December 14, 2010

Ladies' Choice Waltz

Everyone remembers the dance scene from Gangs of New York where Cameron Diaz' character "Miss Everdeane," is given her choice of dance partners by sitting on a chair in front of the gentlemen and looking at each one, in turn, in a mirror and shaking her head 'no' until the partner she wants passes by.

While the dresses are horrid from a historic perspective and the movie itself is not for young viewers and boasts a lot of fiction, the dance itself actually has some merit. Using a mirror to allow the women to choose dance partners was a popular beginning for waltzes in the 1860s and 1870s.

The movie then shows the couples dancing with candles. There are very few period references to "candle dancing" but a book from 1899 called "The World Wide Magazine" details a peasant ball in Italy which may have been the inspiration for the movie scene: 

"There are a few rather funny dances. One not unlike a figure of our cotillon is called the speahio, or looking-glass dance, and is very amusing to watch. A chair is placed in the middle of the room, round which a couple dance once or twice. The man then places the lady in the chair, and hands her a looking-glass. He then goes and gets another man, with whom he dances, and finally brings him up behind the girl in the chair. She sees his face in the looking-glass, and, if she likes him, gets up and dances with him for a short time. Then the man sits down, and girls are brought up in the same manner for him to choose. If he does not like them, he wipes the looking-glass with a handkerchief, and the girl has to retire, with a red face, amidst the laughter of those looking on. It seems rude, but is customary. Another dance I have never seen in England is called 'The Candle Dance,' perhaps on account of the amount of grease flying about, as the candle is kept lighted during the dance. It begins by as many couples as care to take part dancing round in the usual manner. One man who has not acquired a partner stands in the middle of the room with the lighted candle. He suddenly cries " Stop," and immediately each couple commences to walk round him arm in arm. He then cries "Go forward" or "Go backward," whichever he likes, and all the men have to leave their partners and take the girl in front or behind them as the case may be. Meanwhile the man with the candle is himself trying to get a partner before one of the other men. If he succeeds the man left out has to take the candle, but if baffled he still continues to hold it. Dancing commences again as soon as everybody has got his new partner."


  1. Stephanie, peace and biuthful blog. Excelent mesage...


    ProfÂș Netto, F. A.

  2. Hey Stephanie!
    This is Katie! I saw that you posted a comment on my cooking blog! Thanks! :) I was wondering how you found my blog? It's always interesting finding out how people find you! :)
    Your sister in Christ,

  3. After doing some research, Zach refers to our Irish family lineage as "Gangs of New York types" *ahem* Changing the subject, we missed you at knitting. Michelle had little prezzies for everyone. I saved yours. xo

  4. Hey Jodi, Did everyone get together again? I didn't get an e-mail. I would have loved to go, I assumed that we wouldn't have had one so close to Christmas.

  5. Dont suppose you know the name of the song from that scene?


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