“He was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves.”
Ah, Bingley. The ultimate moneyed bachelor, the affable gentleman, as at home in Netherfield as in Bath or London. And in Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice, he is judged most favourably on his attitude to the dance.
Because for Jane Austen and the people who lived around her, the dance was the stage for courtship; the places where partnerships were brokered, matches made, hearts garnered.
Dance had always held a key part in society; at court the evening would always be concluded with fancy footwork. The dances were like English country dances: lots of rows of men and women facing each other, a form which suited the halls of English country houses; and the dance would weave a pattern of people changing places.
As time wore on the footwork of the English dances became more and more fancy and folk turned towards the European dances for simple elegance. The gavotte, the Cotillon, the Quadrille. But they were long. A dance could last up to half an hour, and that’s a long time not talking to Mr Darcy.
They still do it, you know.
In Hampshire, the home county of Jane and the source of all those comfortable English stereotypes, folk still dress just as Jane and her contemporaries did, and they still dance the old dances.
The people who do it are called the Hampshire Regency Dancers.
Based in Winchester, England, these good folk of Hampshire are the descendants of those who danced in the Assembly Halls alongside Jane. They use historical dance specialists to teach them steps and then perform, in full regency dress, at halls and houses around the county.
Whether it is still a hotbed of beating hearts and passionate pledges, I cannot say. The matter bears investigation. But is membership is large and thriving, and its performances in demand.
It is entirely possible that the Bingleys, the Darcys, the Wickhams and the Collins are still there, marking out the steps with deliberate satisfaction, regarding their partner with broadly good humour, the men making their coat-tails fly and the women’s skirts carrying out a little quadrille all their own.
Take a look.
Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: Dancing, which you can find here.