Dance for your mammy

quadrille-300x178A country assembly brings a number of my characters into close proximity, so I’ve been reading up on late Georgian dance moves.

No waltz, of course.By 1807, the waltz had spread out from Germany and was fashionable in Vienna. It didn’t arrive in England until after the start of the Regency proper – the exact date is a little vague, but they were dancing it by 1815 (although as late as 1825, strict moralists frowned at the close position required).

English Historical Fiction Authors, in a post called ‘A Private Ball’ (by Maria Grace) quotes a manual of the day:

“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.” –The Mirror of Graces, 1811 

She goes on to say:

…most of the ball dances were lively and bouncy. Country dances, the scotch reel, cotillion, quadrille made up most of the dancing.

Most dances seem to have been danced in squares or in long lines of couples.  As with ballroom dancing today, dancers suited their footwork to their level of skill (if they were wise), but the five positions I learned long ago in ballet classes will come in handy if I ever find myself transported to a regency ballroom.

388px-five_positions_of_dancing_wilson_1811Regency Dances Org has a list of the basic steps required, and how to do them. They also have a long list of dances, which can be sorted by year of publication. Click on any dance to see an animation showing the figures of the dance.  And, under Regency Style, they say:

In his 1815 Essay on Deportment Wilson [Thomas Wilson, the Dance Master at the King’s Theatre Opera House] offers advice to dancers. “The following errors are particularly to be avoided:

  • Making awkward bows
  • Shuffling and rattling about the feet
  • Looking at the feet
  • Bending [sharply] the arm at the elbow, in giving the hand in Dancing
  • Holding the hands of any person too fast
  • Bending down the hands of your partner
  • Bouncing the hands up and down
  • Bending the body forward.”

The dancer should move with a relaxed upright carriage, with the head erect but level. Wilson goes on to say: “To Dance gracefully, every attitude, every movement, must seem rather the effect of accident than design; nothing should seem studied, for whatever seems studied, seems laboured, and every such appearance is absolutely incompatible with any endeavour at a display of graceful ease”.

He also advocates “a graceful elevation of the head”, “an easy sway of the whole frame” and “hands gently raised when presented to join your partners”. “In all movements of the feet, the toes pointed downwards, and in general turned (as much as with ease to the performer they can be) outwards”.

The excellent Regency Dance Org resource is designed for modern balls in the Regency form, but I used it to understand where my characters were when they were dancing at my country assembly. The site doesn’t have the Sir Roger de Coverley or Le Boulanger – or, for that matter, the minuet. The minuet was falling out of use by 1807, but the others were in use right through to the middle of the century.

Here’s the Sir Roger.

 

And here’s the minuet.

 

In Bath, the minuet was danced by single couples from six until eight, followed by country dances, according to austenonly.com. But in other provincial towns it was seldom danced.

The link above is to the second of a brilliant four-part series on Georgian assemblies, as is the next quote.

Interestingly the summer was the most important time for assemblies in the provincial towns.  They were larger and more prestigious, and often coincided with important local events such as  fairs,  the assizes or races week in the towns. The assizes was the time in the year when the Circuit judges appeared in town to hear locally important civil and criminal trials and they were a time of much entertaining and ceremony. The same held with any local horse racing meeting( without the pomp of the judges’ processions etc).

Capering & Kickery have a great post on judging authenticity – Real Regency Dancers don’t turn single.

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