Friday, September 18, 2009

The Regency Dance

Before society was overtaken by electronic amusements--television, films, computer games, and the ubiquitous handheld gadgets, people were adept at making their own amusements. Card games, charades, word games, and puzzles abounded. For the musically inclined, playing instruments and singing were a popular way of passing the time. For those with more energy and high spirits, there was dancing.

From the formalities of the minuet and the quadrille through the occasional intricacies of the contre or country dance to the romping jigs and reels, people danced. At the height of the Revolution in France, dancing clubs were popular.
At dancing parties, and dancing schools, with dancing masters and dancing manuals, Regency society danced. And they talked about dancing:

"As dancing is the accomplishment most calculated to display a fine form, elegant taste, and graceful carriage to advantage; so towards it, our regards must be particularly turned; and we shall find that when Beauty, in all her power, is to be set forth, she cannot chuse a more effective exhibition.

"The characteristic of an English country-dance is that of gay simplicity. The steps should be few and easy; and the corresponding motion of the arms and body unaffected, modest, and graceful.

"But with regard to the lately-introduced German waltz, I cannot speak so favourably….There is something in the close approximation of persons, in the attitudes, and n the motion, which ill aggress with the delicacy of woman,…"

So says "Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces (1811) a reprint from R. L. Shep Publications ISBN 0-914046-24-1
Edward Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen's nephew, commented on dancing: "The stately minuet reigned supreme; and every regular ball commenced with it….Gloves immaculately clean wee considered requisite for its due performance, while gloves a little soiled were thought good enough for a country dance; and accordingly some prudent ladies provided themselves with two pairs for their several purposes."

Even poetry inclined to the dance in the book (available for download from Google Books), "The Ball, or A Glance at Almack's in 1829" by G. Yates:

"'Tis Dancing only heightens every charm,
And gives each feature double power to warm;
Like goddesses, it shows us how to move,
And adds a Juno to the Queen of Love."

Mr. Yates further offered:
"To dance as if a person had passed all his life in the study of it, a man of sense should be ashamed of: yet to be totally ignorant of it, and the grace and comportment which, by learning it, is acquired, shows a man of learning either an ill-natured stoic, or ill-bred pedant."

And Jane Austen, as always, may have the final word:

"...To be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in Love... "- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Do you enjoy dancing? Do you square dance? It is a direct relative of the 'contre-danse'. Have you tried Regency dancing? Some cities have Regency dance clubs--I wish mine did!

'Til next time,



penney said...

Very interesting! Thank you

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You are very welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed the info I found...

Patricia Barraclough said...

Was part of a competition square dance team in high school with 4-H. Really enjoyed it. I love to dance, but my husband doesn't really. Part of the problem is I try to lead. I think I just get impatient with him. We have contra dancing here about once a month in town, and many towns in the surrounding area have dances the other weekends. My husband insisted we go - he heard the group that was going to play perform on NPR. I loved it. My inner ear isn't what it used to be though and I nearly fell flat on my face the first time someone swung me around. My balance got a little better as the night wore on. It is great exercise and I loved it. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to talk my husband into going back. As I said, it is good exercise, his shirt was soaked after the first dance. They also offer scottish country dancing lessons in town. Think I'll have to try to get him to go to ballroom lessons first and work up to the other.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Oh, you are doing well, Patricia! I hope there is a Regency dance group in your area; you'll be ready for it soon.

I couldn't get my husband to go to ballroom lessons; I think I'll have to work on my own skills...