One of my favourite books on Early Dances is The Playford Ball by Kate Van Winkle Keller and Genevieve Shimer. The reason for this is not only a very comprehensive way of description of “103 Early English Country Dances”, but also the deep exploration of the sources together with social and political contexts of the dances, their titles and dance tunes.
As widely accepted, the English country-dances had a vast influence on European social dances, French ones at first and then on the Middle-European through “the filter” of the French dancing masters or their influence. Nevertheless, to my knowledge nobody has questioned so far, if the domestic country environment of Middle Europe was able to have an influence on the noble and burgher ballroom-dance culture in the 18th Century. We have evidence of the “issues of nation” in such dances after 1848, but how about the period 100 years before?
In the year 1758 Adam Wolfgang Winterschmid, dancing master at the Altdorf University near Nurnberg in Bavaria, not very far from the border line of the Bohemian Lands, published in his Kurze und leichte Anweisung, die Compagnie Tänze…( Faksimile, Freiburg 2008) a dance called The Prague Student (Der Prager Student). This dance is interesting not only from the point, that it contains in its second part a waltzing section, embedded in a logways formation of dancers, but from the point of “issue of nation” that the first part is set to an ancient Bohemian (Czech) folk song Káča má, Káča má (Kate has, Kate has…). The tune evokes also the very well known French tune Sur le pont d´Avignon.
The anapaestic rhythm of the first part of the tune, so typical for the popular dance polka, which will conquer the whole of Europe after 1840 and which after one 19th Century story had been invented by one Bohemian country girl (and exists still as a base of Bohemian folk dance repertoire), would be interesting to investigate on the first plan together with the evidence of the existence of the tune in various parts of the Bohemian lands. On the second plan there is the question of the possibilities of transference of the country folk dance into the towns (Prague in Bohemia and then to Altdorf in Bavaria) via students. The third question is the French element (the coincidence – or influence?) in the tune, as French troops occupied part of the Bohemian lands from 40s of the 18th Century during the War of the Austrian Succession (1741-1748), when Bavaria, where Altdorf lies, was the homeland of Karl Albrecht Wittelbach, who should have been crowned as the King of Bohemia in Prague in 1741, supported in his claims against Marie Therese Habsburg by part of the Bohemian nobility.
In addition, with Karl Albrecht, future Charles VII, for a short time the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, another interesting chapter of our “detective story” starts. To the above-mentioned tune of the folk song Kate has, Kate has, an anonymous poet in Bohemia invented and put in circulation ten new verses, supporting the claim of Karl Albrecht to the Bohemian Crown. The song starts Prague has, Prague has and continues: “.…new Lord, King from Bavaria, rejoice all Bohemians, Charles the Seventh will please you.”
However, the political situation turned in the year 1743 to the advantage of Marie Theresa; her troops defeated the Bavarian and French ones and drove them out of Bohemian lands. Marie Theresa was crowned the Queen of Bohemia, revenged herself on all of her enemies, and persecuted everyone and everything connected with the claim of Karl Albrecht. The tune of the dance Kate has, Kate has and the dance itself was also “put on the index” as it was contaminated with the possibility of singing the tune with new pro-Wittelsbacherian words. Whoever would sing it or order the dance at any assembly would be put under arrest and punished.
Therefore – maybe, that is why it came probably with the students to Bavaria, where the students from Prague could dance it without the danger of being punished…