Social dancing has its functions. One of the most powerful of these was made vivid for me one Saturday night, twenty years ago, in a village in the Southwest of Ireland. The dancing floor was crowded the entire evening (my wife even persuaded me, awkward, 6'4" me, to join a dance or two or maybe even three or four, Murphy's Stout being an excellent lubricant of inhibitions). This being a routine event in the community, many of the dancers were very good, but one young pair clearly stood out for the excellence, duration, and intensity of their dancing. When I pointed them out, one of my cousins explained that they had been engaged for several years, but had had the date set back three more years, as the fiancee's older sister, long considered not to be the marrying type, had suddenly become engaged herself, thus pushing their date back on the calendar, as her parents would now have to save up for an additional wedding. It was clear that the dancing of the young couple — a pious and chaste pair — was a prime vehicle for the sublimation of physical aspects of their relationship that had for them been delayed by the older sister's sudden retreat from an expected spinsterhood.
In preparation for a small commission for chamber orchestra, I've recently spent some time with classical symphonies, particularly earlier works of Haydn and Mozart. The sense of the contrast between the more discursive sonata movements with the song-like slow movements and the cheerful finales is all familiar and sensible to me, but while, in principle, the triple metre dance movements, the minuets, should make sense, I have no real access to them. In their subdued manner, I would like to imagine them playing out some of the same sublimated eroticism I watched on the dance floor in Ireland, but the damn things are SO gentle and subdued — even when Mozart pulls one of his asymmetric phrasings off — that such an image is impossible. No wonder they switched to scherzos.