Decent Exposure (Mills & Boon Spice Briefs)

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We are told that the Church was born not, it may be, under a dancing star, but at any rate under a dancing savage. The theory is that man originally expressed his deepest emotions about food, love, and war in dances. In the course of time the leaping groups felt the need of a leader, and gradually the leader of the dance evolved into a hero, or representative of the group soul, and from that he afterwards swelled into a god.

This, we are asked to believe, is the lineage of Zeus. The theory strikes me as being too simple to be true. It is like an attempt to spell a long word with a single letter. At the same time, it gains colour from the fact that the heads of the Church have continually shown a tendency to dancing since the days of King David. It is a fact of some significance, indeed, that at more than one period of history it has been the heretics rather than the orthodox who have raged most furiously against dancing.

The Albigenses and the Waldenses are both examples of this. Superficially, this may seem to weaken my contention that preaching and [Pg 19] dancing can no more become friends than the lion and the unicorn. But, if you reflect for a moment, you will see that it is the heretics rather than the orthodox who are, of all men, the most given to preaching. Bishops preach as a matter of duty; Savonarola and Mr Shaw preach for the religious pleasure of it.

So rare a thing is it to find an orthodox clergyman of standing doing anything that deserves the name of preaching—and by preaching I mean protesting in capable words against the subordination of life to luxury—that, whenever he does so, the newspapers put it on their posters among the great events, like a scandal about a Cabinet Minister or an earthquake.

It is not difficult to see why the preachers have usually been so doubtful about the dancers. It is simply that dancing is for the most part a rhythmical pantomime of sex. It is the most haremish of pastimes.

Download PDF East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon (Mills & Boon Spice Briefs)

He was an enthusiast for the kissing dances of his day, indeed, even before he had abandoned his youthful straitness for the moral code of a farmyard that had gone off its head. I can imagine how a preacher with his craft at his fingers' ends could deduce Henry's downfall from those first delicate trippings. How are we simple people as we whirl in the waltz to know whether it is the pleasure of the embrace or the harmony of the double rotation that is making us glow so? The preachers will certainly not give us the benefit of the doubt. They will follow the lead of Byron, who, in his horror at the popularisation of the waltz, declared that Terpsichore was henceforth "the least a vestal virgin of the Nine.

Describing his sensations on first seeing his wife waltzing, Mr Hornem says:—. Judge of my surprise Cynics explain Byron's attitude to dancing as a matter of envy, since he himself was too lame to waltz. At the same time, I fancy that an anthropologist from Mars, if he visited the earth, would take the same view of the drama of the waltz as Byron did. I do not mean to say that the waltz cannot be danced in a sublime innocence.

It can, and often is. But the point is that sex is the arch-musician of it, and whether you approve of waltzing or disapprove of it will depend upon whether, like the preachers, you regard sex as Aholah and Aholibah, or, like the poets, as April and the song of the stars. It is worth remembering in this connection that a great preacher like Huxley took much the same view of poetry that Byron took of dancing. Most of it, he said, seemed to him to be little more than sensual caterwauling.


Tolstoi, if I am not mistaken, interpreted Romeo and Juliet in the same spirit. This kind of analysis, whether it is just or foolish, always shocks the crowd, which can never admit the existence of the senses without blushing for them. Confirmed in its sentimentalism—and therefore given to "harping on the sensual string"—it swears that it finds [Pg 22] the Russian ballet more edifying than church, and would have no objection to seeing the Merry Widow waltz introduced into a mothers' meeting.

There is nothing in which we are such hypocrites as our pleasures. That is why some of us like the preachers. Even if they are grossly inhuman in wanting to take our amusements away from us, they at least insist that we shall submit them to a realistic analysis. In this they are excellent servants of the scientific spirit. What, then, is a reasonable attitude to adopt towards sex in dancing? Obviously we cannot abolish sex, even if we wished to do so. And if we try to chain it up, it will merely become crabbed like a dog.

On the other hand, there is all the difference in the world between putting a dog on a chain and encouraging it to go mad and bite half the parish. There is nearly as wide a distance separating the courtly dances of the eighteenth century from the cake-walk, and the apache dance from the Irish reel. Priests, I know, in whom the gift of preaching has turned sour, have been as severe on innocent as on furious dances. But this is merely an exaggeration of the prevailing sense of mankind that sex is a wild animal and most difficult to tame into a fireside pet.

It is upon the civilisation of this animal, none the less, though [Pg 23] not upon the butchering of it, that the decencies of the world depend.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

And this is exercise for a hero, for the animal in question has a desperate tendency to revert to type. One noticed how its eye bulged with the memory of African forests when the cake-walk affronted the sun a few years ago. The cake-walk, I admit, seemed a right and rapturous thing enough when it was danced by those in whose veins was the recent blood of Africa.

But when young gentlemen began to introduce it as a figure in the lancers in suburban back-parlours one resented it, not merely as an emasculated parody, but as an act of dishonest innocence. But everywhere it has been the tendency of dancing in recent years to become more noisily sexual. I am not thinking of the dancing in undress which for a time captured the music-halls.

That is almost the least sexual dancing we have had. The dancing of Isidora Duncan was of as good report as a painting by old Sir Joshua. We may pass over the Russian ballet, too, because of the art which often raised it to beauty, though it is interesting to speculate what St Bernard would have thought of Nijinsky. On the other hand, because the bunny in man and the turkey in woman have revived themselves with such impudence, are we to get out our guns against all dancing? Far from it. All we can do is to insist upon the recognition of the fact that dancing may be good or bad, as eggs are good or bad, and to remind the world that in dancing, as in eggs, freshness is even more beautiful than decadence.

Perhaps some of the performances of the Russian ballet would come off limping from such a test. Opinions will differ about that. In any case, one cannot help the logic of one's belief. Each of us, no doubt, contains something of the preacher and something of the dancer; and our enthusiasms depend upon which of the two is dominant in us. Meanwhile, we are likely to go on preaching against our dancing, and dancing against our preaching, till the end of time.

That merely proves the completeness of our humanity. It makes for balance, like, as I have said, east and west in a map. That, surely, is a conclusion which ought to satisfy everybody. It is not easy to decide what is the dullest feature in the Tango Teas upon which Londoners are now wasting their afternoons and their silver.

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The most disconcertingly tedious part of the whole entertainment is, in my opinion, the Tango itself: it is mere virtuoso-work in dancing—an eccentric caper, not after beauty, but after variety. But the rest of the programme has no compensating liveliness. The songs are sad affairs, even for a music-hall, and the band, with its continual "selections" dropped into every available hole in the afternoon's amusement, gets on the nerves like a tune played over and over again. And then, to crown everything, comes the parade of mannequins wearing the latest fashions in women's dress, or what will be the latest fashions in another month or two.

On the whole I think this part of the show must be given the prize for inanity. The Tango is bad, and the tea varies, but this milliner's business—it is [Pg 26] more than dull, it is an outrage on human intelligence.

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Students of society cannot afford to leave unnoticed this new development in the tastes of the upper and middle classes. It seems to me to represent almost the extreme limit in the evolution of the English theatre.

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The actor-managers have often in recent years turned Shakespeare into a dress parade, but here is the dress parade with Shakespeare left out. Musical comedies, hundreds of them, have been as amazing as fireworks with their wonder of costumes, and here is the wonder of costumes without any alloy of musical comedy.

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Nor are these costumes flashed upon you with a chorussed insolence. Slowly and separately each girl appears, sometimes from the back of the stalls, sometimes from the back of the stage, and marches before your vision as obtrusive as an advertisement, while the band plays some tune like "You made me love you. The glide seems to be the ideal at which the modern woman aims in her walk, and the mannequin glides with every exaggeration.

But, if you have ever seen cows ambling along a country road you have seen something strangely like the glide that is now in fashion, yet no one thinks of speaking of cows as [Pg 27] "gliding. Then they raise their arms and turn round as in a showroom and smile as in the advertisement of a tooth-wash. And so on till ten or a dozen of them have appeared and disappeared. Then out glides the whole school of them again not singly this time, but in a procession, all smiling under their barbaric panaches and their towering crest of feathers, and one of them with her head and chin wrapped in gilt embroideries that make her look like a queen with a toothache.

All smiles and paint, the girls nevertheless seem to have no more relation to their gowns than a statue to the hat which someone has perched on its head. They give us no drama of dress. They are simply lay-figures imitating the colours of the rainbow. Perhaps, to a student of fashion, they have some meaning and interest. But a student of fashion does not go for his lessons to a music-hall.

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To the rest of us they are simply a trash of fine clothes. They are a decadent substitute for gladiatorial exhibitions. They are a last wild—no, no; not wild—a last tame parody on life.

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