quite understandable. It would not have been so terribly misplaced if we only had the sense to valse with definite intention.
Figure 2. The sides divide. The dancers, in two straight lines of four, joining hands, advance and retire four steps
Every figure of the Lancers can be valsed in correct time, and with a certain d efinite shape. But grown-up dancers do not take the trouble to learn how this may be accomplished, and" the result is pandemonium. It is a general saying that "nobody knows the Lancers." Lancers are little danced nowadays, because most people do not care to risk injury, nor to be whizzed, whirled, or charged by excited prancers. If all children were well taught, the more courtly style might some day be revived.
The following de-scription of the Lancers, as walked, gives the original conception and form of this dance, which is, or was, very like the quadrille.
Introduction (lllus.A). The four couples, standing face to face, forming a square, turn to their partners, and bow. Eight preliminary bars of music are allowed for this introduction.
Figure 1 (Illus. 1). Corners. The top lady and opposite gentleman advance and retire four steps. R e - a d v ance, and turn completely round, holding hands, finishing in their own places.
Figure 3. Ladies to the centre. After the gentlemen have formed a ring behind them, the ladies curtsey, rise outside their partners, and, placing their hands upon the gentlemen's wrists, gallop once round
The couples then change places, the top couple passing between the bottom couple, while coming back the bottom couple pass between the top. Then follows "corners," each dancer facing their corner partner; this being the gentleman on each lady's right, and the lady on each gentleman's left. The eight dancers advance and retire four steps, with their corner partner, afterwards turning round, holding both hands (see Fig. 1). They return to their original places and partners, and the whole of this figure is then repeated by each couple in the following order:
(1) The bottom lady and opposite man;
(2) the right-hand lady - on right of top couple- and opposite man; (3) the left-hand lady and opposite man. Each figure is danced by the couples in that order, the top couple always starting.
Figure 2 (Illus. 3). Sides Divide. The top lady gives her right hand to her partner; they advance and retire four steps. The gentleman places his partner in the centre of the figure, and they bow and curtsey. They then walk four steps to the right, four to the left, take both hands, and turn once, finishing in their original places. The two side couples then divide, a lady and gentleman from each joining the top and bottom couples. The dancers are then in two straight lines of four (see Fig. 2). Joining hands, they advance and retire four steps, give both hands to their partners, and turn back to their places. The third time this is repeated - by the right-hand couple - the top and bottom couples divide, thus forming lines in the reverse direction.
Figure 3 (Illus. 4). Ladies to the Centre. The ladies advance to the centre and form a small circle, the gentlemen advancing behind them, and joining hands in a ring. The ladies curtsey, rising outside the gentlemen; and each lady places her hands on the gentleman's (see Illus. 4). They gallop round the figure once, finishing in their original places.
To be continued.