J. W. Goethe wrote in his novel "The Sufferings of Young Werther" (1st Book, letter dated June 16):
(Translation: Heiner Fischle)

The young folks here had arranged for a ball in the country where I would take part too. I offered partnership to a nice girl from here, and it was settled that I should hire a carriage, take out my partner and her cousin, and pick up Charlotte S.. on the way. ...

The brothers Audran who were partners to Lotte and the cousin received us at the carriage, lifted out their girls, and I escorted mine to the hall. We wound around each other in minuets; I invited one lady after the other, and just the least agreeable ones could never give a hand to finish. Lotte and her partner started an English dance, and what joy it was when it was our turn to dance the figure with her you may guess. You should see her dancing! She is in it with her whole heart and her whole soul, her whole body is one harmony, so carefree, so unconstrained, as if that was all in the world, as if she would think about nothing else, feel nothing else; and certainly she cares for nothing else at that moment.

I asked her for the second country dance; she promised me the third, and candidly she added that she liked to do the German dances. - It is our custom that those couples who came together stay together for the Allemande, but my chapeau is a bad waltzer, and would thank me if I dispense him from the chore. Your lady can do it neither, and doesn't like it, and I have seen in the country dance that you can waltz. Now if you would like to dance the Allemande with me, go and ask my partner for it, and I will ask your lady. We shook hands on that, and it was agreed that her partner should entertain mine meanwhile.

Now it begun! and for quite a while we delighted in tying our arms in manyfold ways. With what grace, with what agility she moves! and when it finally came to waltzing and we rolled around each other like spheres, it went a bit rough at first, because few can do it right. We wisely held back for a while and let the others revel round. After the most clumsy ones had left the floor, we took it up together with one other couple and held out bravely. I had never danced that lightly. I felt to be more than human. To hold in my arms the loveliest girl and roll around like thunderstorms, that everything else went out of sight - but, Wilhelm, to be honest, I resolved myself that any girl I loved, on which I could lay claims, should never waltz with anybody else but with me, and if I should perish in the issue. You will understand me!

For the third country dance we were the second couple. As we danced down the lane and I basked in seeing her eyes reflecting the purest joy, we passed one lady who was remarkable to me for an amicable but not quite young face. She smiled at Lotte, held up a threatening finger and said the name of Albert twice with some meaning, as we flew past her. Who is Albert? I said to Lotte, if that is not too bold a question. She was about to answer when we had to part to do the large figure eight, and it seemed to me to see some thought on her forehead when our paths crossed. Why should I deny it, she said when she offered me her hand for the promenade. Albert is a brave young man to whom I am as good as engaged. Now this was not quite new to me (the girls had told me on the way out) and yet it was quite startling because I had not thought of this in regard to her who had become so dear to me in such a short time. Enough, I was dazed, I blundered and came between the wrong couple, and it took all of Lotte’s alertness and shoving and pulling to restore the order.

We can deduct from this description that Goethe danced himself, and loved it; otherwise, he would not have found such warm words for it. And he assumed that every educated reader would know the basic rules of country dancing sufficiently to imagine the described scene. By the way, we can see that group dances and couple dances alternated, not because they were related, but because they complement each other. And yet another point: There was no caller at the dance. The first couple demonstrated the figure by dancing it, and the next couples followed suite as soon as the preceding couple had danced down the lane far enough.

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Published 2003-10-26   /   Heiner Fischle, Hannover, Germany