Friday, January 30, 2009

Not the Usual Line Up

So, I’m going to talk about dancing, but I truly think nineteenth century dancing is something you have to see, and, preferably, do! So, some sleuthing on YouTube revealed the following wonderful video, from our friends at the Oregon Regency Society (waves wildly!):

You’ll notice several things here. Many of the dances in the early nineteenth century were line dances, meaning that partners stood across from each other in long lines, women on one side and men on the other. In addition, many tunes had specific dances that went with them, and as a young lady you would be expected to know those steps. In the video, you’ll hear someone calling the steps, but that wasn’t actually done at balls. Instead, if you were unsure, you watched the lead dancers in the set.

You’ll also notice that the dancers move around a lot. It may look simple and stately, but, believe me, at the end of the dance, you’re winded! The partners are together a lot in this dance, but often you exchanged partners or danced with others near you for part of each dance, so conversation came in little snippets and couldn’t be lengthy, contrary to the dance scene between Elizabeth and Darcy in the most recent Pride and Prejudice adaptation.

The one exception is when a couple “stood out.” You’ll notice that too in the video. At one point the couple closest to the camera does nothing while others are dancing. Sometimes the figure of the dance and the number of dancers made for poor combination, and a couple at the top of the room (closest to the musicians) or the bottom of the room (farthest away from the musicians) wouldn’t have a role for a short while. Then, you could make conversation, and have a reasonable assurance that those dancing closest to you might not overhear. Perfect time to pass on gossip, arrange an assignation for later, or merely comment on the weather.

The dances may look sedate, but they were fraught with opportunities for young couples. Perhaps your partner holds your hand a microsecond longer than he’s supposed to. Heavens, could he like you more than you thought? Perhaps his thumb caresses the back of your fingers as you turn. My word, but you’re blushing now! And then there is “the look.”

Those of you who have been following this blog know that I dress up once a year as a Regency dandy for a soiree held by my colleagues in the Beau Monde, Romance Writers of America’s (RWA)special interest chapter for those who write early nineteenth century books. It started as a joke, but Sir Reginald has quickly become more popular than I ever was. I do get a kick out of teasing my friends by flirting outrageously. So, I’ve had my fair share of dances. I thought I’d mastered the manner of intensely gazing at a lady across the line until her cheeks heat and her eyes lower and you can tell her heart is beating faster.

And then I met Baronda Bradley.

Baronda is a member of the Jane Austen Society of America, North Texas Chapter. She kindly shared her knowledge of nineteenth-century costuming at the 2007 RWA national conference. Here she’s in a day dress she designed. However, for the Soiree, she came in a lovely ball gown, hair in ringlets, and she very kindly consented to honor Sir Reginald with a dance.

Baronda knows the early nineteenth century. Every movement, every smile said confidence and composure. She was graceful, she was demure, she was everything a well-bred young lady of nineteenth century England should be. But when she gazed at me across the line, eyes sultry and deep. . . well, I had to remind myself that I’m a happily married WOMAN and not the Regency buck I was pretending to be.

Now, where are my smelling salts?


Marissa Doyle said...

This was also true of the medieval and renaissance dancing I did in the SCA--dancing really was a form of controlled flirting, and somehow seemed even more delicious and exciting because of the outward restraint imposed by making sure you weren't missing your steps. :)

Love the video!!

QNPoohBear said...

Ha ha pretty heady stuff! 19th century dancing looks so elegant. I attended an 18th century dance lesson and ball in Colonial Williamsburg. The dancing was more sedate but similar. I can see the evolvement. Much better than today's loud, crazy dancing. Taylor Swift looks like she had fun learning 19th century dancing in her video Love Story

FitToSeeJane said...

I love the video clip you found! I love Jane Austen and Regency costumes and at the 2007 Jane Austen Society of North America I was excited to be seated across from Baronda Bradley in our reticule making workshop.
I also made one gown for the regency ball. I love English country dancing!

Liviania said...

Haha, I love the ending. However, reading about Regency dancing always makes me think of square dancing. (Do they make you learn that anywhere but Texas?)

Christina Farley said...

What a great video clip. Thanks for sharing. I always love the dance scenes in the Jane Austen movies too.

Oregon Regency Society said...

My goodness, you chose that video? ::eek:: Our musicians were quite unpracticed; that music is supposed to be fast-moving and quick. Teehee!

Regina Scott said...

Oregon Regency Society--no worries! You all looked wonderful. Made me wish I was there! I chose that video because it showed the standing out so clearly and the two lines. Many of the others I saw online (not yours) were in the round, which just didn't work for illustration. Feel free to point us all to better ones. We'll all be happy to sigh in envy. :-)

FitToSeeJane--how cool you know Baronda! She's such an awesome lady!

And Liviania, I had to learn square dancing in PE in the 8th grade in Washington State. They made the girls all line up inside the girl's locker room in alphabetical order by last name and the boys stood outside in alphbetical order. One by one they knocked, and we had to open the door. The boy would say "May I have this dance?" and you had to say "Yes" and accept his arm to lead you out onto the gym floor. I think in other circumstances I would have enjoyed myself, but this was just too gruesome, particularly when my alphbetical partner refused to allow me to touch any part of his body except his pinkie. Ah, the horrors of middle school!

I like Regency dance better. :-)

Evangeline said...

Even into the early 20th century dances were "square" dances--germans, lancers, Roger de Coverleys, cotillions, etc. Of course there were plenty of waltzes by this time, but it wasn't until ragtime and the tango burst on the scene (ca 1910) that dances broke with the convention of controlled, measured dance steps that took hours to complete! Great post!

Dara said...

That looks like so much fun! I don't know if I'd be coordinated enough for that though--I'm probably the clumsiest person ever :P