Looking for a new egg-cellent family tradition to celebrate springtime? The Egg Dance could be a household favorite. But fair warning: most of us wouldn’t want to attempt this joyous romp while wearing our Sunday best.
Before a colorful rabbit began leaving chocolate versions in baskets, eggs were known for their symbolism in both pagan and Christian cultures. They represented a rebirth of both the spring season and the rebirth of man on Easter Sunday. Today, many households still celebrate the history of this new life with a frolicking tradition known as The Egg Dance.
“In the days before electronic entertainment and ease of traveling, recreation centered on common activities and objects,” says Dr. Ron Houston, Trustee of the Society of Folk Dance Historians. “Consider, for example, egg races and egg tosses,” which we’re sure many people are most familiar with. “The Egg Dance,” he adds, “was commonly performed in Britain and Europe as an entertainment in the 15th to 19th centuries.” That’s right—we’re taking the games at your next family reunion to a whole other level.
There are two versions of this spectacle, both with the same end goal: to break as few eggs as possible. In one version, the dancer must tip an egg out of a bowl into a chalk circle. They then must cover the egg back up with the bowl using only their feet! The egg cannot touch any other objects on the floor and must remain in the drawn circle for the entirety of the game.
In the other version, eggs are spread about on the ground and the dancer must prance around them attempting to break as few as possible. The Guild of Play Book of Festival and Dance II from 1901 describes it as being like a “horn-pipe jig.” The book also provides sheet music and step-by step-instructions, noting that it should be “danced with great energy.” The dance is full of hopping, leaping and jumping, ending with the dancer instructed to “fall down exhausted.” In a similar novel written in 1825, author Jehoshaphat Aspin used the horn-pipe comparison as well but described the dancers as being blind-folded.
A Dance of Love?
“When couple dancing—waltz, polka, schottische, mazurka—became popular in the 19th century, couples would dance among a field of eggs as social recreation,” but not as a blindfolded horn-pipe dance, Houston says.
Indeed, a 1895 text from The American Magazine, Volume 39 describes the egg dance as being common in Switzerland in that era. It also recounts how this tradition sparked an aristocratic marriage as far back as the early 16th century.
Philibert the Handsome, Duke of Savoy went to pay a call on Habsburg ruler Marguerite of Austria at the Castle of Brou during the Easter Monday festivities. There was dancing on the green, including a special Egg Dance where 100 eggs were laid out. If a couple could dance amongst them, without breaking a single one, they were able to marry, and no one could object. After three couples failed, Philibert beseeched Marguerite to try the dance. All the eggs survived and the two were wed.
The Delicate Dance of Politics
In 1795, a story concerning the egg dance appeared in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. This literary source is where the phrase, “To perform a true egg dance,” took on a new meaning—that of maneuvering deftly through difficult situations. It frequently applied to political situations, as in this wood carving by Sir John Tenniel, “The Political Egg Dance,” from an 1867 issue of Punch magazine. The cartoon depicts Benjamin Disraeli skillfully managing the redistribution of seats after the success of a Conservative party reform bill.
And should anyone ever ask you, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” hit them with this party fact. The Egg Dance originated centuries ago while the more-popular Chicken Dance (AKA the moment every guest dreads while attending a wedding) only became popular in the 1970s.
By Liz Langley, contributor for Ripleys.com