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.