Shall We Dance?

Classic Arts Features   Shall We Dance?
Carnegie Hall archivist Gino Francesconi looks back at the history of grand charity balls at the hall.

Carnegie Hall has played host to a wide variety of holiday events and celebrations, some becoming cherished traditions‹annual performances of Messiah, Alexander Schneider's legendary December concerts, Strauss waltzes on New Year's Eve. Along with these, one could also hear Charlie Parker, laugh with P.D.Q. Bach, or sing out with Pete Seeger for added merriment.

In Carnegie Hall's early history, charity balls also added variety when the main auditorium was transformed into an elaborate dance hall. The parquet seats were covered with a temporary floor that extended the stage to the rear of the auditorium. The first of these spectacular gatherings‹the Künstlerfest on December 3, 1891‹was celebrated as one of the grandest of its day. "A GREAT SOCIAL SUCCESS," the New York Times proclaimed afterward, "ONE OF THE MOST BRILLIANT EVENTS THIS CITY HAS SEEN."

Imagine walking into the Hall that evening and seeing a "veritable indoor Eden" of trees and plants reaching the height of the First Tier, with potted ferns and flowers filling each box. Rare rugs and tapestries hung from the back of the stage, tiers, dress circle, and balcony. One hundred and fifty works of art were on display throughout the Hall, a 50-piece orchestra and a Hungarian band were located on either side of the proscenium, and two choirs sang. The festivities were punctuated by "living tableaux": trumpets heralded each of the 11 times that curtains were drawn, revealing scenes‹modeled after works of art or descriptions in books‹consisting of actors and patrons who posed silently within a large frame. The Hall then darkened, stained-glass lanterns led the crowd to refreshments, and the dancing continued into the early morning.

‹Gino Francesconi
Archivist and Museum Director, Carnegie Hall

Visit the Rose Museum to find out more about Carnegie Hall's rich and diverse history.

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