I'm here to talk about a subject I find quite delightful: English Country Dancing. Do you know what that is? Hopefully you do to some extent. If you've ever watched a Jane Austen movie (which I most certainly hope you have!) you should have at least a vague idea, because you've seen it. Anything in Pride and Prejudice (1995) represents it very well... Sense and Sensibility (1995) can work too, although I've never done dances quite like in that one. The first dance at the ball in Emma (2009) is a good example, although the following two (though I love them) are a little bit different from the ECD stereotype. (ECD is English Country Dancing abbreviated, and that's how I intend to refer to it the rest of the time.) And yes, even the Miramax Emma and the 2005 Pride and Prejudice have ECD in them (although everything in those ones seem rather modernized, the dancing probably not excluded). Even some other period dramas set in the first half of the 19th century will have it; Wives & Daughters, for instance.
|Pride and Prejudice (1995)|
If you're not too acquainted with Jane Austen movies, I'll try to explain a bit better. Perhaps you know of general folk dancing or square dancing, or some other 'country dance' besides English. Well, they're all kind of similar, though ECD is a bit more elegant usually. (Not to say there aren't some very fast dances--because there are.) Generally the couples stand across from each other down a line of 2+ couples, and you interact with everybody, and beyond hands there isn't much physical contact. Which makes it all wonderfully innocent, not awkward and just plain FUN. (But it is nice to take a hand-washing break because... yeah. Okay, sorry. That was rather unladylike of me.)
~My Experience~I used to watch these movies and think "Ohhh, I would loooove to be able to do that..." but it seemed to be a sort of pipe dream thing that would never actually happen. Until a few years ago I had a certain friend/acquaintance who was acquainted with a gentleman who could teach these dances, and had people over to his house so he could teach them.
This was in the winter; gradually the group increased and in the summers we used various backyards. Then a local church gym was kind enough to let the group meet in there, and so it has been ever since (besides in the summers, when we still use backyards). During that time I've been able to attend four different Victorian balls hosted by the 'Civil War Volunteers' in my area (and everybody dresses up... 'tis delightful). Those are in the spring, and every autumn the ECD group has a more Regency-themed ball. It all seems quite normal to me now, but I remember a time when, if somebody would have told me they got to do that, this would have been my reaction:
And then of course envy. Heehee.
Anyways. I'll stop rambling on aimlessly about that and get to the point. Except I'm not sure there exactly IS a point... but I do have some other things to say besides gabbing about myself.
~Interested?~If this sounds fun to you but you have no idea how it could come about, it might not be as impossible as you think to be able to do it. I'd suggest going to Google, typing "English Country Dancing" (or Dance or Dancers) along with a city near you, and then another one, and even just your state. You could try it with Victorian or Regency ball, too. It might come up with something. Generally I think if there are groups with websites (not just ones like I go to that are just sort of word-of-mouth) they charge a fee to go to their sessions, but it might be worth it a few times at least!
|Clothes and surroundings kind of make a difference... but it's still fun. (Note: I got this|
random picture from Google Images; I have no idea who these people are. Heh.)
To point you in the right direction...
This web page may be helpful in learning the steps.
RegencyDances.org is a delightful website that has a lot of old dances with instructions and little moving figures that gives you a sort of overview of the steps.
Old Dominion Dance is one I really enjoy--they have instructions that often include videos. I've done quite a few of the dances they have there... some of them are from period dramas, too. This was on P&P95 and Northanger Abbey (2007), this was on Emma (A&E, 1996) and probably something else, this was on Wives & Daughters and probably a few other period dramas too. (I adore the tune for that one.)
~Dances from Period Dramas~Another fun thing to look into, for me anyways, is what dances were in what period dramas--especially if you get to actually do them! The last time I went to ECD I got to do "The Comical Fellow" from P&P (the dance where Lizzy is sitting out and being a philosopher with Mary) and what joy it gave me! It was quite ridiculous, really, but it just made me happy.
Here are some web pages where you can find out more about those...
The P&P95Forever Club lists all the dances and tunes and links to what instructions are available; I know that there are also some CD recordings with the dance songs from the movie, and kits with CDs and book instructions.
Dances from the two 1996 Emmas
Various listings of English Country Dance in Film at Old Dominion Dance
|Emma (1996, A&E)|
P&P95, Emma (A&E) and Northanger Abbey (2007) (sometimes you can recognize a dance from one as being on one of the others) have ECD dances you generally run into in real life as they used several well-known ones.
~History of the English Country Dance~
This will be very short because research is not my forte (if, indeed, I have any). 'Twould seem it originated in Renaissance England, although I believe its high point of popularity was the late-ish 1700s and of course early 1800s. Similar dancing continued, of course, but other ones (such as the 'scandalous' waltz) came in and the country dance probably wasn't considered as fashionable anymore.
~ECD in the Jane Austen Books~I've talked about the movies, of course; but dancing is also mentioned quite casually in the books. Well, this is what it's talking about; and once you actually get to experience it, or at least learn about it, those parts suddenly become so much more clear. When it talks about the couples 'standing still', or 'working their way up the set'; when it talks about Isabella and Catherine in Northanger Abbey contriving to be next to each other (or at least in the same set, because staying next to each other would mess everything up, haha), etc. Also it will make you marvel at how Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth could keep up with the dance and at the same time have such an involved discussion! One would have to be very familiar with the dance.
Another thing to mark is that in the books, when a young lady was asked to dance it was for two dances (that are usually said to last 15-30 minutes altogether). (Hence Mrs. Bennet referring to them as "the two first, the two second," and so forth and so on.) Being asked for the first two dances before the ball even starts is quite an honor--unless, of course, the asker is Mr. Collins. (Ugh.)
~Jane Austen Quotes on Dancing~Just for fun, and because I am a quote maniac, I am compiling a list of some dance-themed quotes from JA.
“There were twenty Dances & I danced them all, & without any fatigue. . . . I fancy I could just as well dance for a week together as for half an hour.” ~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister, age 22
"That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours." ~Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey (while dancing with Catherine)
"Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley's heart were entertained." ~Pride and Prejudice
"It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind;—but when a beginning is made—when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt—it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more." ~Emma
(I often think of this quote when it feels an age since I last danced!)
"He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived," repeated Sir John. "I remember last Christmas, at a little hop at the Park, he danced from eight o'clock till four, without once sitting down."
"Did he indeed?" cried Marianne, with sparkling eyes, "and with elegance, with spirit?"
"Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to covert."
"That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue."
~Sense and Sensibility (speaking of Willoughby)
"Mary! Mary, let's have no more of that dull stuff; play something jolly, we want to dance!" ~Lydia, P&P95
Frank: I think if there is one criticism I would make about this wonderful place, it is that there's just simply not opportunity to dance! Hmm? Now, tell me that I'm wrong!
Emma: I do believe you have hit upon our single defect, Mr. Churchill. What do you propose?
Frank: A ball, Miss Woodhouse. What say you to a ball?
Emma: I say yes. Yes indeed! I'm so happy to have any opportunity to dance. I am fairly sure that that is one talent in which I am the equal of Jane Fairfax.
~Now It's Your Turn~Have you ever been able to do ECD? Talk about your experiences in comments! Do you know of any other useful or interesting links/websites? Do share! Have any questions? I'll answer them if I can. :)