Entertainments on WIP Wednesday

_DDI5334At the weekend, I attended a workshop on Regency dance at the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. And on the way home, I read Mary Balogh’s Only Beloved, which is partly set at a house party, where people find ways to entertain one another and themselves.

No tv, no internet, no radio. If you wanted music, you sang or played an instrument. The local sporting events were keenly followed. And gathering together often meant long journeys, so once people arrived, they made the most of it. The tutor at the dance class suggested that balls finished in the early hours of the morning, because people didn’t want to go home until dawn lit the sky and made travelling easier, and I’ve read that many country assemblies were scheduled for the two or three days around a full moon.

For today’s work-in-progress Wednesday, I have an excerpt from A Raging Madness. Alex and his family are taking Ella out in London. But any type of leisure activity anywhere in time or place is welcome. I’ll show you mine and you show me yours.

The event was a ball at Haverford House, a monstrous palace of a place and the home of the Duke of Haverford and his duchess. The Duchess of Haverford was an old friend of Lord Henry’s and welcomed Ella warmly.

“Henry has told me what you did for Alex, Lady Melville, and,” she gave her hand to Alex who bowed over it with courtly grace, “I can see for myself how much improved you are, you rogue. Lady Melville, you have my gratitude and my support.”

Her Grace was supported in the receiving line by the notorious Marquis of Aldridge, who greeted Alex with a nod, Susan with a peck on the cheek, and Ella with an elegant bow.

“I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Lady Melville,” he said, and Alex stiffened beside her, but the man’s flirting did not bother Ella. It was an automaton’s reflex, with no predator’s purpose behind it. Lord Aldridge was not interested in her.

Ella’s mourning precluded dancing, but she enjoyed watching the colourful couples turning and swooping in the patterns of the dance.

“Dance if you wish, Alex,” she told her escort when Susan had been swept onto the floor by a naval captain she knew. But Alex demurred. “I am claiming privilege of injury, Ella, and will beg you to come sit by me and keep me entertained while I rest.”

He did not look strained, or in pain. “Is your leg troubling you?” she asked, but he did not answer directly.

“Last time I danced, I could not walk at all. Did I tell you? I took to the floor in an invalid’s chair, with Jonno to provide the push.” He grinned at the memory. “Great fun, it was, with my partner standing on the platform of the chair to be twirled. It did not end well, sadly. A villain sabotaged the chair while I was at supper, and it collapsed as I threaded the line.”

He chose an alcove where they could continue to watch the dancers, and he told her more about his adventures in the resurrected chair.

“You may meet the maker when you come to Longford for Christmas. She is a frequent guest at the Court, I understand.”

Ella was intrigued. A maker of invalids’ chairs who was not only a welcome visitor to an earl and his countess but also a woman?


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.