Friday, February 6, 2009

Dancing: The Sport of Gentlemen?

We’ve focused on how exciting a ball must have been for the young ladies, but being able to show a nice leg was also an expectation for the young gentlemen. Much of the information we have today about nineteenth century dancing actually comes from a seventeenth-century fellow named John Playford. Here’s how he starts his The Dancing Master:

“The Art of Dancing called by the Ancient Greeks Orchestice, and Orchestis, is a commendable and rare Quality fit for young Gentlemen, if opportunely and civilly used. And Plato, that Famous Philosopher thought it meet, that young Ingenious Children be taught to Dance. It is a Quality that has been formerly honored in the Courts of Princes, when performed by the most Noble Heroes of the Times! … This Art has been anciently handled by Athenæus, Julius Pollux, Cælius Rhodiginus, and others, and much commend it to be Excellent for Recreation, after more serious Studies, making the body active and strong, graceful in deportment, and a quality very much beseeming a Gentleman.”

As the lady’s partner, the gentleman was expected to help the lady through the paces and make her comfortable. He’d offer his hand palm up, cradling hers in strength. Even the names of the dances evoke manly thoughts: Old Man be Full of Bones, Merry Merry Milk Maids, Once I Loved a Maiden Faire, Paul’s Wharf, Row Well Ye Mariners, and so on.

A dance that is a favorite now among English country dancers and contra dancers is Hole in the Wall, which dates from 1695. So, young ladies and gentlemen, study the steps and you might be able to dance it as ably as those from the 1996 television version of Emma. The couple closest to the music is the first couple (or ones), and the couple farthest from the music is the second couple (or twos).

First four measures: First couple casts off around second, leads up the middle back to place
5-8: Second couple casts up around ones, leads down the middle to place
9-10: First man and second woman change places
11-12: Second man and first woman change places
13-14: All hands halfway round
15-16: Ones case down while twos lead up the center to progress.
Repeat, with the twos moving up the line and the ones moving up. When you reach the end, you get to stand out for one cycle and flirt! Then you return to the dance as the other couple.

Still not ready to join the set? No worries! Next week Marissa and I will have more info on dancing. Then the week of the 16th, we’ll have special guest posts from the Oregon Regency Society on English Country Dancing. Don’t miss them!


Marissa Doyle said...

Oh my goodness, I used to dance "Hole in the Wall" at SCA events...splendid flirting dance. Thank you for posting that clip!

Lynnae said...

Wonderful! Thank you so much for posting the steps too!

Regina Scott said...

You're welcome! It is a fun dance and very popular, whether at Society for Creative Anachronism events or science fiction conventions (which is where I first learned it).

Anonymous said...

Another informative post. I especially like the image of the 5 positions of dance. In Colonial Williamsburg last spring, I learned about gentlemen's calves showing to their advantage and putting their "best foot forward." Dancing looked like fun but my feet were too blistered to even stand!

MARIKO said...

Thanks for the post and the clip. I saw the mini-serie "Emma", and is excellent

Addie said...

I loved the clip! At first the directions were a bit confusing, but after watching the video, they made perfect sense. Thank you!

Christina Farley said...

Great clip. I'll have to get my husband to try this with me. He hates dancing but I got him to learn to swing dance with me, so this might be a little easier.