Zee German?
September 17, 2012 5:31 PM   Subscribe

What is "the German" (dance? Game?) referred to in several Louisa May Alcott books?

It is referenced in Rose in Bloom and An Old Fashioned Girl, and possibly Little Women, and seems to occur in the latter half of young adult parties, after dancing. LMA references Rose and Charlie "leading" the German, and also mentions Rose coming home with paper hats, beads and flowers from The German. In OFG, Polly talks about she and the younger boys not knowing it. Google turns up little that is satisfactory (ie, I don't think it's the waltz as that is mentioned separately). I've never see the term referenced elsewhere. Any ideas? This, her reference to a velocipede, and her repeat reference to some story about a girl named Rosamund have always perplexed me.
posted by xaire to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am also now curious. But I *can* help with the velocipede.
posted by bibliogrrl at 5:34 PM on September 17, 2012

Here's the whole text of Little Women, if that helps anyone. Relevant passages:
The hall was empty, and they had a grand polka, for Laurie danced well, and taught her the German step, which delighted Jo, being full of swing and spring. When the music stopped, they sat down on the stairs to get their breath, and Laurie was in the midst of an account of a students' festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared in search of her sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed her into a side room, where she found her on a sofa, holding her foot, and looking pale.


Meg danced and flirted, chattered and giggled, as the other girls did. After supper she undertook the German, and blundered through it, nearly upsetting her partner with her long skirt, and romping in a way that scandalized Laurie, who looked on and meditated a lecture. But he got no chance to deliver it, for Meg kept away from him till he came to say good night.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:44 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I cannot vouch for its truthfulness, but the googles found this:

A new category of group dance swept the ballroom after 1840. Called "cotillion" (also spelled "cotillon"), the dance was also known as the "German cotillion" and, eventually, as the "German." (See Video Clip 3, Video Clip 4, Video Clip 5, and Video Clip 16), Performance consisted of a series of party game figures, led by a conductor or leader. Performed predominately to waltz music, many German figures had originated in quadrilles; but others were games, in the sense that there frequently was a "winner" or a "loser." While dance and etiquette manuals throughout the century stressed the importance of decorum and deportment, execution of the German often included possible humiliation for the performers--as can be observed in Cellarius's description of the "Fan" (See Video Clip 004), (in his 1847 The drawing-room dances), in which the "losing" gentleman was required to hop around on one foot while fanning a dancing couple. Rough play was inevitable in a figure described by Ferrero in his 1859 The art of dancing; called "The Sea During a Storm," it was a version of today's familiar children's game, Musical Chairs.

From the website Western Social Dance
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:47 PM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


They have videos- it's a cotillion dance.
posted by winna at 5:47 PM on September 17, 2012

Whoa. You guys rock. Nice work!
posted by xaire at 5:51 PM on September 17, 2012

PS its funny how the Internet has changed my reading and understanding of books I read decades ago.
posted by xaire at 5:52 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for Rosamund, I don't remember the reference (Jesus, it's been 40 years since I read these books---I know because I got a big set of Alcott for my 8th birthday!) but it is likely to be an allusion to Rosamund Clifford, mistress of Henry II.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:05 PM on September 17, 2012

Or to Maria Edgeworth's story "The Purple Jar". If Alcott's Rosamund is a captive in a tower, then the former; if she is a spoiled brat, the latter.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:08 PM on September 17, 2012

Alcott wrote a whole book about her Rosamond, and since one of its working titles was Fair Rosamond, it's a pretty safe bet she was thinking of the one in the tower.
posted by gingerest at 8:09 PM on September 17, 2012

I just read Eugene Onegin, and the cotillion game turns up there, as well. The description SweetTeaAndABiscuit gave fits.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:26 PM on September 17, 2012

For background, you might want to watch/listen to the Allemande from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:43 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's both Rosamunds!

The heroine of A Long Fatal Love Chase is named Rosamond as an allusion to Rosamund Clifford.

In Eight Cousins, Alcott refers to the Edgeworth story:

"She meant you should learn by experience, as Rosamond did in that little affair of the purple jar, you remember."

"I always thought it very unfair in her mother not to warn the poor thing a little bit; and she was regularly mean when Rosamond asked for a bowl to put the purple stuff in, and she said, in such a provoking way, 'I did not agree to lend you a bowl, but I will, my dear.' Ugh! I always want to shake that hateful woman, though she was a moral mamma."

posted by Sidhedevil at 9:12 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I always figure it was simply an Allemande - a type of dance. Could be the silly game, but wouldn't that has resulted in more description of the results?
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:55 AM on September 18, 2012

I just learned this entirely coincidentally this week while reading the 1906 book The Etiquette of New York To-Day. Page 46: "The word 'cotillion' is now used to indicate the dance formerly called the 'German,' the latter term being obsolete." So that gives you a date around which the name would have been passing out of use of self-identified Best Society! You might be interested in the rest of that chapter on cotillions, too.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:38 PM on September 18, 2012

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