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Shall we dance?

Or at least smile a lot and try not to tread on our partners while trying to remember What Comes Next?

I’ve danced English country dances just twice in the past, during the Beau Monde’s evening events at RWA conferences. It’s been fun but not as easy as it looks in some of the Jane Austen films. The figures may seem fairly simple when you’re just watching but when you’re in the thick of the action it’s easy to get confused. Add a dose of jet lag and a glass or two of wine and you have the makings of a proper train wreck. I’ve been in (and probably caused) a few. 🙂

Anyway, I’ve always envied people who have the opportunity to take proper English country dance lessons and participate in events like the Jane Austen ball Cara blogged about. So did I feel stupid when I finally learned about Binghamton Community Dance’s English Country Dance classes via the UU church bulletin board!

Despite our insane schedule my husband and I have started the current set of classes. I’m still not the swiftest person there but at least the jet lag and wine aren’t factors! Most of the other people have been at it for a while, but they’ve been remarkably welcoming to us newcomers. The callers are patient and–here’s an amazing treat!–they have live music. A group called Fine Companions provide the music which includes cello, violin, piano and flute for what feels like a truly authentic and delightful experience.

So far, I’ve made a few mistakes but with so many more experienced dancers around, I haven’t managed to cause a train wreck. Yet. :)And it’s been a blast. A psychic at a conference once told me that historical romance authors are reliving past lives. If so, I probably truly enjoyed dancing during the Regency even if, like now, I was more vigorous than graceful.

I do wonder what some of those balls were really like. People probably did dance the same dances for years so perhaps they danced as smoothly as those pictured in the film adaptation of Emma (at the top). On the other hand, I’ll bet they did imbibe quite a bit of wine or punch during those balls. Maybe some of the performances were a bit more ragged, like the Meriton assembly in the recent P&P.

What do you think? What has been your experience of English Country dance?

Elena
www.elenagreene.com

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Cara King
15 years ago

Glad you’re having fun, Elena!

BTW, I believe I’ve actually heard of Fine Companions — which means you not only have live music, but semi-famous live music! 🙂

As for me — when I dance, my strength is remembering the order of steps very well. My weakness is grace — I have very little.

I’m also the laziest dancer you’ll ever see, but that’s another story… 🙂

So — what dances have you done?

Cara

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
15 years ago

I actually had the opportunity to take a Regency Country dance class by the woman who choreographed the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P when I was studying acting in London. I love it, if I weren’t involved in ballroom right now, I would take classes here in New York.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

I grew up doing this kind of dance (reenactor parents, don’t’cha know). The best is when you have a few people with no idea what’s going on who get hopelessly lost and tangled in the steps. LOL!

Cara King
15 years ago

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon wrote: I actually had the opportunity to take a Regency Country dance class by the woman who choreographed the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P when I was studying acting in London.

Ooh, that’s so cool! I bet she had all sorts of interesting things to say. (If you remember any of them, I’d love to hear them!)

Cara

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

None so far, Elena. I was looking forward to the Beau Monde Soiree, and then when I saw how complicated it all was, I chickened out. Hopefully, next year I’ll have more courage. What with Regina Scot and AM partnering, it’ll be OK.

Megan Frampton
15 years ago

I don’t have any experience with country dances, but I really admire you guys for taking the lessons. That seems like a great couples activity.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

Cara, it’s cool that you’ve heard of Fine Companions. I don’t know how widely they play. I know they have done events in Syracuse. In any case, they’re fantastic. And it’s great for learning, because they can start and stop easily when it’s necessary to break for explanations and adjust the tempo if it’s too fast for beginners–things that are difficult or impossible with recorded music!

As to which dances we’ve done, I’m so ashamed but I can’t remember! I’ve been too busy trying to remember what it means to set and cast off and be improper (and no, that doesn’t mean sneaking off into the gardens to misbehave).

I may ask for a list of what we’ve learned to jog my memory.

Megan, it is a fun couples activity. This group is mostly couples. Last time there were There are occasionally a few more women than men. If they have to take on a male role they hang a “Man” sign around their necks. Funny but helpful. 🙂

Caro
15 years ago

I adore English Country Dance — haven’t had the chance to do it in a few years, but both the husband and I have been involved in one of the local dance groups for a number of years, both together and seperately. (If you remember teacher we had at the even in LA, he and I are part of the same group.) Our first dance at our wedding was the Congress of Vienna Waltz.

It’s a very pleasurable pastime, and I’ve done my share of dancing the male role when not enough gentlemen are present. This is especially true at science fiction conventions out here, where Regency Dancing has become something of a standard evening program item. Sadly, I don’t have a photograph of me dancing “A Trip to Paris” in Corellian rig, complete with a blaster on my hip and a samurai as my partner.

Some pleasures transcend both period and location. 🙂

Deb Marlowe
15 years ago

One of my favorite country dancing memories was from a trip to England a few years ago–and Riskies Amanda and Diane were there too!

We dressed in Regency costume and danced with the Jane Austen Dancers at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. It was so much fun! And I have some great pictures!

Georgie Lee
15 years ago

I can’t wait to get some experience with country dance. I am determined to go to one of the dances held here in LA. I even bought a dress with an empire waist that I can modify to look more period. I think being able to experience country dance in London would be fabulous. I’m jealous Elizabeth.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I’ve just come back from the third class. I tried hard to remember the dances. One was The Collier’s Daughter or The Duke of Rutland’s Delight (I think), then we did something with a French name, then Old Hob(?) and Hole in the Wall. Sigh, I know I’ve forgotten some already!

Cara, the Fine Companions said they’d been at a big dance camp in Mendocino. Maybe that is the connection?

Caro wrote: Sadly, I don’t have a photograph of me dancing “A Trip to Paris” in Corellian rig, complete with a blaster on my hip and a samurai as my partner.

I just love the mental image that conjures up!

doglady
15 years ago

I am absolutely GREEN with envy!! I have never taken an English Country Dance class and I would love to do so. Around here the only dance classes are Country Line Dancing! UGH! Deb, I just love that you got to dance in the Assembly Rooms in Bath. I would love to see those pictures! We had to dance in some of the operas I was in, but most of those were the waltz (I took classes in Austria) and some basic German or Italian folk type dances.

Cara King
15 years ago

The best is when you have a few people with no idea what’s going on who get hopelessly lost and tangled in the steps. LOL!

Glad someone enjoys that part, Kalen! 🙂

Hopefully, next year I’ll have more courage.

Yes, Keira, you should definitely do it next year! If you’re nervous, just snag yourself a semi-experienced partner, and you’ll be fine. And even if you crash and burn, Kalen will have fun! 🙂

I’ve been too busy trying to remember what it means to set and cast off and be improper (and no, that doesn’t mean sneaking off into the gardens to misbehave).

It doesn’t? Well, that explains why my partners keep giving me shocked looks! 🙂

complete with a blaster on my hip and a samurai as my partner.

What a sight, Caro! Wish I’d seen it. 🙂

I am determined to go to one of the dances held here in LA.

There’s always the Jane Austen Ball, Georgie…hint hint…

Elena, I’ve definitely done Hole in the Wall. It’s one of those nice, easy dances that are great to start out with. Not sure if I’ve done any of the others you list, though!

BTW, I suspect Fine Companions have released CDs of their performances, and I’ve seen these CDs and/or danced to them. (And the Mendocino connection would make sense… Probably people I dance with were there…)

Cara

Todd
15 years ago

Elena,

I think we’ve done The Duke of Rutland’s Delight–at least, the name rings a vague bell. Not sure, though. Hole in the Wall was the first dance we learned, the first class we took. (Which was TEN YEARS ago now! How is that possible??)

We go a couple of times a month (well, barring conflicts) to a local group that meets in Monrovia, not too far from where we live. There are other groups spotted about the LA area, too. And we found a group in Pittsburgh when we lived there. It seems like there are English Country Dance groups lurking about in many cities. 🙂

Deb Marlowe wrote:

We dressed in Regency costume and danced with the Jane Austen Dancers at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. It was so much fun! And I have some great pictures!

I am sooooooooo envious!! Those rooms are so beautiful, and it would be amazing to experience them being used for their intended purpose.

Next you’ll be telling me that you visited Waterloo and fought in a pitched and bloody battle…

Todd-who-was-once-locked-in-solitary-confinement-during-a-tour-of-Alcatraz

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

“We dressed in Regency costume and danced with the Jane Austen Dancers at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. It was so much fun! And I have some great pictures!”

I definitely remember this, Deb! It’s one of my very favorite memories. 🙂 The rooms were dimly lit, everyone wore lovely gowns–it felt really magical. The only other times I’ve been able to do country dances was at Beau Monde soirees. We don’t alas have a group here, but I would love to be able to practice and get better. 🙂

Todd, I think you are onto something with the Waterloo idea! There needs to be a tour… (LOL)

Georgie Lee
15 years ago

Cara, I have my sights on the Jane Austen ball 🙂

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

I love English country dancing although I haven’t done any for a while. My first experience was at school in England, many many years ago; and then, at a time when I really needed it (skirting perilously close to TMI) I got to touch strange men and gaze into their eyes!

It’s all very flirty stuff; lots of hand and eye contact and flitting about with other partners.
One thing I didn’t realize is that with a large number of couples the sets could last a long, long time–because the “end” of the dance is when everyone returns to their original position.

Elena, I found that one of the trickiest things about the dances is that by the time you’ve mastered the steps as Couple 1 you have to start trying to remember what Couple 2 should be doing!

Lois
15 years ago

Forget English COuntry Dances, I never danced period. LOL Well, there was that dinner the 7th grade hosts for the 8th grade in that school I went to, but that’s it. 🙂 But it sounds incredible! 🙂

Lois

Elena Greene
15 years ago

Elena, I found that one of the trickiest things about the dances is that by the time you’ve mastered the steps as Couple 1 you have to start trying to remember what Couple 2 should be doing!

Exactly. And then there are some dances that I think (Cara and Todd could correct me) they called triple minors with three couples in the figure. We did one last night where Couple 1 stays Couple 1 all the way down but the other two couples alternate roles. Talk about confusing… 🙂

Cara King
15 years ago

And then there are some dances that I think (Cara and Todd could correct me) they called triple minors with three couples in the figure. We did one last night where Couple 1 stays Couple 1 all the way down but the other two couples alternate roles. Talk about confusing… 🙂

Very true, Elena. And you’re right about the name! Triple minor. As opposed to duple minor, the more common kind. (Though according to Gail Eastwood, who is very knowledgeable on the subject, triple minor dances were much preferred during the Regency…)

And, yes – in triple minor, the ones stay ones all the way down, but the twos and threes both move up the set, and keep switching back and forth between being twos and being threes…

Cara

Pam Rosenthal
15 years ago

I’ve tried it a few times at the beaumonde soiree (Regency writers at the Romance Writers of America National Conference). I’m bad at left and right and muscle memory, so I haven’t gotten very far, but I’ve enjoyed it. Very flirty stuff, as Janet says.

So I’ve also got a country dance scene in my current w.i.p.

Approach and retreat, turn and return, [as one of my characters muses] as though the mystery of human desire could be put in order and set to music.

Todd
15 years ago

Cara wrote:

And, yes – in triple minor, the ones stay ones all the way down, but the twos and threes both move up the set, and keep switching back and forth between being twos and being threes…

Actually, just last Friday we did a dance which was both triple minor and a triple progression: that is, couple 1 passes three other couples in the course of one repetion. It was a little weird, but it really moves along, and nobody ends up standing out at the top or bottom of the set. 🙂

Todd-who-wants-to-dance-a-quadruple-minor-with-octuple-progression

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