Virtual Tour :: Introduction

Among the memories preserved in a scrapbook of his undergraduate years at Middlebury College, Harold Riford Bird, Class of 1906, preserved in a scrapbook of his undergraduate years at Middlebury College, are dozens of invitatioons, cards, and other ephemeral memetnoes of the numerous social dance events he attended. On one page, containing some especially elegant dance cards, Bird, evidently a talented amateur artist, drew a romantic dancing couple and above them wrote what suggest a title for this nostalgia-laden page, "The Giddy Whirl."

Bird’s scrapbook documents, almost at midpoint in Middlebury’s 205-year history, the central role social dance has held at the College. Beginning with the first Commencement Ball in 1802, social dance events were very much in evidence, despite the rigorous constraints – including fines for students attending dance classes -- college regulations imposed on the lives of students for the first fifty years following Middlebury’s founding in 1800. With the founding of the first fraternities in the 1840s, dance became more prominent and, with the arrival of co-education in 1883, an essential element of college life.

In the first thirty years of the 20th century, dance became increasingly important with each passing decade. Hops, promenades, balls, frolics, formals, and semi-formals crowded the college schedule. For years, classes, fraternities, sororities, student activities and organizations, competed to see who could offer the most memorable dance event of the year. Perhaps the height of dance fever at Middlebury, as in the nation at large, came in the 1930s. Winter Carnival, established in 1934, offered the Carnival Ball which, for student participation and anticipation outshone any dance as the formal social event of the year well into the 1960s. Klondike Rush, Carnivall Ball's informal counterpart drew equal enthusiasm.

Mirroring the drastic political and social changes in the nation in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, organized social events -- dances most significantly -- declined drastically on campus. Being among the most fundamental forms of human expression, dance never completely disappeared from the Middlebury scene, but its presence was far less organized, more spontaneous, and carried less importance in student life. More formal dance events began to reappear in the 1980s. Although no longer as formal or socially vital in student life as in the heyday of the thirties, forties and fifties, as an organized social event to bring the College community together for a shared cause, a celebration, or just to have fun, dance is very much a significant part of campus life -- from the McCullough Dance and eagerly anticipated annual Drag Ball, to more formal (by late 20th and early 21st century standards) events held to celebrate significant milestones of the Centennial of Co-education, the College Bicentennial, and recent Presidential inaugurations.

The Giddy Whirl draws upon a broad range of materials from Special Collections, primarily the College Archives and the Julian W. Abernethy Collection of American Literature, and includes materials on loan from the Stewart Swift Research Center at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History in Middlebury. Documenting the centrality of dance in the lives of Middlebury College students and the community over the past two centuries are student scrapbooks, dance cards, invitations, and other memorabilia; line drawings, photographs, and dance feateures from a century of the Kaleidoscope; programs, brochures, student handbooks; 19th century letters, and a ball gown worn by Emma Hart Seymour in the 1820s.

The exhibit was on view in display cases in the following locations throughout the Main Library:

Main Level
Lobby Cases :: The Giddy Whirl: Introduction
Atrium Cases :: "The Art of the Dance Card"

Lower Level
Harman Periodical Reading Room :: "The Yearly Round of Dances"
Special Collections Reception Area Cases :: "Winter Carnival"
Special Collections Reading Room Cases :: "Dance and Student Life"

Upper Level
South Wall Cases :: "The Turning Point"
Case 1 & 2 :: "Dance in American Fiction"
Case 3 & 4 :: "A Dance to Remember: Emma Hart Seymour, Philip Battell, and the Commencement Ball of 1826"

introduction :: the art of the dance card :: the yearly round of dances :: winter carnival
the turning point: dance in american fiction :: a dance to remember: emma hart seymour and philip battell
photographs of the exhibit in situ