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March 18, 2008

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This two-dance rule was one that came into favor in Austen's lifetime; in her mother's generation, the convention was to dance the entire evening with one partner.

Could the two dances be different types of dances? For instance, could the first dance be a country dance and the second be a waltz, or were both of them country dances?

Katherine:
No, we're talking country dances here. They wouldn't even break the set, just send the lead couple to the bottom and have the next couple start the next dance. Remember that in this period waltzing was only just coming into fashion and was still not considered proper in many places. Balls were pretty much an endless string of country dances, perhaps with a minuet at the beginning and a Scotch reel or cotillion interspersed here and there. This pattern didn't really change until the late 1810s, right at the end of Jane Austen's lifetime, when quadrilles and waltzing started turning things topsy-turvy.

Dancing pairs of country dances seems a bit unequal to the couples who danced a reel. Did gentlemen know before they asked a lady what the dance would be? I imagine if they did and they liked the lady, they would choose a country dance so that they could spend more with her.

I think the dancers would have been requested to form sets for a country dance and would expect that to mean two dances in a row. So they would know what they were getting into by not joining in. Anyone who rudely chose to dance a reel anyway (blatantly disrespectful to the lady calling the dance) would just have to sit out the second one or compound the rudeness by dancing another reel.

Read Pride and Prejudice for the significance of a gentleman asking a lady to dance more than one set of country dances; it was certainly noted as a sign that there was an attraction.

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