Friday, November 18, 2005

Cutting A Rug

Dancing was a living tradition with local variations. Both Victoria and Albert were musical and they influenced the popularity of music and dancing in Victorian homelife and society. The Queen gave evening concerts at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. In 1840, the Prince upgraded the Queen's Private Band into a good string orchestra. Mendelssohn often performed for them. Mendelssohn had a high opinion of the Prince's musical ability.

Waltz And Polka
The Victorians loved dancing. Johann Strauss the elder (1804-49), as part of the coronation festivities had brought the new Viennese waltz to England. Queen Victoria thought Prince Albert waltzed beautifully. Newer square dances were popular as were older dances such as the Sir Roger De Coverley, jigs, hornpipes, country dances, flash jigs. Then in 1840 everyone started to do the Polka which was sweeping Europe among rich and poor. Dancing at home, in assembly rooms, in taverns, on the village green, at places of amusement, such as Vauxhall and Cremorne Gardens and at Royal residences was very popular. The lively simple Polka dance was popular with the labouring classes.

Well bred men also enjoyed haunting Vauxhall and Cremorne Pleasure Gardens. They were never frequented by well bred young women. Vauxhall in London first opened in 1661 and after a fashionable existence in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries lost any respectability it ever had by the Victorian era. Young men still ate, drank, danced, listened to music and chased women down the Dark Walk. They still watched firework displays, pantomimes and balloon ascents, but once the gentry stopped visiting Vauxhall, it soon lost ground and was closed in 1859.

Cremorne Gardens
Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea were new. They had been transformed from a farm into a pleasure garden in 1843. It had a monster dancing stage and landscaped attractions with discrete pavilions in dark corners. It also had magnificent gas lighting in public parts. Any women seen in illustrations after 1850 was very likely wearing the colourful gaudy dress of the prostitute and was likely accompanied by middle or upper class gents who could afford their services.

Of course, class distinction was evident in the type of dancing and where the dancing was being done.

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