Just Like Jane

“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.


18 thoughts on “Just Like Jane

  1. As a member of the Hampshire Regency Dancers, I’d like to say thank you for such a nice post! As it happens, HRD were dancing for the public at Chawton House earlier today, the old home of Edward Austen Knight, just round the corner from Jane’s house. And yes, it sure is fun to dress up!

  2. Oh my but this is appealing! How delightful and completely unparalleled I would think! A lot of effort goes into maintaining the authenticity of the dance and the era. I would love to just sit in that ballroom and watch, transported into Austen’s world! Great fun, Kate!

  3. Great post, Kate. To some extent present-day barn dances and ceilidhs recapture a little of the excitement, but rarely any of the finesse! And after 5 minutes you’re likely to end up pooped, which says a lot for the stamina of those Regency dancers!

    If you don’t want to have your gentle impressions spoiled forever, look away now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78HkLZ2hMPw

  4. Dear Kate, what a hoot! I’m so glad you showed us a video of the costumed dancers and their springy steps. I’d like to learn those dances and prance and preen and enjoy fitting step to stringed music. The closest I’ve come to group dancing is learning to square dance when I was in 7th grade. Sister Mary McCauley had taught our class for three years and so she knew just what we and didn’t know. She’d spend time on what we didn’t know and that would leave us all of Friday afternoon to go down into the school basement, which had many windows, and learn reels and other square dances. I look back on that with such delight. Peace.

  5. Oh my! How charming. I’m afraid you have awoken the dancer in me (I used to produce a group called the Dance Society, and we did country/western, 50s rock and roll, roaring 20s and ballroom—with all the costumes). I must be descended from one of those families you mention 🙂
    Actually we have a similar dance style here in Hawaii. It’s called contra dancing, but it’s much more exertion, with lots of twirling. But without the costumes. Anyway, dancing is the greatest fun. Wonderful post.

  6. Ha! A post that was “music to my ears” . . .

    And one about which I already had some knowledge (acquired from “I have not the foggiest”). I remember learning about this Ball and the chance to dance as they did in Jane’s time period from someone who said something about putting the dance on her bucket list.

    Loved the Dance Cards fluttering about.

    1. Less talking during the dancing than I recall when reading/watching Pride and Prejudice. I expect that they are concentrating on the intricate dance steps, not their partners.

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