Category Archives: Videos

1920s Dance Performance, Old Sport

The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers performed before the opening of The Great Gatsby recently, as I mentioned in my post about the construction of my new 1925 beaded evening gown. It was pretty fun! The movie was being shown at the historic Somerville Theatre, which was built in 1914.

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View from the balcony. It’s quite grand and those curtains on the stage are functional!

I never did like reading The Great Gatsby and I didn’t enjoy the movie much either (especially all the modern music! I don’t think it worked!), but it was still fun to be there with my friends having a good time and looking great.

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Standing around during our rehearsal.

The stage was a fun place to take pictures, and you know we always like to take lots of pictures of ourselves!

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Some people are much better at making picture faces than I am!

We performed a one-step, a tango, a foxtrot, and two Charlestons! One Charleston was a silly silent-video-like story of a girl trying to teach a guy how to Charleston and ending with the two of them plus an extra five ladies doing Charleston-in-a-line. (You can see some pictures of Charleston in a line from last year when we went to Newport.) The other Charleston was five ladies facing the audience and doing various Charleston things in a row.

The best pictures I have are from the five lady Charleston. We danced to the song Egyptian Ella, which you can hear in this video (there is a 30 second-ish introduction first). Our version was a little faster but this gives you the idea. I strongly recommend that you listen to the song while you look at these pictures: it makes them to come to life! (The lyrics are pretty amusing, too!)

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Charleston basics to start.

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Moving on to fancy steps. Each of us did different solo bits.

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This is my favorite! Hard to see what’s going on in a still picture… It’s a kick to one side, then the second, then twice on the first side figure. As your leg comes in to kick your arms cross, and then they uncross when you kick. I don’t actually know what it’s called, but it’s super fun! Each kick has only one beat, so it’s pretty fast.

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Final pose! It is EGYPTIAN Ella, after all!

We’ve got more Jazz Age things coming up soon, so there will be more opportunities to Charleston! In addition to some performances, there will also be a Prohibition Ball in Chelmsford, MA in July. If you’re in the area you should consider coming! If you’re not in the area, I’m sure I’ll have lots of pictures and you can live vicariously through them. Maybe you’ll also be super inspired and go find people in your area to Charleston with!

Since there will be more Charleston-ing in my life, I’ll have to learn more Charleston steps! Lauren, at American Duchess, posted some great Charleston videos awhile back. Some of them include some steps I just might have to learn and dance… who knows, maybe some of them will make it into our next performance, too! In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the pictures.

Dancing “The Cottage Bonnet”

In my second post about the recent Pride and Prejudice ball I attended, I mentioned that the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers did a small exhibition during the course of the evening, I even included pictures. Well, this is even better! A video of us dancing “The Cottage Bonnet,” a Regency period country dance, during the ball. This is the level of difficulty that’s being aimed for at the Regency Intensive Dance Weekend in April. Hopefully we can have an entire room full of people successfully dancing like this at the second, more formal ball of that weekend event! I hope you enjoy. It’s pretty fun!

A New Standard Ballroom Dancing Dress…

My 1819 re-made ball gown is almost complete! The ball is next weekend, so pictures will be coming soon. I have all my accessories in order and I’ve just about completed my petticoat. It’s time to start cranking out my Titantic-era dresses… but… I’ve taken a detour from my plans to work on a sewing project from a different facet of my life (warning: this is unrelated to historic costume!): competitive ballroom dancing.

My most recent Standard dress: unfortunately the picture quality is bad

I have made multiple dresses over the last seven or so years that I have been dancing, and they get progressively better (as with most sewing projects: you can see past dresses in the ballroom dance dress gallery in my online portfolio). I still like my most recent dress, the pale yellow with jade green lace to the right, but unfortunately almost four years have passed since its construction and it doesn’t quite fit the way it used too… (That is because the dress shrunk, right?) We are competing three or four times in the next few months and the idea was planted in my head by my partner (cough, cough), that perhaps a new dress would show me off to better advantage. So, after trying on the dress and realizing how tight the midsection had become I decided to pause in my historic construction plans and go blazing on an all new Standard dress!

International Standard ballroom dancing is made up of five dances: Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep. Below is a video of the 2010 International DanceSport Federation Standard Semi-Finalists and Finalists. The video is in five parts, if you are at all interested I encourage you to at least skim them all! Obviously, the dancing is amazing, because these are the best in the world, but there is also great professional commentary.

I’ve been doing lots of thinking about the color scheme and the style of the new dress. I’ve been looking at dresses within the past few years to see what the current style is for Standard dresses (because, like other styles of fashion the dresses do change in terms of fashionable details and cuts). You can visit my Pinterest board and see inspirational dresses and colors. It’s really quite fabulous–a riot of colors and great dancing (some of which is from the dancers in the above video)! I really enjoy just looking at that Pinterest board. You can probably guess the colors I decided on, but I’m not going to tell you officially, yet!

I still need to order rhinestones and a hem stiffener. I have yet to decide between nylon horsehair and plastic wire. The horsehair creates a more obvious edge, whereas the wire just makes a nice wavy hem that stands out on its own. But I have fabric! I leave you now to get to work on the dress… eek!

National Museum of American History First Ladies Exhibition behind-the scenes video

This video is a behind-the-scences look at the creation of the First Ladies Exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

It’s a really neat video! You get to see some insight into how the dresses and other pieces are displayed, how the dress forms that display them are created, as well as some great pictures of First Ladies and some very lovely dresses!

Of flounces and dance cards: Part II (Nahant Victorian Day 1860s Ball 2011)

Part II: …and dance cards

Dance Card from the Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011

Last post, I shared with you my latest 1860s gown: Annabelle. This gown just recently had its debut at the Nahant Victorian Day Ball hosted by Vintage Victorian.

This ball included the use of dance cards, a practice I am aware of but have never participated in. It turns out that they are much more complicated than one thinks they might be! Why are the so complicated?

Well, it all sounds quite glorious and sophisticated. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “dance-card” as “a card bearing the names of (a woman’s) prospective dance partners at a dance.” In stories and books, a dance card is a memento one can keep so that after the ball is over she can muse about beaus and flirtations. Practically, a dance card might help a person remember who his or her next partner is, what kind of dance the next dance is, or allow a gentleman to ask for a dance later in the evening.

But wait! There are complications and confusions! Does everyone have a dance card, men and women? Does a person take off his or her gloves before writing in a dance card? (I attempted this both ways: it is quite challenging to write your name while wearing gloves…) Does one exchange dance cards with a prospective partner or ask the name of the person and write it herself? (It seems more effective to swap dance cards with your intended partner to allow for ease of spelling, etc. and, in a more romantic sense, so that you have that person’s handwriting in your dance card.) How does one attach the card to her wrist so that it doesn’t get lost? How does one attach the card to her wrist without the pencil sticking out (so that her white dress isn’t marked!)? Really, a lot of questions popped up that would not have made themselves apparent without practical application. Also, at least at this ball, not having a prearranged partner did not necessarily mean that you were not able to dance. I was able to dance most of the dances of the night, despite my somewhat empty dance card.

Interior of my Dance Card from the Nahant VIctorian Day Ball 2011

Below you can see a few historic dance card images and below that some images of the ball! If anyone has any research on the use or history of dance cards, please share. I’d love to learn more about the etiquette of dance card use!

1884 Dance Card

1912 Dance Card

I believe this dance is the Contradance: Hull's Victory. (Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011)

A different view of the same dance as above.

The Grand March. (Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011)

More Grand March.

Here’s a video of the Grand March in action!

Returning Heroes 1860s Ball 2011

I was reminiscing recently and realized that I neglected to post about the Returning Heroes Ball hosted by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers in March 2011! I had such a fantastic evening that I decided that late is better than never!

I have been dreaming of being in a room full of people all wearing crinolines and period menswear for years: the 1860s are my most favorite period! The night started out with all the ladies helping each other get dressed: lacing corsets, donning hoops and petticoats, fluffing skirts,  and securing bodices. Of course, it does take some time to get dressed, so while we were dressing the band was warming up and the men were standing around looking important and discussing… well, who knows what?

We were supposed to be using dance cards, but I was disappointed in that part of my dream as we wound up not using the dance cards that had been prepared. But that didn’t dampen my spirits for more than a minute or two, because the band started playing and we began to dance!

I have two favorite moments from the night: 1- dancing the Grand March in which every lady was wearing hoops (there was a lot of friction as well all spiraled around each other), the best part of which was joining in lines and progressing down the hall to “Dixie” and 2- dancing a waltz with a Zouave (see picture left).

Here’s a few more pictures (I should have taken more, but I was busy dancing!). I’ll just end with this video from the Returning Heroes Ball in 2007. It starts with a Grand March and starting at about 60 seconds “Dixie” is playing! Enjoy!