“Other Way, Mr. Collins!”

It has occurred to me that if I were to write a Regency dance scene, I could draw on certain experiences I’ve had doing English country dance to flesh it out.

I don’t mean the basics — I mean the little things…

And as I’m not planning on writing a dance scene anytime soon, I thought I’d share the ideas…because ideas like company.

Here are a few things that I think a Regency woman might not care for in a partner, or indeed in any of the many people she will dance with during a country dance:

1) Unpleasant hands. Now, I know that gloves would change things a lot — but I still think that over the course of a long ball, a Regency dancer might still end up with hands that are so hot, cold, or damp that they’re not so pleasant to hold, even for a moment.

2) Men who mess up the steps. And of course everyone will mess up the steps sometime or other — but if a Regency lady has her foot stepped on (especially by a man) or is crashed into with force by someone (particularly a large man), I think it would still extremely unpleasant.

3) Men who mess up the steps, and then insist that she was wrong. This is, quite literally, adding insult to injury. And I suspect it happened quite a bit more in Regency times than now.

4) Men who cannot take hints. Or commands. Sometimes the woman knows what the man’s next move is, and he does not. And he knows that he does not. So if he has no idea where he should be going, why would he be so reluctant to advance toward the lady holding out her hand to him? Or to move where she is so politely pointing, waving, nudging, looking, or telling him? Could it be that he thinks that if he doesn’t know a thing, no one else can? Or is it just that no female can? Or is he just one of those single-minded men who are so busy trying to remember a thing, that they cannot notice anything else?

5) Other Way, Mister Collins! The ladies in the Firth/Ehle Pride and Prejudice say this, repeatedly. And yes, some men (and women) just can never learn a certain step. Even the fiftieth time. Even if they’ve just crashed into their partner forty-nine times. (It reminds me of the bee in Bee Movie: “Maybe it’ll work this time! Or this time! This time! This time!”) I think the emotion this particular behavior produces, however, (assuming there is no physical pain), is more likely to be astonishment than annoyance.

6) Couples (or singles) who leave a dance in the middle. From the middle. A country dance is a complex organism, and if a couple that is not at the bottom of the set gets bored and leaves, chaos inevitably ensues. It’s rather like pulling on a loose thread in your sweater — the entire thing quickly turns to mush. But some folks just don’t care. (I suspect they’re those More Important Than You people — you know, the ones who cut in front of you in line, who smoke where they’re not allowed, who talk on their phones during movies.)

Well, those are the things that occur to me. How about you? If you’ve done any English Country Dance (or other ballroom dance), do you have anything to add to the list?

And remember: next Tuesday, be sure to come by to discuss (or learn about) the 1980 BBC PRIDE AND PREJUDICE! (The one with David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie.)

Cara
Cara King, who can shaw-side or sharp-side or do a sheepskin hey

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to “Other Way, Mr. Collins!”

  1. Gemma says:

    I don’t have any personal experience of this kind of dance, but here are 6 rules from 1764 on good manners while country dancing. [From Country-dancing made plain and easy to every capacity.] The last rule seems particularly good for writers.

    First, That the top CU having the call, none ought to dance it down in a different way; and the callers have the liberty of dancing down a second time.

    Secondly, That no person, without some accident, or sufficient reason, shall sit down or leave the dance till it be quite finished.

    Thirdly, That none shall stand too close in conversation, except where they know they cannot obstruct the dancing.

    Fourthly, That any person, for sufficient reasons, being obliged to leave the dance, shall, upon their return, be permitted to stand in their former place.

    Fifthly, That none should offer to take place of another after the first dance is begun.

    Sixthly, That no gentlemen should dance in their boots, or without their gloves, nor pull the ladies rudely about, which is often complained of.

  2. I used to go English country dancing (it was a wonderful way of touching strange men, but never mind about that) and I was always so impressed with the grace, physical and otherwise of the other dancers: How kind they were at gently shoving a neophyte into the right place and making sure you always had a partner.

  3. First of all, I have a confession. Might as well get it out of the way before Cara blogs about it after the conference.

    ~I have not danced a country dance.
    ~I do not dance much.
    ~I didn’t dance at the last soiree.
    ~I’ll be the one stepping out of turn.
    ~My hands will be cold and clammy.
    ~I’m more likely to not just have two left feet, but labor under the misapprehension that they’re tree trunks.
    ~Don’t talk to me, as I’ll be the one counting my steps. Aloud.
    ~Yet, I will be dancing this year.
    ~You’re forewarned.

    So, who’s brave enough to teach me??

  4. LOL, Keira! We can count aloud together. πŸ™‚

    I always wish there was some kind of country dance group here I could join, and thus practice more and wear all my dresses! But where, oh where, could I find a boyfriend who would dress up in knee breeches and go with me??? That’s not too much to ask, is it? Is it???

    And I’m looking forward to next week’s P&P discussion. Haven’t seen this version in a long time, but I do have the DVD and will be watching this weekend!

  5. Elena Greene says:

    My husband and I have been taking English country dance lessons off and on for a year now. I feel very proud that we no longer are the people that cause the train wrecks. Once in a while we are even the ones extending the arm or pointing madly to help the lost. πŸ™‚

    Keira, I’m no expert yet but I’ll happily dance with you.

    Amanda, it’s nice to have a male partner but not required. At our lessons there are usually a few more women than men. Some volunteer to take the man’s role and they wear a “Man” sign around their necks.

    I don’t know if they do that for balls, though. My husband and I missed this year’s local event. We hope to get there next year. They are not too fussy about dress in this group (the focus is more on the dancing) but we’ll still try to put something together for Rich. Maybe Todd can give us some advice?

  6. Cara King says:

    Ooh, thanks for those 1764 rules, Gemma! — “nor pull the ladies rudely about, which is often complained of” — I can picture it now. πŸ™‚

    Janet, I confess that grace is something I lack. But I try to make up for it by doing the right steps at the right time, even if I do clomp about rather.

    Keira, I certainly don’t mean to make anyone worry they’ll be judged if they dance! Because none of us are perfect, and we all start as beginners. I did fret that this post would make people feel like someone would be judging them, and I almost didn’t write it for that reason…but it seems to me that folks in the Regency, who’d been taught country dance for years (and grown up watching it), would be more demanding than folks are nowadays — and I’ve always found that modern dancers are very warm and welcoming and understanding of newcomers!

    Though, of course, I still think the “screw up the steps and then tell everyone else they were wrong” thing is annoying. And so if I ever do tell someone they’re wrong and later realize that I was the one in error, I always try to find them and apologize! (And, yes, it has happened.)

    Okay, sorry, rambling now.

    Cara

  7. Cara King says:

    And Keira, I’m not sure if I’ll be dancing this year (I may be gambling like a madwoman all night) — but if I do dance, I’d be delighted to partner you!

    And two left feet is no problem. Sometimes I have three, and then I trip myself. πŸ™‚

    And Amanda, I’m delighted you’re rewatching that P&P! I’m going to as well — it’s been a *long* time since I saw it… And I do think you deserve a hundred boyfriend in breeches, half of them looking like Orlando, and half like James McAvoy…

    Elena, I do think the system your group uses of having signs that say “man” to hang on women-dancing-as-men must be really helpful! More than once I’ve stared in panic at a woman and said “are you a man?”

    Maybe Todd can give us some advice?

    So far, we’ve always just attempted a “looks a little bit period” costume for Todd… Neckcloth made out of a folded strip of sheet, that sort of thing. πŸ™‚

    Cara

  8. Ammanda wrote, “But where, oh where, could I find a boyfriend who would dress up in knee breeches and go with me??? That’s not too much to ask, is it? Is it???”

    Might be easier to hope for time travel.

  9. Aww, Elena and Cara, thank you for your bravery in volunteering. And Cara, twice the bravery for teaching me cards, too. πŸ™‚

    Elena wrote, “they wear a ‘Man’ sign around their necks.”

    πŸ™‚ It’s like the sign some kids would tape to another kid’s back that said “kick me.”

    Cara, I’m not worried. (But perhaps you should be?! :)) I was truthful though teasing with my list. My intention wasn’t to make you doubt your words. Rest easy.

  10. Diane Gaston says:

    gemma, I love this rule:
    Sixthly, That no gentlemen should dance in their boots, or without their gloves, nor pull the ladies rudely about, which is often complained of.

    Elena, make sure Rich does not wear boots! For appropriate dress for Rich, talk to Sir Reginald aka Regina Scott – always dressed as a perfect gentleman.
    Or you could try Bertie the Beau.

    Keira, do not fear. You could not possibly be worse than Amanda and me. We’ve danced as partners more than once and usually wear befuddled expressions on our faces.

    Janet, why did you like touching strange men? Weren’t the normal men fun to touch?

    Cara, I don’t want to hear a word about not being graceful. I remember you and Todd demonstrating a Regency era waltz at a Beau Monde soiree several years ago. You were terrific! (and Todd didn’t even pull you rudely about)

  11. “And I do think you deserve a hundred boyfriend in breeches, half of them looking like Orlando, and half like James McAvoy.”

    That would be just about right… πŸ™‚

  12. janegeorge says:

    My daughter and I will both be dancing at the Beau Monde soiree. This will be her first time and my third, and I shall try very hard to remember the steps. I’m not worried about my daughter,(she’s well on the road to being a professional ballerina) unless a heavy man careens into her, then she’ll be a greasy spot on the floor.

    Janet, you tease. Now you must tell the tale. πŸ™‚

  13. Rob W. says:

    Ah, those men – messing it up for the women-folk. The women could never be out of step, right, Cara? πŸ˜‰

    Actually, given that dance was more important to society life then than now, I would imagine both men and women make it an exceptional point to assure that they knew the dance steps fully. Mr. Collins could be seen as a social buffoon, and not as just a humorous side note.

    Rob, who has no rhythm and is glad that dance has lost its importance in society, as otherwise he’d be as lonely as a scarecrow.

  14. Cara King says:

    Ah, those men – messing it up for the women-folk. The women could never be out of step, right, Cara? πŸ˜‰

    Oh, very well, Rob, I suppose they could be. Though I think a woman would cause less damage by foot-stepping-on and body-crashing-into. πŸ™‚

    Allrighty, here’s the gentleman’s list, in honor of Rob:

    A Regency gentleman might get annoyed at:

    1) A lady who used far too much scent.

    2) A lady who spent her time flirting with the officer in the next set, instead of dancing with him.

    3) A lady who, whenever she missed a step, giggled and threw her hands up repeatedly, thereby missing the next five steps as well.

    Okay, sorry, dinner’s ready, so I’ll be back!

    Cara

  15. Todd says:

    Amanda wrote:

    But where, oh where, could I find a boyfriend who would dress up in knee breeches and go with me??? That’s not too much to ask, is it? Is it???

    It certainly is not! Though asking for fifty Orlando Blooms and fifty James MacAvoys might be considered a little greedy.

    Elena wrote:

    They are not too fussy about dress in this group (the focus is more on the dancing) but we’ll still try to put something together for Rich. Maybe Todd can give us some advice?

    As Cara said, I don’t really have a proper costume. What I have generally worn is altered from a modern tailcoat and trousers (acquired at a thrift store), with a woman’s flowered vest as a waistcoat, white stockings, a not-very-accurate neckcloth, and dance shoes–it looks OK from a distance, but the details are all wrong. (On the other hand, it may not be much more inaccurate than what has often appeared in cover art! πŸ™‚

    It’s truly beyond my skill to try to make an accurate costume–especially the coat!–so one of these days I’ll have to break down and buy one. We’ve occasionally browsed costume sales (since Hollywood isn’t too far away), but haven’t found anything suitable to the Regency so far.

    I also second Diane’s remark about the oh-so-dashing Sir Reginald–I always admired that gentleman’s turn-out!

    And Rob–hear, hear!

    Todd-who-would-gladly-dance-with-as-many-of-you-as-time-would-allow-if-he-were-there

  16. Elena Greene says:

    Thanks for all the details, Todd. We’ve got the same goal: something that looks nice with minimal sewing and expense. Our local group isn’t fussy about costumes. In the pictures I’ve seen of previous balls, it seems that about half the people wear period costume. I’m just thrilled my husband wants to try it! πŸ™‚

Comments are closed.