Working all the while muddles the brain. Playing all the time muddles the brain. We have to find some kind of a balance. ... The force of all this came up to me in my own life a long while ago, and ever since I have been searching for a balance. ... It does not do to have only one interest, for then one cannot really get a perspective on that interest. There is recreation in the trees and in the birds, in walking across country, in hunting up the objects which our fathers and our forefathers used, and reconstructing life as they lived it. They knew how to order some parts of their lives better than we do. They had much better taste; they knew more about beauty in the design of commonplace, everyday things. Nothing that is good ever dies. That is why we are taking over and reconstructing in their periods a couple of old inns - one in Massachusetts and another not far from Detroit.
These old inns with their fine ballrooms remind us more pointedly that one thing had passed out of life, and that was real dancing. ... The old American dancing was clean and healthful. In the square dances and the circle two-step, one finds rhythm and grace of motion, and people are thrown together and have to know one another. The old dances were social. The modern dances are not. The same two people may dance together all evening, but the old dances gave one a dozen partners in an evening.
As a young man I liked to dance, but the only dances we knew were what are now called the "old-fashioned dances" - the schottische, the polka, the chorus jig, quadrilles, gavottes, and the like. The younger people nowadays, so we found, did not know these dances, and the older people - those who really needed dancing - have grown rusty. They thought they were too old. One never gets too old to dance.
In our new laboratory building at Dearborn we partitioned off a corner which gives a ballroom big enough for seventy couples. We gathered together an orchestra. Out of Budapest we brought a cymbalum - without knowing whether we could find any one to play it. A young Hungarian in the shops heard we had it and asked a chance to try his hand. He has proved to be a real musician, and is no longer in the shops. Then we have a dulcimer - the mother of the piano - and which, like the cymbalum, is played with little hammers, and of course we have a violin and a sousaphone. We searched out and reprinted all the old music we could find, but a deal of that music existed only in the minds of the old-time fiddlers who played and called at the country dances.
That started us hunting for fiddlers, and we have already had forty or fifty of them from all over the country playing for us, not so much for their playing, but to record the old country tunes. We are getting quite a library of old dance music, and Mr. Edison and the Victor people have recorded some of it for the phonograph.
It is fine to see how these old fiddlers come to life through their music. More than thirty years ago, out at the Botsford Tavern, when they had dances nearly every week, was a group of players who were rated as first class. we began to hunt them up. They had all prospered and had more or less retired. Through one we found another until finally we got all the members of the old orchestra together and gave a party, and it was a great party. The old men played for two hours, and they forgot that they were old. They had something in their music which the younger men - who are probably better players - do not seem to have, and they were keen, too. The oldest of them was dancing and playing and he was eighty-five!
We are all getting a great deal of fun out of dancing. We have our dancing classes two nights a week, and everyone has to learn the dance in absolutely the correct way, for a fine part of the old dancing was its deportment. The rules are followed. There is no holding up of two fingers for a dance and no "cutting in". The ladies do not enter the room unescorted and must slightly precede the gentlemen. No one is expected to cross the centre of the ballroom. Everything is formal. The instructions are all in the manual we have written.
No one objects to the formality. They like it as a change from the casualness which is so often rudeness. It has been demonstrated that, given a choice, people would rather have the tuneful music and the dances that go with it than the tuneless music with its ugly dances.
Our complete repertoire is fourteen dances - the two-step, the circle two-step, the waltz, the schottische, the polka, the ripple, the minuet, the lanciers, the quadrille, the varsovienne, and so on through the infinite variety of combinations. These dances have to be danced! There is no improvisation of steps.
We are not, as has been imaged, conducting any kind of a crusade against modern dancing. We are merely dancing in the way that gives us the most pleasure. It seems to be rather a popular way, for a number of outside classes have asked to be taught, and we are looking after as many of them as we can.
The book Today and Tomorrow is available as a reprint, and should be read by more. Because Henry Ford had some more funny ideas besides oldfashioned dancing. E.g. he insisted that a company for mass production of automobiles could flourish only, if the workers were paid sufficiently that they could afford to buy their own product. If the concurrents said, he could pay good wages because his men did good work, he retorted: "Quite contrary; they work well, because they are paid well." On the other hand, he deeply distrusted the stock market, and what is nowadays praised as "shareholder value".
You find my own ideas about these themes in the Thesis about Market Economy
The "partitioned corner" became a fine ballroom, which Henry Ford named in honor of his dancing master Benjamin Lovett. It is still there in the Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village. For more than 20 years there were held monthly contra dances with Glen & Judy Morningstar and the Ruffwater String Band. But these dances were cancelled suddenly in November 2004. If you now want to use Lovett Hall, you have to pay $ 600 rent and consume $ 4000 of catered food and drink.
Here you find more about Lovett Hall and the last Contra Dance there.
(The pictures load a bit slowly, but are worth seeing.)
Henry Ford's Balls were quite formal. See Traditional Square Dance Attire
Published 2004-01-17 / amended 2005-02-27 / amended 2007-07-07 / Heiner Fischle, Hannover, Germany