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On Saturday, I went to the annual JANE AUSTEN EVENING, which is sponsored by the Lively Arts History Association. (More info about them at

First was a lovely tea, followed by a performance by Herr Beethoven. Then supper, and then several hours of dancing to live period music. The dances were mostly country dances, ranging from easy (such as Child Grove) through intermediate and on to advanced (anything with a hey, apparently!) I was delighted to be able to dance several of the advanced dances this year. There were hundreds of people there, most in some sort of costume, and the whole thing was quite splendid.

Some, like me, were in simple handmade empire gowns…nothing fancy, but at least the right feeling. (That’s me, grinning away! And please keep in mind that empire gowns add thirty pounds, easily!) 🙂 Some, like my husband, were in fake-it-and-make-it-look-vaguely-period costume. But many were in the most detailed, intricate, amazing costumes ever. (Yes, I mean real corsets and everything!) 🙂

This is the third Jane Austen Evening I’ve attended, and each has been better than the last. I danced until my feet could take no more. And I danced three maggots — Dick’s Maggot, Jack’s Maggot, and Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot (easily the most famous, having featured in the BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice.)

These photos are courtesy of my delightful friend Jean — she’s the one on the right in the final photo, in the red and gold gown. Jean and her handsome husband Jack are graceful and energetic dancers (beware Jack’s energy when he takes his Trip to Paris!) who have been dancing for a long time.

There don’t seem to be any English country dancing groups very near where I live (I’m iffy about driving twenty or thirty miles to one) but I can always hope! I danced with local groups when I lived in Santa Barbara and in Pittsburgh, and it’s great exercise as well as educational social fun. (That’s pretty much everything one could ever want rolled into one, if you add a little chocolate.)

All in all, I had a wonderful time (could you guess?) at the Jane Austen Evening, and can hardly wait until next year!

Cara King,
MY LADY GAMESTER — from Signet Regency, on sale now!!!!

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to watching a film I’ve meant to see for ages, Visconti’s Il Gatopardo (The Leopard). It’s an epic from 1963, with Burt Lancaster (dubbed in Italian!) as the patriarch of a great, aristocratic Sicilian family on the cusp of massive changes in the mid-19th century. It was gorgeous, and I couldn’t believe I waited so long to see it!

The last scene was my favorite, a 45-minute ballroom set-piece full of Verdi and swirling gowns, which manages to look fabulously authentic, draw the viewer deep into that world, and still be a meditation on mortality and change, youth and age. It’s so full of emotions that simmer just beneath the sparkling surface. Writing historical romance means writing lots of ballroom scenes, of course, and they’re some of my favorites to work on. So much can happen in a dance, so much that has to be hidden or that bursts out suddenly with vast consequences. It can mean so much in a story. And this scene in The Leopard was very inspiring.

It also made me think of other dance scenes I love in movies, especially with the holiday parties looming! I did a little informal polling on Facebook and Twitter, asking people’s favorite dance scenes. I heard about Rogers and Astaire (I especially love the “dancing in the gazebo while it rains” scene!), Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, Dirty Dancing (also a guilty pleasure of mine, I confess), and lots of Pride and Prejudice. It seems like every Austen adaptation has a dance scene (or two or three), including the most recent Emma, where Emma leaped around and shrieked like she was at a rugby match!

I’m partial to the Netherfield ball in the 2005 P&P, where the room slowly vanishes around Elizabeth and Darcy as they dance and stare smolderingly. I like The Age of Innocence, where the camera rises up from Newland and May to show the swirling characters on the polished floor while Strauss plays. The coronation ball in Young Victoria (I seriously covet her gown), the volta in Shakespeare in Love, the tango in The Mask of Zorro, Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the empty tennis court in Sabrina, the meet-cute at the Bath assembly rooms in Northanger Abbey. The cell-block tango in Chicago. And who could forget “Other way, Mr. Collins!”??

Now that I think about it, there are lots of dance scenes I love. What are your favorite movie dance scenes? Do you like reading/writing ballroom scenes?

And don’t forget, I’ll be back here this Sunday, along with Nicola Cornick, as we launch our December releases (and give away copies!), and I’ll be at the Word Wenches on the 24th. For more info on various blog appearances, excerpts, and a December contest, be sure and visit my Laurel site

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Hello, Riskies! I’ve missed you all in my time away from the blog (though I do stop in now and again to comment.)

But it’s just not the same. I miss the blog, and miss having the opportunity to air my opinions and force people to read my attempts at wit…

So when the Jane Austen Evening came around again, I thought “I really want to do another blog post at Risky Regencies on the ball!”

And the Riskies very kindly agreed — and Elena very very kindly offered me her day! (Thanks, Elena!)

I’ve posted here before about my experiences at the Jane Austen Ball which is held every January in Pasadena (and which is officially called the Jane Austen Evening, but I like to call it a ball because it really is a ball!) If you’re interested in my previous experiences, just click on the “Jane Austen Evening” tag at the end of this post to see my earlier masterpieces…

The festivities began at 4 pm with a grand tea. The food included tea sandwiches (cucumber, herbed egg, cheddar and carrot, and chicken cranberry — the cucumber was my favorite), two kinds of soup (including Mulligatawny), cottage pie, scones with cream and jam, and a variety of desserts, including my favorite: a very flavorful rosemary shortbread.

Oh, and there was tea, of course! Keemun, Queen Catherine, decaf Queen Catherine (yes, I know, not very Regency! but that’s what I had, or I’d never have slept that night), chamomile, and blackcurrant.

During the tea, we had a performance by a musical gentleman who called himself Beethoven. Yes, modern music! Quite shocking.

After we’d all eaten far more than we’d intended, and had a bit of trouble fitting into our clever Regency clothes (oh, very well, I’ll admit that some of us had only-moderately-intelligent Regency clothes), and gossiped more than we ought, we went off to freshen up and make ourselves ready for dancing.

Because…oh, yes, there was dancing. And more dancing! Quite four hours of it.

I scandalized everyone by dancing more than twice with a dashing gentleman, and scandalized them still more when they learned he was my husband. (Yes, I confess, I danced with him four times! It’s not strictly correct, but I am the daring, rule-flouting sort, as you all know.) (And even if I’m not, I can pretend to be for one night.)

The dances included several that have featured in Jane Austen adaptations, such as the always popular Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot (which was Lizzy and Darcy’s dance in the BBC/A&E P&P), Shrewsbury Lasses (from the same P&P, and fondly nicknamed “Other Way, Mr. Collins!”)

I’ve attended the Jane Austen Evening something like seven times now (and also attended about five or six other such balls), and I’m always interested in the changes I see. Every year, there seem to be more and more experienced dancers, which is delightful! It may be because there are so many flourishing English Country Dance groups in Southern California…or perhaps it’s because the ball sells out earlier every year, so that only the most dedicated get their vouchers!

I’ve also noticed a higher and higher percentage of attendees in some sort of costume. I don’t mean to imply that there weren’t many to start with — there were, with many fabulous costumes to be seen — but the number of attendees in modern clothing seems smaller every year.

Is this, too, because only the most dedicated get a ticket? Or because folks have had years to work out a costume? Only Jane Austen knows for sure…

Speaking of costumes…I saw a lot of feathers this year! They must be all the rage. And so many utterly gorgeous fabrics!!! I had so much fun just walking around and looking at all the gowns…

Speaking of fabulous costumes…here are some of the many photos I took this year! (Don’t you love digital cameras? if only Jane Austen had had one, we’d know for sure whether Mr. Darcy looked like Colin Firth, Laurence Olivier, David Rintoul, or Matthew Macfadyen!)

So…have you ever attended a period ball?

What did you think of it?

What did you like best?

If you’ve never been to one, what part of the ball do you think you’d like best?

Would you wear feathers?

Would you dance with Mr. Collins?

What sort of sandwich sounds best to you?

If you had unlimited money and were going to create your own Jane Austen ball, what sort of food would you serve?

What would you wear?

Thanks for sharing my fun!

Cara King, scapegrace and hoyden

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A few weeks ago, I attended my third Playford Ball!

Our local Playford Balls are where those with a lot of experience in English Country Dance get together to dance a lot of very difficult dances, both old and new. Many folks dress up — and as English Country Dance was popular for a long stretch of time, the costumes come from a variety of eras!

My two favorite parts of the ball were

(1) dancing two particularly tricky dances: “Hortonia” and “Whately Barn” (which were both designated “for those who know,” and were therefore not called); and

(2) watching one particular dance from the balcony above: the intricate patterns flowed into each other with such smoothness and beauty and it was a true joy to watch.

So: if you were going to invent a country dance, what would you name it?

Cara King, who learns country dances by practicing with her stuffed animals

And remember: next Tuesday, we’re discussing BRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Here are some photos I took…

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

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