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Quadrille – A Very Personal History

An article by Herman Diaz published in the journal of 2004 Quadrille Ball

For many years before the Second World War, New York’s German-American Community held an annual social event called the Snow Ball. In 1960 Ina Kesseler, Edith Hanrnann, Marina Langfeld; Nancy Suhr, and Otto Kaletsch met in Nancy’s law office and created the successor to the Snow Ball, and thus was born the Quadrille Ball.

The Beneficiary would be the Germanistic Society of America and the Ball’s proceeds were to fund American Graduate Students studying in Germany. In 1964 the International Institute of Education was made a co-beneficiary for the funding of German Graduate Students in the U.S.

The first Quadrille Ball was held in January of 1961. The Honorary Chairmen were General and Mrs. Lucius Clay. General Clay had been the commanding general of the U.S. Occupation in Germany, and like General Douglas Macarthur in Japan, was held in high esteem by many Germans. The first Guest of Honor was H.H. Louis Ferdinand von Pruessin, the last Kaiser’s grandson.

The Quadrille for some years was somewhat different than it is today: About 50% of the dancers were Germans or German-Americans. Most were of European background and multi-lingual and, of course, had been dancing the waltz since childhood. Some of the dancers were the children of Ball Committee Members (e.g. Marina von Moltke Langfe1d, whose mother, nee the Princess Mediavani of Georgia was the first Quadrille Dancers’ Chairman; Paul Suhr, Nancy Suhr’s younger son; Phillip von Turk; Ana Doris Korallus and her older sister). In fact, entire families danced over the years (e.g. All the Denglers, the Heeps, the Rothschilds, and most of the Gimbe1s. By now many of the children of past dancers have joined the nearly 2,000 Quadrille Dancers. In the first year only, even married couples danced. They were the Peter Hartmanns, and Nick Suhrs. For the first nine years; dancers were allowed to repeat year after year. The two who hold the record, eight years, are Nina von Moltke-Langfeld, Wagner Kaletsch, and myself: Herman Alberto Diaz.

In those earlier years the young women Dancers wore their own gowns. The only requirement was that they be white. The first couple introduced before the presentation of the Quadrille, was always titled. In the first year, it was Princess Marie Antonia of Anhalt–Dessau. Her sister Princess Ana Louise danced the second year, but another Princess was part of the first couple. Ana Lu, as always, was totally unconcerned with such things. The Guest List was also heavily laden with European titles. The highlight of titled dancers came in 1966 when Michael von Pruessin, the son of the aforementioned Louis Ferdinand and the Grand Duchess Kyra of Russia, escorting his future bride; Jutta Jom, were the first couple to be introduced. Louis Ferdinand attended for the second and last time.

Rehearsals were held at the Leiderkranz on Saturday mornings, not week nights. On occasion some of the Ball Committee members would host post rehearsal get-togethers at their own homes (e.g. Princess Drotzkoy). Even after rehearsals were held on weekday evenings, there were no organized post rehearsal parties, groups of dancers, mostly those who had danced together in previous years would party after rehearsals on their own. Hagan Lutzow, who rented a town house with a group of friends, would give at least one party per rehearsal season; and Dieter Breisling would organize dinner dance parties at clubs in the metropolitan area on weekend nights. Pastor Heinrich and Nancy Suhr initiated a Post Rehearsal Christmas Party at their Town House across from the Lutheran Church on West 22nd Street that was held every year, even after Nancy’s death. And from the start of the Ball, Ina and Peter Kesse1er hosted a Christmas Eve Soiree for those dancers who had no family in the city. During this party, Dr. Kesseler would often recount the events of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in New York.

Sometime in the 1970’s the Ball Committee decided to have Ball sponsored post rehearsal parties for all the dancers, and placed this in the hands of the Junior Committee. Another change was to make a concerted effort to increase the number of non-German surnames among the dancers.

My connection with the Quadrille started in 1961, after the first ball when I was 26 years old. How it started has some humor worth sharing. I had volunteered to assist with making canapes for a cocktail party hosted by a friend of mine, Count Jose Maria Berga de Lema. When I arrived the maid informed me that Jose was still showering and he had asked that I go straight to the kitchen. Sitting behind the breakfast table was a young woman in an apron who introduced herself as “Ana Lu” with a decided German accent and whom I assumed was one of the hired help for the party. Before we could get better acquainted wherein I would have been dissuaded from my assumption, in walks Jose who immediately made formal introductions and I realized that my canapes cohort was Princess Ana Louise von AnhaltDessau, one of the four children of the last Duke of Anhalt. Ana Lu was slated to dance at the 1962 Quadrille and brought me along.

The first five balls were held at the Plaza Hotel, as is today, after the Ball follows the Kuka Klub, modeled after a real Berlin Night Club that flourished between the two World Wars. The Baroque ballroom used for this venue is the same as today’s but its walls were covered with red velvet which called to mind the setting for Count Orlov’s Party in Strauss’s “Der Fledermaus”. At that time, the orchestra in the “Kuka” was a Gypsy Ensemble that included violins and balalaikas and Hungarian Goulash Soup was served. The first orchestra was conducted by Max Hamlisch, the father of the contemporary composer Marvin Hamlisch. In the late sixties; when Marvin was still studying at the JuJliard School of Music and skinny as a rail; Max would bring him to the Leiderkranz and beam as his son took over from him at the piano during rehearsals. Following the Kuka was then called the Ruedesheimer Cafe now referred to as the Cafe Berlin where dark chocolates, coffee and brandy were on the menu, very similar to the current.

In 1966 we moved to the Hotel Americana, now the Sheraton, at 53rd and7th Avenue. That first year everyone was so worried about the change from the magnificent old world ambiance of the Plaza and its Grand Ballroom to the modem Americana and it’s non-imperial looking Imperial Ballroom, that the Decorating Committee came up with a real coup. Hanging from the stage’s back wall, and all around the north and south walls of the ballroom were giant tapestries on loan from French & Co., and from the middle of the flowered table centerpieces giant white ostrich feathers with their billowy plumes created an aura of elegance that was missing from the new location. Unfortunately French & Co. never lent them to us again. A few months after the Quadrille, the English Speaking Union gave a dinner in the same Imperial Ballroom. The guest of honor was the Prince Phillip; Duke of Edinbourgh, and French & Co. loaned them the same tapestries. Unfortunately, the Quadrille’s Decorating Committee was not supervising, and the workmen hanging them up nailed right through the tapestries putting an end to any future use of these beautiful pieces.

The first Kuka Klub at the Americana was in the Royal Ballroom, which did not come with red velvet walls. Walter Steinner, a guest at the ball since its inception, with assistance from volunteer dancers and Junior Committee members hung all the walls with brown wrapping paper, and under Walter’s direction turned the room into a Rathskeller. Walter would pencil in the scenes (brick walked streets with shops; mountain scapes with yodelers; can-can girls, animals in meadows, etc.) and we would color them in. This theme was kept for several years.

The first Dance Master of the Quadrille was Peter Meyer who held that position for nine years. Peter was also the Dance Master at other New York Balls (e.g., Viennese Opera, Russian Nobility, Piarist, Hungarian Catholic League, etc.). As a result he would get us reduced tickets as long as we participated in the presentations. Thus many of the Quadrille dancers learned to dance the Polonaise, Mazurka, and Chardas. I remember one season attending 40 Charity Balls from October to March. At the Viennese Opera Ball commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Vienna, all eight Minuet Dancers were from the Quadrille. I became Peter’s successor for the next twelve years, followed by Jared WoJovnick, and he by Gordon Cooper. In the first 20 years or so the Mazurka, Chardas, and Chotis, were never absent from the Quadrille Dance Floor with several Paso Dobies, Polkas, Tangos and many more Waltzes than nowadays.

In 1969 a decision to change orchestras caused one of the ball’s greatest havoc, which we almost did not survive. The new orchestra was to be New York’s most famous “Society Band”, the Meyer Davis Orchestra. When Max Hamlisch got wind of this he called on Peter Meyer, and the two of them went to Ina Kesseler and told her that if one of them was replaced the other would retire from the ball also. In addition, Max refused to turn over the music and orchestrations for the Quadrille presentation, the only one in existence. Since I used to substitute for Peter at rehearsals during his annual visits to Vienna, Ina called Jack Harris, Meyer Davis’ manager and me to a meeting at her home to address this problem. Ina had an old 78 RPM recording that included something called the “Der Rosenkavalier Quadrille”, and I had in my possession a copy of the Dance Master’s Call Sheet with the five sub-sections -“La Dorset to *’La Chaine et Finale. We played the recording and, 10 and behold, it had five sections and the music certainly sounded the same. Jack said that he was sure that among himself, his chief pianist, and me along with the old 7S RPM recording, we could put everything together. The ball was about seven months away, so we had plenty of time.

Mrs. Hamlisch and Meyer could take their threats somewhere else or so we thought. Meyer’s pianist did the transcriptions from the recording to sheet music for piano only, the first step. We hired a room at the Biltmore Hotel and gathered there Jack Harris, the pianist, Mrs. Kesseler, one full carrel of past dancers, the Junior Committee members and me with my call sheet. We went through “La Dorset” without one single hitch. But in the second and third sections there was more music than steps. At the end of the first run-through we had three sections where the music and steps matched perfectly and two where we had a choreography mess. Ina insisted that her best memory was that Max had used the recording that we had. Jack suggested that either or both Max and Peter Meyer might have made some changes. We were confident though that with some more work we could bring everything together. Almost note by note we went through the music and the calls to match the music to the steps, not the steps to the music. We reconvened and we went through the two sections again, and after a few more adjustments we had it. Jack Harris, by the way, had had his own orchestra in London in the thirties, and it turned out that not only was his the most favorite orchestra of Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson, but he also lived in the same building as the future Duchess of Windsor. All the years that he was Meyer’s manager he came to almost all the rehearsals, at which he regaled many of us with his very private knowledge of the man who gave up a throne, and the woman for which he had done so.

The Anniversary Years of the ball were very special. The Junior Committee performed a Minuet in costume one year. On the 25th Anniversary Mrs. Kesseler was presented with a Silver Rose carried to her on stage by one of the pages as in the opera “Der Rosenkavalier”. Possibly the most impressive . was the year that after the Quadrille presentation by the Dancers, an equal number of Alumni joined them on the floor for a combined presentation of Chopin’s “Polonaise Militaire”. In the earlier years we had what were called “Sacred Cows”, Quadrille Dancers that might have two left feet but took precedence over all others because of who they were (e.g, titled; children of sponsors or German dignitaries; etc.). One year the daughter of the Guest of Honor wanted to dance even though she lived in Germany. All rehearsal and age requirements were waived; the young lady was only sixteen, and she flew in the week of the ball. A special private rehearsal with the young lady was arranged; followed by her participation in a one carrel special rehearsal. The night of the ball she danced quite well, to the delight other beaming parents. Princess Michael of Kent, the wife of England’s Queen Elizabeth II’s first cousin, nee Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz was also a Quadrille Dancer, but even though gifted with an exceptionally delightful and bubbly personality she was not then considered a “Sacred Cow”. In retrospect, what an oversight!!!

On another occasion, with somewhat scandalous overtones, but not devoid of humor occurred when one of the dancers was the daughter of the German Ambassador to the United Nations. A most attractive, personable and delightful young lady who thoroughly enjoyed her experiences connected with the Quadrille. For Fasching her parents gave a brilliant Black Tie party at the German U.N. Embassy Town House, and the young lady invited a good number of the acquaintances she had made at the Quadrille Rehearsals. As I came in with my date, also from the Quadrille, we spotted the painter Salvador Dali seated on a sofa all by himself. Since we both spoke Spanish, we went over and introduced ourselves, Dali seemed delighted to have fWO people who spoke his native language and asked us to join him. “You know what is going on here?” he asked us. We replied that what was going on was a smashing party. “Yes”, said Dali, “but with what savior faire”. What do you mean we asked? He smoothed his magnificent moustaches, leaned slightly on his gold handled walking stick and informed us, “Why above us is another orchestra and that floor is hosted by the Ambassador and his mistress.

On this floor the hosts are the Ambassador’s wife and her lover, and neither couple intrudes on the territory of the other. He paused, smiled, and opined, “How civilized these Germans are!”

I don’t recall who the first couple to meet and marry was as a result of the Quadrille, One, of course is the long time past Co-Chairman Anne Utsch, and although she and Hans were never Quadrille Dancers, they are counted among them. Ina loved to keep track of the number, and the last time we spoke about it, maybe 1997, the number was well into the reaching the seventies,

The Quadrille is not only a ball we used to say, but a window on a style of living from another time. One year it was announced that we would have a new Quadrille Dancers Chairman and at the first rehearsal in walks this younger than usual, for the Ball Committee, and strikingly attractive couple, both dressed totally in black leather. They were an instant hit -Canadians, Valerie and Stewart Perkins. Stewart was President of Volkswagen USA. Every year a motorcade of Volkswagen Mini-buses would arrive at an earlier than usual week night rehearsal to take the entire crowd to their estate in Bronxville for an evening of great fun, which included Stewart sitting on the living room floor playing his guitar. Every summer the entire Junior Committee was invited for a week end evening of cocktails and dinner at the Perkins home. Ina and Peter Kesseler did the same thing at their lakeside summer home in Awasting, New York. Ina kept up the tradition even after Dr. Kesseler’s death.

We went to Quadrille Family Weddings (for that is what we were, a family): Eldina Heep and Hagen von Buchards in New Jersey; Evelyn Rothschild and Jared Wolovnick’s on Long Island. And we went to Quadrille Family Funerals, the first for Nancy Suhr, then Edith Hartmann Parley, then Peter Kesseler and Pastor Suhr. Then, all of a sudden, we were going to Quadrille Dancers funerals – the first for Luke Baars, the second for Joe Peter Bergmeyer.

One of the most joyous Quadrille Family incidents starred at the ball itself. Evelyn Wolovnick was pregnant, and at about 12 midnight excused herself from our table and went up to her room at the Sheraton to lie down. She went into labor as was taken from the hotel directly to the hospital where she gave birth to her second daughter who was named Diana Quadrille. Diana’s older sister, Ariele, danced in January 2003, and not too long after that we may have a Quadrille dancing the Quadrille.

I have what I call my Quadrille Ball Silver Collection. Between 1969 and at least 1980, Quadrille Ball Junior Committee Chairmen and the Dance Masters (which I was from 1970 to 1981) were given Tiffany Silver Mementos (e.g. Picture Frames, Letter Openers, etc.). But the one I prize the most is a silver tray from the Metropolitan Museum of Art created by Gorham and engraved with the names of all the Ball Committee Members on the occasion of the Quadrille Ball’s Twentieth Anniversary. It was presented to me on the stage of the Imperial Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel by one of that year’s Quadrille Dancers -Sarah Perkins, daughter of Valerie-and Stewart. On that tray are names that were an integral part of the Quadrille Ball -representing a way of living that is reminiscent to me of Gone with the Wind and icons of the Ball’s history: Ina Kesseler, Anne Utsch, Edith Hartmann Parley, Vaike Low, Eva Oehmichen, Eva von Estorff, Karla Korallus, Gunny von Turk, Irmgard Rupel, Gerlinde Matthiensen, Valerie Perkins, Nancy Suhr, arid Marina Langfeld among many others who had participated and helped make the Quadrille Ball.

The Quadrille Ball continues and it continues to evolve. I would like to dedicate these personal glimpses and memories that I have shared to those younger people presently involved, the future Dancers and the Junior Committee Members.It is my hope that these young people will perpetuate and sustain the beauty, elegance, and grace of the Quadrille Ball, will create new history as interesting and exciting as the past, and remember that the Quadrille experience is cherished for a lifetime. The beauty of the Quadrille Ball is that it has managed to keep its luster and old world charm even as it joins the 21 st Century and has its own website.

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