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Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday afternoon Izzy and I went to the early December JASNA-DC meeting (billed as a Christmas party for Jane): it was held at a community center in Bethesda, Maryland (rich neighorhood all around, very upper to middle class shopping along Wisconsin Avenue). Along with tea and cakes and punch, they had hired a group of professional dancers of 18th century patterned dancing.  They first danced several dances for us, and then the members of JASNA joined in.

Well Izzy and I danced the afternoon away in  18th century patterned dances -- up and down the lines, and other members of JASNA-DC, the semi-professional dances and the caller, one person on the piano and the other on the fiddle.  Sometimes in sets of 2 couples, sometimes 3, but then too somehow continual reconfiguring made everyone reach everyone else. 

The professional caller asked Izzy first and then she had a variety of male partners -- dancers and members' husbands mostly.  I began with one of the professional dancers and stayed with him for quite a while (he lives in Virginia, rural part) and then with a woman who told me Gatsby's Tavern here in Old Towne (founded 18th century, said to be a place George Washington once slept) does this Tuesday evenings regularly.

How lovely they are.  They were originally meant also as time to meet someone, without pressure on you individually at all.  One of the tunes so familiar from the 1995 P&P and 2007 NA (both scripted by Davies).  

I've read about these dances before but never thought much about them. There was a good talk about them (plenary lecture) at one of the EC/ASECS meetings the first year I went.  For those who have The Making of Pride and Prejudice by Birtwistle and Conklin, there's a section on dancing which is historically accurate as far as it goes:  these dances first were done repeatedly and in these full formations (so to speak) in the later 17th century in France, and the French court; they spread to the UK in its court and through the upper classes and then on down into assembly meetings (also inhabited by upper classes).  Over the century variations developed and they became intermixed with older patterned country dances to some extent.

Alas, the form died in the 19th century:  partly the waltz just displaced them. One purpose of such dancing was to escape chaperons and engage in talk/flirting/getting to know someone, and this was done even easier in waltzing. Partly the culture shifted

Happy time -- hardly anyone left early :) Dancing this way is so pleasurable
. From the raffle, Izzy brought home iilustrations from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from which I take this one (Charlotte Lucas & Mr Collins? -- I hope it's not meant to be Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy):

and I, a fine new Jane Austen Companion by Josephine Ross, written for common to academic readers.

See Izzy's Dancing Austen Style.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 5th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
Barbara wrote: "Check out FSGW for the regular DC area English Country Dances. No costumes, no partner needed, very friendly group. The historical dances from Austen's time are mixed with contemporary dances in the same style."
Dec. 5th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
Other groups
"If you like that sort of thing, look up your local CDSS or English Country Dance group, or EFDSS in Britain. There's a good group in DC. Our Pittsburgh CDSS group is co-sponsoring a Jane Austen Ball with JASNA Pittsburgh March 11th next year, but most of the groups run weekly or bi-monthly dances that welcome beginners just about anywhere in the US, UK, Canada or the antipodes. Jim Morgan"
Dec. 6th, 2010 12:38 pm (UTC)
more on these dances: Scottish style
I once attended a Royal Scottish Dance meeting. Many of the dances were the same as they danced in Almack's in the Regency period. They wore Scottish outfits and shoes fitting the period. Not all the dances were those of Jane Austen's time though.

I have an 1816 dance book with dance instructions and music. I wish I could see that music and those dances performed. It is a great deal of fun but energetic and the way one is supposed to hold one's foot is different from the way people dance today.
Nancy Mayer
Dec. 6th, 2010 12:45 pm (UTC)
In response to Nancy,

My respect for Willoughby has gone up in this way: he danced until 2 (was it?) and then got up to go hunting at 8. At the end of the 2 hours or so of dancing we did (that long), I was tired and so were others, and because the people on the lines (or in the twos and three groups when we formed these) didn't know the dances (that means me too) we were often going much slower than would have been originally done.

We are back to group dancing again: in clubs, but it is much different in spirit, almost solipsistic on a floor crowded with people with high strong beating sexy noise, dances that demand exhibitionism and are pressure-filled.

I've been told about groups in my area we could join if we wanted to do this regularly. I think I will at least see if there are really any near by.


Edited at 2010-12-06 01:13 pm (UTC)
Dec. 6th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
More on 18th century pattern dances
To Ellen's brief overview, I can add that there are a couple of forms of 18th century dance, contra and square dancing, that didn't die out over time.

The word "Contra" is thought to be a variation on the French contredanse, which in turn is thought to be a French pronunciation of the "country dance" they got from England in the early 18th century, and survived in New England. A number of the older contra dances have figures identical to the 18th
century dances. Modern innovations include the addition of a "swing" figure. Modern contras try to involve the second, less active couple a lot more, since we no longer feel the need for those long periods of unchaperoned conversation, and the most currently popular English country dances from the 17th and 18th centuries are those where the 2nd and 3rd
couples are as active as the first couple. Square dancing has gone similar evolutions since the 18th century.

If you are interested in finding out more about the more traditional of the modern groups, the Country Dance and Song Society (http://www.cdss.org/) promotes them in North America, and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (http://www.efdss.org/) would be a place to start in England.
Jim Morgan
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
History of patterned dancing
Dear Prof. Moody,

Responding off-list to your message on C81-L, about 18th-C patterned dancing:

It's a subject that's been pretty well studied by early dance scholars, because there are many sources, including dance treatises and notated dances. I'll get the horn-tooting part out of the way: I've written a chapter on choreographic structure in baroque dance in

Dance, Spectacle, and the Body Politick, 1250–1750. Edited by Jennifer Nevile.

and an article on baroque dance notation in Early Music: http://em.oxfordjournals.org/content/XXVI/2/286.citation

Some sources are listed on my web site: http://web.mit.edu/kpierce/www/

Beyond that: Rebecca Harris-Warrick has written masterfully about baroque dance in context. See for example her Early Music article on Ballroom dancing at the court of Louis XIV. Really anything she's written is worth reading.

Carol Marsh has done a lot of research on baroque contredanses, among other subjects. I'm not sure she's published on contredanses, though. Her catalogue (with Meredith Little) is a standard and useful source.

Francine Lancelot's catalogue la Belle Dance overlaps with the Little Marsh catalogue but provides some interesting detail that the LMC omits.

18th century dances are almost all "patterned", in the sense that the figure is specific and important. But there are degrees. Menuets were often improvised, with the same basic pattern repeated. Notated dances are sometimes referred to as "figured" or "fancy" dances.

Group dances (contredanses) are also patterned -- the same figure repeats over and over as each couple works through the set in turn. A good explanation of the two ways in which contredanses progess is in Feuillet's 1706 recueil (see e.g.)


or John Essex's "for the further improvement" - the same preface translated into English:


As the century progressed, contredanses took precedence in the ballroom over figured couple dances, for reasons having to do with changes in society and at Court that you no doubt know more about than I do. As the century progressed and into the 19th C, longways dances lost popularity to square sets: cotillons and quadrilles.

That's a very brief outline, though perhaps more than, or not at all, what you really wanted to know. But if you'd like more I can try to provide it.

Ken Pierce

Edited at 2010-12-09 05:33 pm (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
Dear Mr Pierce,

I'm sorry I have not gotten back to you before tonight. I meant to after perusing your website page. Thank you very much for telling me of this resource and your papers and where it may be reached. I've bookmarked it. In this case I was really interested in the fun of dancing and going to such dances but didn't want totally to neglect the history -- as it's important to understand that to understand the dance.\
I do go to ASECS meetings as well as JASNA and hope we may meet at one of these meetings.

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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