Shall We Dance? Pt 1 of 4

Do any of you participate in historical dancing? It is tons of fun. Regency dances fall into just a few categories: English Country Dances, Reels, Cotillions, Waltzes, and Quadrilles. Since I recently pulled together some dance information to prep people for an online ball, I thought I would share it here as well –especially since I have zero time right now! 🙂

1817 Clifton Assembly Room, by Rolinda Sharples (Brit Museum)

Today I’ll cover two staples of the early Regency ballrooms, English Country Dancing and Reels. In Part 2 I’ll do Cotillions (an even earlier dance form) and Quadrilles (the “latest craze” that came in and stayed). Since I have a lot to say about the Waltz (or Valse), that one will get a post all to itself as Part 3, and Part 4 will cover “How They Learned” and ways to remember what they learned!! Please check back to learn when we will schedule these. I promise the parts will run more often than once a month.

English Country dances have been around since the 1600’s, but by the Regency, the most popular form was a “longways set” –meaning done in a long line of couples, whereas early forms were often circles, or “closed” sets of two-to-four couples. The longways dances were also usually “progressive”, which meant the couples moved up or down the line to dance with new people after each repeat of the figures. Some dances involved only a two-couple pattern, but some involved three! At times there might be a couple (or two) at one end of the line or the other, waiting to re-enter the dance. In modern times, we now start all the “number ones” in the line at the same time, but in the Regency, it was usual to begin with only the first “first couple”, a special honor for them, and everyone else had to wait until the action and repeats of the dance reached them.

Here is a video of “The Leamington Dance” (1811) being danced slowly with a caller by modern EC dancers. If this is all new to you, it should give you a good sense of how a simple country dance works.

Here are links to a couple of nice videos of Regency English Country Dancing at costumed events: (Wakefield Hunt 1779 and The Duke of Kent’s Waltz 1801, fairly slow so you can see what’s going on); (Juliana 1810, Wilson)

Reels are a very lively form of dance where the participants weave in and out between each other. Popular in Scotland, they also were common in English Regency ballrooms, and could involve various numbers of dancers. (A 6-hand reel would involve three couples.) There is overlap between reels and ECD, since often country dances will include a section (called a “hay”) where the figures are essentially a reel, and sometimes an ECD will have “Reel” in the name (as they also sometimes had “Waltz”) just to confuse matters. 🙂

This video gives an idea of how a reel works, so you can spot one when you see one! BTW, that website is a great source of country dance information, if you want to know more. Much of it applies to both English and Scottish, although there are some differences. I will give some more good resources at the end of this blog series.

Do you have favorite dance scenes you loved in books or movies? What made them romantic and what did you like most about them?

About Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood is the author of seven Regencies that were originally published by Signet/Penguin. After taking ten years off for family matters, she has wobbled between contemporary romantic suspense and more Regency stories, wondering what century she's really in and trying to work the rust off her writing skills. Her backlist is gradually coming out in ebook format, and some are now available in new print editions as well. She is working on the start of a Regency-set series and other new projects. Stay tuned!
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