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I know some people don’t see the connection when chick lit is compared to Jane Austen, but I can’t help seeing many parallels between her world and ours. Maybe one of the reasons her works are classics?

A few days ago, I watched a show involving the new concept of speed-dating. At least, I think it’s a fairly new thing, I’ve been out of the dating scene (is it still called a “scene”?) for over 17 years. Yikes! Anyway, for anyone else who is terminally behind the times (when I first got spam about Paris Hilton I thought there must have been a scandal at a Parisian hotel), speed dating apparently involves couples seated at rows of tables who get to talk for something like 8-10 minutes before moving on to another partner. By the end of the evening, anyone who enjoyed their brief time together can arrange for a longer date.

Is this a hip and clever new way of weeding out people one would hate to be stuck with for a full-length date? Perhaps. But is it so different from Regency balls and assemblies, ranging from the exclusive events at Almack’s to the public assemblies held at inns and such in towns and larger villages all over England?

Think about it. Singles at a Regency ball were expected to have a range of partners; no more than a couple of dances with just one. And given all the action and intricate movements, were they left with much more than 8-10 minutes to converse?

A fairly efficient way for a busy aristocrat (one of those who actually minds his estate and his duties to Parliament) to interview potential brides.

But I’m also sure it was a good way to identify the partners a lady would rather NOT take a carriage ride with the next day. The aging roué with sawdust padding out his calves (Regency equivalent of a lounge lizard). The lisping, mincing dandy. The bored rake who despises country dances? (Which I happen to think are good fun.) The bluff country squire with long stories of his hunting dogs, who steps on your delicately embroidered hem with his BOOTS since he couldn’t be bothered to change into regular shoes for a ball. Oops! I think that last one has appeared on more than one Regency cover, impersonating a Hero. I’d better stop while I’m ahead…


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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?


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