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Berkeley Bastille Day Dance

Last Friday, on July 14th, I, my wife Sheila, and our friends Todi and Veronica, attended the "Friday Night Waltz" Bastille Day Dance at the International House by the UC Berkeley campus. It was a fun evening, which drew some interesting contrasts between our Southern California vintage dance culture and that of our Northern cousins.

The band was the "Baguette Quartette", and they were excellent. They have a wonderful Parisian musette sound of the sort I associate with Paris cafes in the 1920s-1950s. They were definitely playing for dancers with clear, strong tempos--too include the ultra fast musette waltz tempo which is very tiring but authentically French.

I did notice something interesting about the dance selection though. The dance program was waltz focused (to include the "Java" variation), with polkas, tangos, one steps and a few mazurkas and schottisches. They totally ignored the foxtrot, which formed the backbone of the repertoire of the big French dance bands of the '30s, like that of Charles Trenet. I think this may have a lot to do with the "roots" of the vintage dance scene in the Bay Area, which traces an unbroken line back to the "Fezziwig's Dance Party" at the San Francisco Dickens Christmas Fair--and this seems to lead to a waltz/polka/waltz/polka program, with a bit less variation than you might find in So Cal--or perhaps I am just showing my ignorance of a difference in the dance choices of the big night club bands and the more plebeian cafe bands. It is, however, a minor quibble when compared to an overall positive experience.

There was another very interesting contrast between what you would see in a comparable event in So Cal. The median quality of dancing seemed to be significantly higher than you would see in So Cal. The vast majority of the attendees looked to be very confident in the waltz and polka, with a far larger proportion of confident Mazurka and Schottishe dancers than you would usually see around here. I think this derives from the "Friday Night Waltz" concept, which is all about bringing in a lot of people in a friendly informal atmosphere and teaching them to dance. This is something we should try to emulate.

Another cultural observation: the boys up in Berkeley were very good about asking the girls to dance. They were far more willing than many vintage dance groups (in LA and elsewhere in the country) about including strangers in the fun, and the three strange women who showed up in their midst were not lacking for partners. This included Sheila, who was asked to dance several times once we figured out that I needed to not hover if she was going to be asked. When I made myself scarce, that generally did the trick.

The costume selections were eclectic, but given that people were exhorted to dress "French", a lively mix was to be expected. There were a fair number of 18th Century Aristos, to include one with a bloody gash on the neck (perhaps a dotted line marked "cut here" might have been more to the point). Our little company came in 1950s-ish stuff in variations of red, white and blue. There was a also a large number of striped shirts and berets and a fair number of people in modern formal or modern not-so-formal.

I note with interest that they are now encouraging the wearing of formal wear to other Friday Night Waltz events--these with just a DJ. I do have to say that sounds a bit odd for an event without live music, but different ships, different longsplices.

To conclude, it was a delightful evening, with excellent live music and a hospitable reception. Thank you Friday Night Waltz.


Walter Nelson


Hi Walter,
This is Scott, organizer of FNW.
Foxtrot: we avoid foxtrot as it is dead last among the 40 dances we survey regularly.

We are a not historical dance group as such: more taking the best and most enjoyable from previous eras and bringing them into the current year. though everyone does have their favorite dances.

The overall quality of the dancers comes from many people dancing for a long time regularly at the very many local dances: gaskells, peers, FNW, Stanford dances, and Dickens.There are regular classes on waltz also.

The 'european' style of formal dance with Cd music (somewhat common in france and more so currently in germany), was derived from a combination of desires for a regular dance with a wide range of excellent music and wanting to dress up. The only way to get low cost plus dressup plus wide range of excellent music plus very nice venue is to have a Cd formal dance. may feel odd,but worked pretty well our two attempts.

While live bands are preferred by many people, in norcal it seems there is a decently sized group who likes to dressup first, good dance second, and nice band third. Also, people do seem to appreciate the problem that any one band has usually a limited repertoire of music. not many bands can do waltz, polka, cha cha, tango, and one step.

It is just one other venue for dancing, however; formal dances with live bands will continue to do well. Our new year's eve formal waltz ball for instance has sold out the last 3 years. We are now limiting attendance to presales this year to about 250.