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Dirndl Drehen & Ladies' Role

A Turn at "Dirndl Drahn"

by Karin Dean-Kraft


These two articles were first published in the “Gauzeitung” in 1997.

      At the 1996 Delegates Meeting, Marty Hubner, Tom Vogt, and Mark LaCourse led the participants in learning the "Wendlstoana" Plattler. Once the Plattler was learned, the dancers took to the dance floor with partners.  A few of the ladies showed the others what to do since the ladies turn into the center of the circle, stop, turn back out on the other side of the partners, and then continue around the circle. This tricky little twist sent learning dancers bumping into one another and amused participants and watchers alike.

      While watching the ladies learn the "fancy" steps used in the "Wendlstoana," however, I was suddenly aware that I had never seen groups in/from Bayern do anything but turn and travel around the circle during a Schuhplattler. This led me to question danc­ers who learned in Bayern, to read through the sec­tion on Dirndl Drahn in "Auf Geht's," and to call Sepp Kaindl, Vorplattler of the Bayerischer Trachtenver­band.

      So, what is the ladies' role during the Plattler portion of the Schuhplattler Tanz? Turning. Yup, that's it, just turning. All the fancy in-and-out of the circle, stopping and swaying, looking over the shoul­der while swaying, 12 steps turning/4 steps walk­ing.... all this is not authentic.  In Bayern, the ladies turn--period.  On some occasions, such as when the dance floor is too small or uneven or the circle is very large, the ladies may walk backwards around the circle or stand in place until the Aufsprung, when they begin turning in anticipation for Einholen.

      We in North America are accustomed to seeing the "fancy" stuff because we are exposed to other Gauverband Vereine, many of which have modified the dances to be more "interesting" to our audienc­es. Often the ladies themselves initiate the choreog­raphy because they want to do more than "just turn."  While watching groups from Bayern, we may not even notice that these Vereine don't do "fancy" steps unless it is called to our attention.

Is it a mistake?

      It depends on what your goal is.  If your goal is to be authentic and true to the old ways, then the fancy stuff is a mistake.  If your goal is glamour, a little Hollywood -- it's probably still a mistake! Your audience believes that what it is seeing is authentic, whether it's your Tracht, your music, or your danc­ing; don't mislead them or yourselves. In my conver­sation with Sepp Kaindl, he stressed that variations on the authentic are not necessarily bad. Dance does, after all, evolve, and even though the move may not be authentic, if it is done tastefully, it's not harmful.  For instance, adding a small sway in time to the music is acceptable. However, a large, theatri­cal swishing of the skirts and flipping them so that the slip shows is too much. Ladies traveling into the men's circle also crosses the line of good form. Fan­cy steps should be added sparingly at most--and definitely not to every dance.

      If your Verein wants to continue to do these non-authentic figures, at least know that what you're doing is an invention; know how it will be viewed if you perform this way for a knowledgable Bavarian audience. Be careful that the changes are not kitschy and do not draw undue attention to the ladies' role. We have to be especially careful not to cross the "Hollywood" line. That line is probably the most difficult to define but crossing it might land us on the proverbial "slippery slope."

      Ask yourselves why you're adding these steps. If it's variety you're after, why not present more as­pects of your heritage in the form of figure dances, historical dances, other non-Schuhplattler dances, or presentations of authentic music and song.  The possibilities are so vast! 

Discussion Welcome!

      Many of you will have exceptions to report (what you saw at the Hofbrauehaus in Muenchen does NOT count!). Be careful, however, whether the figures you saw were part of a Plattler or part of a figure dance. Sometimes figures are incorporated into the Landler portion of the Plattler, but these are figures done by the couple, not by the ladies alone. Carefully consid­ered discussion is always welcome.

      This article may raise eyebrows (or hackles), but my responsibility is to inform you of what is authen­tic; that information may not necessarily be what you want to hear.  I hope that I have at least raised your awareness of an important part of our dancing heri­tage.



Ladies' Role in the Schuhplattler Tanz from Gauvortänzerin Report 1996-97

Ladies' Role in the Schuhplattler Tanz

      For the last several months I've been doing re­search into the ladies' role in the Schuhplattler Tanz. My questions led me to Sepp Kaindl, Gauvor­plattler of the Bayerischer Tracht­enverband and other Bavarians and resulted in an article about Dirndl Drahn and the explanation that the ladies' role during the Plattler is to turn--nothing more. Many Vereine in the Gauver­band have added movements for the ladies to en­hance their roles. How­ever, the Schuh­plattler developed to showcase the strength and agility of the men; the men want­ed to dazzle their ladies (and impress the other men, no doubt). The ladies were not there to dazzle their fellows or the audience. It's a tough pill to swallow in our age of growing equality, but if we're to be true to the old ways, we have to understand our dancing role in the context of the times.

      In my article, I encouraged the Vereine to ask themselves why they're adding these steps. If it's variety they're after, they can present more aspects of their heritage in the form of figure dances, histori­cal dances, other non-Schuhplattler dances, or pre­sentations of authentic music and song. The possi­bilities are so vast.

      I'm exploring other aspects of the dance (for instance, hand positions while turning and while dancing the Landler) and will write about these shortly. We must understand the difference between authenticity and modern design, regardless of whether the viewpoint is popular.

Should Ladies Schuhplattl? At least three times in the last five years, people have asked me whether it is ever per­mis­sible for the ladies to do the Schuh­plattler itself. While I realize that many ladies CAN schuhplattl (some even better than the fellows!), ladies should never schuhplattl for an audience or in public. One problem is the Tracht; women and Lederhosen don't go together. And doing a Schuh­plattler in a skirt is downright silly. Since our fore­mothers wore skirts even when they worked in the fields or tended the herds, we can't for a moment believe that wearing men's Tracht was ever accept­able. And just because the times have changed does not mean we have a right to change a piece of heritage we claim to uphold. In the words of Franz Hegenbarth, author of Auf Geht's: Das Buch ueber's Schuhplatteln, "Die Dirndln platteln nie, denn das Platteln ist 'Burschensache.'" (Ladies never plattl, because platteln is men's domain.)

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