We’ve made it to the dance tent, boys and girls.  Ever since we started work on this project, we’ve always had a dance tent in mind as the place where Petunia & Chicken declare their love.  This comes straight from Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and I’d just like to say that this whole rehearsal is a great example of how helpful it can be to have strong source material:

“It must have been in June, for Mrs. Harling and Antonia were preserving cherries, when I stopped one morning to tell them that a dancing pavilion had come to town. I had seen two drays hauling the canvas and painted poles up from the depot.  That afternoon three cheerful-looking Italians strolled about Black Hawk, looking at everything, and with them was a dark, stout woman who wore a long gold watch-chain about her neck and carried a black lace parasol. They seemed especially interested in children and vacant lots. When I overtook them and stopped to say a word, I found them affable and confiding. They told me they worked in Kansas City in the winter, and in summer they went out among the farming towns with their tent and taught dancing. When business fell off in one place, they moved on to another.”

As we start to work on this scene, I suggest that this is an opportunity to create a lot more characters.  Up until this point we’ve really only seen Petunia & Chicken’s families, and the world of this play could use some filling in.  So off we go, taking our inspiration from Ms. Cather once again:

“Often the mothers brought their fancywork and sat on the shady side of the tent during the lesson. The popcorn man wheeled his glass wagon under the big cottonwood by the door, and lounged in the sun, sure of a good trade when the dancing was over. Mr. Jensen, the Danish laundryman, used to bring a chair from his porch and sit out in the grass plot. Some ragged little boys from the depot sold pop and iced lemonade under a white umbrella at the corner, and made faces at the spruce youngsters who came to dance. That vacant lot soon became the most cheerful place in town. Even on the hottest afternoons the cottonwoods made a rustling shade, and the air smelled of popcorn and melted butter, and Bouncing Bets wilting in the sun. Those hardy flowers had run away from the laundryman’s garden, and the grass in the middle of the lot was pink with them.”

We create a popcorn salesman with an overactive popcorn machine, a pair of hardworking little boys selling soda pop, and Chicken’s grandparents make an appearance.  Now that I write this that actually doesn’t seem like a lot.  We’ll probably go back and add a few other pairs of characters!  But on to the … dancing.  What to dance?  I scour My Antonia and only find one reference:

“When you spun out into the floor with Tony, you didn’t return to anything. You set out every time upon a new adventure. I liked to schottische with her; she had so much spring and variety, and was always putting in new steps and slides. She taught me to dance against and around the hard-and-fast beat of the music. If, instead of going to the end of the railroad, old Mr. Shimerda had stayed in New York and picked up a living with his fiddle, how different Antonia’s life might have been!”

Wikipedia tells us that the schottische is “a partnered country dance, that apparently originated in Bohemia.”  Bohemia?  Of course!  That’s where Petunia’s family is from.  Now how to dance it?  After a quick session of googling, we find out the basic steps:

Step step step hop / step step step hop / step hop / step hop / step hop / step hop

And this video is particularly helpful:

So Petunia’s about to leave because Chicken is too afraid to dance, and of course he does dance at the last minute and he dances … the schottische.  They dance together, and confess their love to one another.  And Chicken asks Petunia to go away with him to have adventures.  And she says yes!  Everything is well in their world.  Until our next rehearsal, when tragedy will strike…

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