What can I thank to partner dance?
The other day, I found something very interesting on one of my favourite Facebook sites on history. It was a list of the “Language of the Fan” that was found in a 19th century fan maker’s legacy. Have you ever thought how much could be expressed with the mere moving of a fan, putting it from one hand to another, touching with face, fingers or mouth? “Follow me!”, “Do not betray our secret!”, “I love you!”, “Kiss me!”, “Let us only be friends!” How could have these old stories changed if those people already had had smartphones and a chance of private messaging? A lot of people blame social media for making people live for the outside world – but wasn’t it much more extensive two-three hundred years ago, when young ladies and gentlemen were watched closely, and the good reputation of the individual and the family was more important than anything? (Anyway, twirling in the fan in the left hand meant “We are being watched”.)
Of course, life was neither “better” in the past nor today, it’s just different. As a high school student, I read dozens of ball scenes in my favourite historical fictions, but my pals could rarely convince me to get distracted of it and visit a contemporary club. After so much daydreaming, I expected even more from my first ball, the Hungarian equivalent to “prom” which is called “ribbon ceremony ball”. Our whole class sticked together for a frenetic class dance, where we danced real waltz to classical music (although the music teacher remarked that Smetana’s Vltava is no real waltz music), and finally we passed through the ballroom to the Radetzky March.
I’m very happy that we in Hungary don’t choose “prom queens” and “prom kings” – in those clothes every girl is marvellous and every boy is handsome, why would we choose arbitrary some of them and imply to all the others that is a general message anyway, that our appearance isn’t perfect and some are more perfect than we are? I like the ribbon ceremony part, though, which is a great tradition of Hungarian high schools, even if it’s sometimes (like in our case) very long. I liked to wear my ribbon with my school’s name and graduation year, I still have it somewhere, and if I walk around in Budapest today and see ribboned teenagers, they always make me smile.
For me, the ribbon ceremony ball was only the beginning. A year later, I already lived in Vienna, which is not only centre to music but also the still blossoming ball culture, taking the ball saison extremely seriously. Almost every trade union or enterprise organizes a ball if they have the possibility. There are also political voices concerning some: the famous Opernball is often criticized for its posh nature, the HIV/AIDS charity Life Ball for the too extravagant style and clothes, and the right-wing-related Akademikerball provokes such a big wave of demonstration every year that it literally paralyzes the whole city.
But apart from the few extreme examples, there are hundreds of peaceful and non.disturbing events as well. What I really like in Austrian balls is that you are allowed to go in regional costumes apart from the usual elegant and formal ball gowns. I also heard that Austrians have “Schulball”, which resembles English/US “prom” more than our Hungarian “szalagavató”.
This is all so far away now. I left Hungary, the high school waltz practice in the stinky PE room, the white gown, the sports hall and the ribbon ceremony ball. But I also left Austria since then, the black gown, the Dirndl, the glancing ballrooms of the Hofburg, the mirrored rooms of the partner dance school, the carnevals and the church revelries. I even left behing the plen air or Christmas dance parties of my university department with ethno dance (we were aspiring anthropologists after all), strange instruments and clothes, spontaneous and planned flashmobs. I suddenly closed my imaginary fan and moved to a small industrial city in England which is quiet and slow paced, and where the only reason for me to have elegant attire are the academic gatherings. And with the fan itself, I closed out everyone who have ever received a message from me. “Yes.” “No.” “I don’t know.” “Let’s rather be friends.” “No, it can’t go like this.” “Sorry, rather not.” “Come with me.” “Go away.” “I’m sorry.”
I closed it, digged it somewhere very deep, buried. But it’s still there, somewhere. And they are there, all of them.
The Classical Chill Out series of the Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra is for university students who would like to experience the beauty of classical music in a ballroom-like auditorium, at small round tables, with friends and some refreshments. An exclusive, elegant evening where, if you want, you can wear elegant clothes, hairstyle and make-up. The programme is in English – students from abroad and from Hungary are both very welcome!