• Risky Regencies

    Shall We Dance? Regency Dance Series-Part 4 –How They Learned

    Given all the ways dance mattered, socially and personally, during the Regency, it’s obvious that acquiring the skills and training to dance well (along with the proper etiquette) was supremely important. Skills on the dance floor would not entirely make or break a young person’s future, but they certainly helped.

    Young ladies and gentlemen of wealthy families would usually receive private tutoring from a professional Dance Master. These men would be hired by multiple families and would travel from house to house to teach the latest dances as well as proper steps, comportment, posture, and behavior.

    I’m certain there was snobbery over just which dance master your household had hired! One who was French and had references from higher ranked families, or one who was well-known among the ton and had published extensively, would certainly be preferred over a relatively unknown candidate.

    How their pupils felt about them probably varied not only by how well they taught, but also by their age, personality and personal appearance, and the ages of the young people they taught. I can imagine young ladies developing a crush on their dance instructor if he was a bit charming, but I also imagine the young girl you can see in the back of the Cruikshank cartoon below thinking very un-ladylike thoughts about hers while forced to stand in the “hip-turner” box (also known as turn-out boards, or the torture box).

    It was more properly called a tourne hanche, which betrays its French origins. Its purpose was to train the feet to turn outward at a wide angle, a ballet-like position you can see the others in this scene all maintain. The small, easily portable violin played by the dancing master is not an exaggeration by the cartoonist –it is called a pochette, or “pocket violin.”

    The less wealthy could take classes at a dance academy (in a large enough town), just as one might do today. Dance Masters strove for prominence through publishing as well as through the success of their competing establishments. Given a basic understanding of the main forms of dances, one could purchase the latest books, which usually included the instructions for performing each dance. Publications such as “Thompson’s 24 Country Dances for the Year 1802” came out every year with new dances. The selection would vary depending on who issued the publication. The most popular dances might be carried over from year-to-year for a very long time, while some new ones might be introduced to be danced to old familiar tunes.

    The most prominent dance masters competed with each other, trying to out-do each other with their offerings and credentials. In the 1820’s, established master Thomas Wilson and relative newcomer George Chivers engaged in an infamous rivalry. A typical advertisement from The Morning Post (13th November, 1818) reads:

    Waltzing, Ecossoises, Quadrilles, Spanish Dancing, Minuets, La Grand Polonaise, Gavottes, Country Dances, Swedish Dancing &c — Mr CHIVERS, late of the King’s Theatre Italian Opera House, gives PUBLIC or PRIVATE LESSONS and PRACTICE in the EVENING, from Eight till Ten, or Nine till Eleven, or any hour of the day, MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS, and FRIDAYS. Mrs Chivers superintends the ladies in a separate apartment. Families attended. Professors taught any department, and the greatest secrecy observed. Cards had at Mr Chivers’ Academy and Assembly Rooms, No 7 Pickett-Place, Temple bar; where may be had A Companion to the French and English Dancing, also the Swedish Dances (which Mr C. has introduced into this country; its simplicity and elegance surpasses all others, and is well adapted to parties having a majority of either sex.) The Rooms may be had occasionally, which have accommodation for 200 persons.

    Chivers’s establishment shared space with a Fencing Master, also a fairly typical arrangement, but one that pressed limitations on scheduling classes. I fancy a resemblance between Cruikshank’s dance master in many of his later cartoons and Chivers’s portrait from one of his own publications, although I’ve found no reference that this was intentional.

    Trained older siblings could be pressed into duty to teach the younger family members when circumstances demanded economy. Dance would be among the subjects taught at finishing schools for young ladies and academies for young gentlemen. This lovely Hugh Thompson illustration is from a story (“Quality Street”) about sisters who start such a school.  

    Nor should we discount the role of observation, as anyone attending an assembly or ball could watch others to study the figures (sets of steps) of any dance one didn’t know. English country dances dominated during the early Regency years. They are fairly easy, once you have learned a “vocabulary” of the various figures, which appear over and over again in different combinations for each dance. So learning the order in which they are done for a particular dance would not be too hard.

    Becoming proficient at the steps, however, could be more problematic. Regency dancing is energetic, the steps precise. The “walking” steps that many modern country dancers use were not the thing at all in period.

    Practicing in front of the mirror

    Dance footwork in the Regency era, even for country dances, was closer to ballet. Jane Austen wrote of Fanny in Mansfield Park, “Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.” Posture, deportment, and above all, elegance, were required.

    Do you wonder if you would forget how to do one of the dances at a ball? You would not be alone. Many dancers needed a way to “crib”! How about carrying a fan with the latest dances printed on it? Or a discrete set of cards with the instructions, strung on a ribbon around your wrist or tucked into your reticule? Here are pictures of some of these period “memory aides” for dancing (helpfully offered for sale by the dance masters)!


    1799 fan “Nelson & Victory”, printed with dances and short notes on the figures of each.
    1791 fan printed with dances AND music!

    The dances on this fan are:
    • Captain Mc Lean – Whim of the Moment – Duke of Clarences Fancy – Dreary Dun
    • Paynes Jigg – Miss Dukes Fancy – The Fife Hunt – The Birth day – Dibdins Fancy – Garthland
    • Sir Alexander Dons – Ballata Waltz – Jem of Aberdeen Waltz – The Harriot -The Highland Club


    Example of printed instruction cards (1828?) in a leather case, from Candace Hern’s fabulous collection of Regency things. If you haven’t seen her website, I recommend a visit! https://candicehern.com/regencyworld/dance-instruction-cards/

    A similar set of cards in The Harvard Library’s Ward Theater Collection, designed to be threaded on ribbon and worn around the wrist, printed with dance instructions for the quadrille, 1815. Selling sets of such cards were yet another way the enterprising dance masters tried to earn their bread.

    Speaking of dance cards, what about those little ones with a pencil with which you could write in your partners names? Did they have those in the Regency era?

    In this 1820’s image of Quadrille dancers, one of the “waiting” women (at left) is clearly looking at her dance card. Is it to see what other dances are planned and to whom she has promised them? (She’s with her current partner -how rude that would be!)

    The term “dance card” in English with the latter meaning is dated 1892 by the Oxford English Dictionary –well past the Regency and even Victorian eras. It’s a beloved tradition with authors and I may have even had this wrong in some of my early books, but the answer is: NO. Prompt cards to tell the dances, yes, but not to write in the names of partners, not until much later in the 19th century. For one thing, tiny pencils were not yet being made! And pens required an inkwell. But here’s an example of one from the 1880’s, and a fun collection of such cards, dating 1913-1940’s, if you’re interested!!  http://gettysburg.cdmhost.com/…/collecti…/p16274coll9/search

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Dance history is one of my great loves! If you have questions, I will be happy to try to answer them in the comments. Parts 1-3 of this series, if you missed them, can be found posted in previous weeks during July.

  • Frivolity,  Music,  Regency,  Research,  Risky Regencies

    Shall We Dance? Part 3 -The Waltz

    Why does the WALTZ (or French “Valse”) fascinate us? I’m sure it’s partly because it was so scandalous during the Regency, and partly because we love the potential for romance when our heroes and heroines share the intimate dance. This is a long post!! Bear with me –I couldn’t choose what to leave out.

    The waltz existed as a form of cotillion and of English country dances long before the scandalous single couple version of it was introduced to England during the Regency. It is those types of waltzing that Jane Austen references in her writings. Here are links to two examples of country dance waltzes, which utilize the familiar ¾ time rhythm:

    The Northdown Waltz 1806 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl5Cf2zTKWc

    The Duke of Kent Waltz 1801: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vmUNDR8GE8

    The waltz traces back to German peasant dances as old as the 16th century. Its history is similar to that of other dance types: what shocked the aristocracy and at first seemed beneath them eventually was adopted by them, because, well, why should only the peasants have fun? The turning, close-held waltz took hold in the higher regions of society by the 18th century in Bavaria and Vienna, and spread to France, where post-revolutionary society embraced it.

    Why was the waltz so scandalous? The illustration at top, while exaggerated, gives you an idea, but this lovely video clip from the BBC explains most of it quite well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r0dKkkk2jk Besides the intimacy and close hold was the simple fact that the dancers were turning for much of the time, which could lead to ladies becoming dizzy and quite shockingly out of control of themselves!

    In 1804 a German visiting Paris wrote, “This love for the waltz and this adoption of the German dance is quite new and has become one of the vulgar fashions since the war…” [the French Revolution]. The “new” form of waltz trickled into England slowly, scandalizing most of English society when they first saw it. The German ex-pats who made up the soldiers of the King’s German Legion are credited with introducing the waltz to residents of Sussex in 1804, but it was slow to catch hold in England, where moral codes were strict (well, stricter).

    Early caricature of French “Incroyables and Merveilleuses” waltzing

    In 1814, neither the waltz nor the quadrille were yet permitted to be danced in Almack’s. Some theorists say attendees at the Congress of Vienna (Sept 1814) first saw the dance there and brought it back to England. But Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador assigned to England starting in 1812, had been in Berlin prior to that assignment, so it makes sense that she learned the dance while there. She was the first foreign-born patroness of the mighty Almack’s social club and is said to have introduced the waltz there in 1815.

    Dance Master Thomas Wilson’s book “A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing” came out in 1816. His famous illustration of the “nine positions of the waltz” is below (you can see the numbers underneath each one if you look closely). By then, the dance had become prevalent enough to be ridiculed by the cartoonists of the day, and popular with the young who always want the “new” thing.

    Thomas Wilson’s “Nine Positions” of the Waltz

    The royal courts, generally foremost in setting fashions in many areas, consistently lagged in the area of dance. In July of 1816, the waltz was included in a ball given in London by the Prince Regent. A few days later an editorial in The Times complained: “We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females….”

    The Regency form of waltz was closely related to other dances: the German Landler, and the French Allemande, and the other dances that drew on these forms. At her Capering and Kickery website (kickery.com) dance historian and teach Susan de Guardiola writes: “The early waltz looked quite different than the modern form. Dancers moved on their toes in a different pattern than what is seen in today’s competitive ballroom dancing, and adopted a wide range of “attitudes” of the arms…. Nor were waltzes choreographed, though Wilson suggested dancing different waltzes in sequence [slow followed by lively and back to slow again]. Entire ballrooms of dancers did not perform identical moves.” [Gail’s note: The name sometimes used for Regency waltz is the “pirouette waltz”.]

    This video of five dances performed at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton is long, but at about 5:40 the dancers perform “The Allemande a Deux” (1780) which is a French modification of a German Landler. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17QPpXyCql4

    If you compare it to the video of the single couple performing the Regency waltz (see next link), I think you will see some of the similarities, and you will also get a sense of how Regency waltzers did not all do the same figures at the same time. Regency Waltz/Valse 1826: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7B_Qsdnn5E (Video from the French National Historic Dance Championships –you have to love a country that holds such a thing!!)

    If you are interested to know more, I found a fun video that compares the Regency style “pirouette” waltz to the later versions, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq0QxdsoUzo

    Do you think our modern version of the waltz has lost some of the “spice” of this earlier style? Or are you glad that our version is a lot easier to dance?

  • Jane Austen,  Music,  Regency,  Research,  Risky Regencies

    Shall We Dance? -Part 2

    Dancing the Quadrille at Almack’s

    Today I’ll continue the dance series I began on July 6, with some notes about the cotillion and the quadrille, dances which were common in the early Regency and the late Regency, respectively. While there is a great deal of overlap in some characteristics of these dances, their prevalence in the ballroom does not seem to have overlapped much at all.

    COTILLIONS

    Jane Austen wrote to her niece Fanny in 1816, “Much obliged for the quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day.” Jane was past her dancing prime by then and was referring to music sheets, but as so often happens even today, was not a fan of the “new” style of dancing that the younger people loved.

    The Cotillion was a French country dance for four couples popular in England in the late 18th century. While it often began with a circling figure and included later small circles, most of the dance was performed in a square, with various “changes”, or figures that moved in and out of that main formation and allowed for changes of partners.

    Because the cotillions came from France, many kept their French names. The only dance Jane Austen ever mentions by name, “La Boulangerie” is a cotillion. Here is a video so you can see what it was she so enjoyed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLUzvSXguQY

    There were many various types of cotillion dances: “waltz cotillions” and “allemande cotillions” for instance. They included some figures also commonly found in English country dances and reels, and later the quadrilles, so there is a shared basis between the types of dances.

    For instance, four of the basic quadrille segments are also found in cotillions: Les Pantalons, L’Eté, La Poule and La Pastorale. Many steps are also shared, but in style and music the dances are quite different. Quadrille enthusiasts denounced the cotillion as old-fashioned and “belonging with the ancient minuet.”

    The word “cotillion” changed during the 19th century from referring to the specific type of dances to the more modern usage, referring instead to a dance event, even specifically to a dance event for debutantes. Just know that during the Regency era, that was not what it meant!

    QUADRILLES

    Captain Gronow wrote in his memoirs about the first appearance of the Quadrille at London’s elite social venue, Almack’s: “In 1814, the dances at Almack’s were Scotch reels and the old English country-dance; and the orchestra, being from Edinburgh, was conducted by the then celebrated Neil Gow. It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced from Paris the favourite quadrille, which has so long remained popular.”

    The quadrille became a craze, so popular that it overtook all other forms of dance being done at this time, except for the waltz (topic for Part 3 of this series), introduced at about the same time. Cartoonists of the day, such as Gilroy and Cruikshank, could not be expected to resist ridiculing such a vibrant fad, especially as it required some skill and practice. “Accidents while dancing the Quadrille” was a popular caption.

    Like the cotillion, this was a dance form with four couples arranged in a square. Unlike the cotillion, it consisted of five sections or movements, each with its own complicated sequence of figures and music, with differing time signatures. Also unlike the cotillion, in the quadrille, the couples took turns performing the steps, with the head couples leading and the side couples resting until their turn. (Given the exertion required and the length of the dances, this was no doubt a blessing!)

    This video gives a good sense of the dance –watch as much as you wish, just know it lasts 11 minutes and 19 seconds! Paine’s First Set of Quadrilles (1815) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSD37PF2_Dw

    Here is a video that shows “The Mozart Cotillion” being danced at Chawton House (yes, I thought you’d like that!) 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEsAijdGT20

    I hope you are enjoying these dance notes and finding them helpful to visualize Regency dancing for your reading or writing pleasure! Part 3 on the Waltz will be posted on July 25.

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