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Archive for the ‘Dancing’ Category

Jane Austen Sequels, written by Jane Odiwe, has recently been featuring a series of posts on Regency Brighton, including Brighton Encampments, Donkey Riding and Sea Bathing in Brighton, Stopping for Refreshment (on a coach from London to Brighton), and Brighton Entertainments. Jane also paints lovely watercolors and sells her images, cards, and books, such as her recently published Lydia Bennet’s Journal, on Austen Effusions. Jane has begun a third blog, which will discuss all things Austen and the Regency world. I become quite dizzy when I think of all her activities!

Image of Refreshments at a Coaching Inn from Jane Austen Sequels

Michelle Ann Young from Regency Ramble has just completed a series of posts on Bath. Michelle Ann frequently describes the flora and fauna of the era, and fashions of the season. She is also promoting her most recent novel, No Regrets.

Visit Jane Austen Addict.com to read Laurie Viera Rigler’s posts about PBS Masterpiece Classic’s The Complete Jane Austen series. Laurie, author of The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, described a JASNA ball she attended in 2004. This photo shows her with her own Mr. Darcy, and looking beautiful in her red regency gown. Such fun! Also, don’t miss her posts about Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice. In addition, she oversees a forum on her website, and is writing a sequel to her best-selling novel. My, my, Laurie, you have been busy!

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Many country towns had a monthly ball throughout the winter, in some of which the same apartment served for dancing and tea-room. Dinner parties more frequently ended with an extempore dance on the carpet, to the music of a harpsichord in the house, or a fiddle from the village. This was always supposed to be for the entertainment of the young people, but many, who had little pretension to youth, were very ready to join in it. There can be no doubt that Jane herself enjoyed dancing, for she attributes this taste to her favourite heroines; in most of her works, a ball or a private dance is mentioned, and made of importance.

Many things connected with the ball-rooms of those days have now passed into oblivion. The barbarous law which confined the lady to one partner throughout the evening must indeed have been abolished before Jane went to balls. It must be observed, however, that this custom was in one respect advantageous to the gentleman, inasmuch as it rendered his duties more practicable. He was bound to call upon his partner the next morning, and it must have been convenient to have only one lady for whom he was obliged

To gallop all the country over,
The last night’s partner to behold,
And humbly hope she caught no cold.

From the Memoirs of Jane Austen by J. Edward Austen-Leigh, p 34

This is Mrs. Bennett’s account to Mr. Bennett of the local Assembly Room ball when Jane met Mr. Bingley:

“Jane was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well she looked; and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Only think of that, my dear, he actually danced with her twice; and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time. First of all he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her, however, he did not admire her at all; indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance. So he inquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger–‘”

In a personal account, Jane writes of a ball she attended in 1799,

“We were very well entertained, and could have stayed longer, but for the arrival of my list shoes to convey me home, and I did not like to keep them waiting in the cold. The room was tolerable full, and the ball opened by Miss Glyn. The Miss Lances had partners, Captain Dauvergne’s friend appeared in regimentals, Caroline Maitland had an officer to flirt with, and Mr. John Harrison was deputed by Captain Smith, himself being absent, to ask me to dance. Everything went well, you see, especially after we had tucked Mrs. Lance’s neckerchief in behind, and fastened it with a pin.”

Chandelier, Assembly Room, Bath

Click here to read more about dancing on this blog

Also click on this link to learn about the dances in Becoming Jane. The post is quite thorough and detailed.

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A new Assembly Room and Hotel in the Mall (now the Clifton Club) was opened in 1811. This “spacious and elegant” building contained “a noble reception saloon and tea room, with convenient lobbies, a billiard room etc” and “every accommodation for both families and individuals, even to sets of apartments/drawing rooms, a coffee room, a shop for pastry and confectionery, with an adjoining room for soups, fruits and ices; hot, cold and vapour baths”. In all, the hotel had 70 bedrooms and 20 sitting rooms. (For the fascinating story of its architect see History – Clifton’s Famous and Infamous No. 1 on this website.) The man behind the development was John Lewis Auriol, a wealthy Huguenot, and it is his coat of arms that appears on the pediment.

The Assembly Rooms with its ballroom soon became the focal point for social life of Clifton society. Local artist Rolinda Sharples has captured for all time the atmosphere of a ball in the Rooms in about 1820.

From Clifton at Play


Self portrait of painter Rolinda Sharples with her mother

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On Dancing the Cotillion

In The Mirror of Graces (1811), A Lady of Distinction writes

“The utmost in dancing to which a gentlewoman ought to aspire, is an agile and graceful movement of her feet, an harmonious motion with her arms, and a corresponding easy carriage of her whole body. But, when she has gained this proficiency, should she find herself so unusually mistress of the art as to be able, in any way, to rival her professors by whom she has been taught, she must ever hold in mind, that the same style of dancing is not equally proper for all kinds of dances.

For instance, the English country-dance and the French cotillion require totally different movements.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the cotillion as:

late 18th-century and 19th-century French court dance, popular also in England. A precursor of the quadrille, the cotillion was danced by four couples standing in a square set. The first and third, then the second and fourth, couples executed various series of geometric figures.”

In The Gentleman & Lady’s Companion, Printed by J. Trumbull, 1798, the author describes the cotillion as thus:

“Balance all eight, then half round, the same back again, 1st and 2d couple (opposite) take your partners with both hands, chasse with her to your side with five steps, back again to your places, balance with the opposite couples, then cross hands half round, back again with four hands round, a gentleman with a lady opposite balance in the middle, and set, the other gentleman with the opposite lady do the same, right and left quite round until to your places. The 3d and 4th couples do the same figures.”

Click here to read this original source from the Library of Congress.


Also in this blog: Shall We Dance? Regency Style

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Jane Austen’s characters attended assemblies, routs, and parties so often that one is left to wonder: Did these people never stay home?

When the social whirl was in full swing during the London social season, a well-connected, rich, well-born, or idle person could attend several gatherings in one night. Here is a first-hand description of an assembly by Louis Simond, a transplanted Frenchman in America, inveterate traveler, and author of An American in Regency England (p. 31):

“Great assemblies are called routs or parties; but the people who give them, in their invitations only say, that they will be at home such a day, and this some weeks beforehand. The house in which this takes place is frequently stripped from top to bottom: beds, drawers, and all but ornamental furniture is carried out of sight, to make room for a crowd of well-dressed people, received at the door of the principal apartment by the mistress of the house standing, who smiles at every new comer with a look of acquaintance. Nobody sits; there is no conversation, cards, no music; only elbowing, turning, and winding from room to room; then, at the end of a quarter of an hour, escapting to the hall door to wait for the carriage, spending more time upon the threshold among footmen than you had done above stairs with their masters. From this rout you drive to another, where, after waiting your turn to arrive at the door, perhaps, half an hour, the street being full of carriages before the house–then every curtain, and every shutter of every window wide open, shewing apartments all in a blaze of light, with heads innumerable, black and white (powdered or not), in continual motion. This custom is so general, that having, a few days agao, five or six persons in the evening with us, we observed our servants had left the windows thus exposed, thinking, no doubt, that this was a rout after our fashion.”

Indeed, with such a throng of people inside an enclosed space and candles blazing on hot spring and summer nights, the rooms would have been stifling. Had the windows and doors not been kept open, the heat and lack of fresh air would have been insufferable. People often needed to step outside to the terrace or gardens to gain some relief from candle smoke, body odor, and fetid air.

As you can see from this illustration of the Assembly Room in Bath by Thomas Rowlandson, the public assemblies also provided opportunities for dancing. One must surmise that private and public assemblies differed in character. The size of a hostess’s house and her budget must also have dictated whether she could also provide music and dancing at her gathering.

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