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Fanny Elssler in America

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I'll answer Mel's leading question smile.gif, because, everyone reading this board should know that the six issue per year publication "BalletAlert" published by the WebMistress of this site and her cadre of top writers is the most informative and interesting newsletter I receive in the mail. I too found the article on page 5 of the January 2000 issue , "Fanny Elssler in America" , a wonderful piece. I've now started Guest's book on Elssler to get a full picture of the fascinating life of this Romantic era ballerina!! I'd recommend "BalletAlert" to everyone who posts here!!

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OK - OK - I give! But in my lame defense, let me say that if you can't tease a friend of 29 years standing (Glebb), who can you tease? Additionally, let me thank Paul for the kindly notice of the good work of BalletAlert and Dance View - all of our online readers ought to see them at every opportunity and subscribing is the very best way to do it! No ads, all ballet, and beautifully and accessibly written, these publications are among the finest things American journalism has to offer in the dance field(not that I'm unbiased, you understand).

Shameless boasting (my apologies, Glebb) and indecent plugging (sorry, all, Publicity Forever, you know) done, I should like to share with you a story not contained in the wonderful article on Elssler that might...well, you be the judge.

On one of her US tours (I can't recall if it were the first or second, as my reference is at work) Fanny Elssler decided to make side trips and view the scenic beauties and curiosa of America. She decided to visit the United States Military Academy at West Point, whether for the former reason or the latter, I do not know, but should like to believe the former, as I have lived so near there for my entire life.

The cadets were in Summer Camp on the Plain, today the site of athletic fields, and the lady and her partner, M. Sylvain, were staying at Cozzens' West Point Hotel, today the site of a tennis court. They decided one night to take a promenade of the Point and view the beauty of the Hudson River by moonlight and watch the night steamboats as they passed up and down the river - sort of like going to the beach at night in order to watch the submarine races. On their way back to the Hotel, they passed a line of the Cadet Encampment, and out of the dark came the cry, "Halt, who goes there?"

They had passed the picket line of the Summer Camp and a fearsome (17-year-old) cadet with musket and bayonet had challenged them!

Elssler was most upset, and expected the worst, as soldiers in Europe could not be relied upon always to be gentlemen! "Oh please," said M. Sylvain, rising to her defense, "this is Mlle. Elssler, the ballerina, and means the Corps no harm."

The Cadet guard remained implacable - "I'm sorry, sir, but you have trespassed beyond permitted lines here at the Academy."

Sylvain tried again - "But perhaps there is a consideration (jingling coins in his purse) which will persuade you to let this matter pass?"

"SIR," said the Cadet, "I am a soldier of the United States Army, and money bribes are contemptible! However, if I might be so bold as to ask a favor of the lady..."

"I?" said Elssler, "But I am only a woman who dances...what could I possibly do..."

"La Cachucha, Mademoiselle, La Cachucha and nothing less! Then, I shall not report this incident to the Corporal of the Guard, and the night will have seemed to pass in all tranquillity."

So with M. Sylvain gallantly humming the dance music, Fanny Elssler danced the Cachucha in the moonlight on the Plain at West Point, and the Guard Book for the next morning showed no unusual passages of the guard posts of the Summer Camp.

You may choose to believe or disbelieve this story at your pleasure, as it is merely an "urban legend" of West Point, and the account was given under the nom de plume "Phoenix" the alter ego of a cadet sometimes called "The Mark Twain of West Point" (Blast it, book, why did you have to be at work?) At any rate, Fanny Elssler remained a legendary visitor to West Point, whose influence remained until the 1880s, if we may believe programs and scripts for theatricals performed by cadets - a good 40-year run!

Elssler even lent her name to another West Point Legend - a cadet whose nickname was "Fanny" - not because he was a gifted cavalry rider, but because his beautiful hair was the same color as hers, and he graduated in 1861! His name was George Armstrong Custer.

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