Dance Events and Dance Cards

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The 2014 Anne of Green Gables Tea Party at Old World Wisconsin was one of the most charming events I have attended in my many years of teaching historic dance. All the young ladies wore their finest Anne-like dresses and arrived early to decorate hats and work on a variety of craft projects. An Old World interpreter read the story of Anne serving a cake concocted with anodyne liniment. After tea, the girls, mothers, and grandmothers filed out onto the warm green outside the Town Hall for an hour of dancing. We were quite the sight as visitors rode past on the tram and shuffled along the dusty road on foot. The dance cards were treasured by all guests.

Dance cards have been used at grand balls, socials, and hops since the mid-nineteenth century and usually list the dance, musical selection, and composer. Many provide space for a gentleman to mark his “engagement” to a partner. Some gentlemen carried their own pencils, but sometimes a small pencil was attached to the cards.

One of my favorite scenes from Return to Cranford (BBC) involves the memories stirred by the discovery of a dance card. Whether ornate or simple, every dance card carries the memory of “an association of kind and generous spirits”…or so we can hope. Here are a few of my creations that recall pleasant evenings on the dance floor throughout Wisconsin. I only wish I could show you some of the embellishments that made the cards sparkle.

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Hand-fan dance cards for the Hard Times Ball in honor of Stephen Foster came in handy for three hours of dancing to the music Jack and Susan Nicholson (Frogwater). Below: Scott and Mary fill out their cards before dinner.

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Sources for supplies:

 

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Invitation to the Dance

Betty Champion, where are you now and what would you think of the adventures of the Johnson sisters? Our first dance teacher was an alumna of the NYC Rockettes. Such a patient mentor for two tap-crazy sisters in the 1960s. Long since our first lessons at the American Legion Post and Betty’s studio above the Park Theater, we have gone our separate, but related, dancing ways with Judy studying Irish dance and with me exploring international folk dance and historic social dance. Some of my favorite designs are related to dance events. Here’s the most recent for a collaboration with Jack and Susan Nicholson of Frogwater.

Urban Barn Dancee

Other dance promotions focused on Civil War living history events, including our first grand celebration in 2010, a fundraiser for an annual event held at Milwaukee’s historic VA Medical Center. Sources and inspiration for historic designs included period sheet music, dance manuals, and ephemera related to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

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Sometimes it wasn’t dancing at all, but just fun and games. The highlight of this evening was the staging of “The Dumb Orator” by Tom and Terry Arliskas.

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This event featured appearances by Louis P. Harvey, Wisconsin’s Civil War governor who met an untimely death while visiting Wisconsin troops after the battle of Shiloh. His wife, Cordelia, continued his mission throughout the War, earning the title of the “Wisconsin Angel.”

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Less grand events included the Hard Times Ball in honor of Stephen Foster, seasonal socials, and two Fancy Dress Balls (masquerades, masks optional).

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