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March 12, 2008


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If I ever am involved with a Regency movie (highly unlikely), I shall insist that they hire you to organize & choreograph the dancing!

Great post. I shall be directing others here!

I dream of such opportunities! The one time I got to do a bit of television work, they didn't particularly want to listen to me about anything. It was quite frustrating. Of course, they had no time and no budget. Presumably a feature film or even a decent miniseries would have a bit more of each.

I was chatting with a friend last night who's one of the actors being motion-captured for the upcoming Christmas Carol film, and he mentioned that they had just been filming dancers doing "Sir Roger de Coverley" (mentioned in the book, very appropriate). I'll be curious to see what they actually danced.

It's not really "Regency", but it would have been co-eval--so what's your take on the dancing shown at the ball in the Russian film of War and Peace? I remember seeing that part of the movie after some of your earlier posts on this issue elsewhere, and wondering what your take on it was.

I have, alas, not seen this film, if you are referring to Voyna i mir. Nor have I actually read War and Peace. I'm quite game to watch the film and read the book if I can find any time to do it in. Given the Russian setting, I would expect the dancing to be different than it would have been in England at the time - I would certainly hope to see some mazurka!

A great article.

I have danced a few of the dances mentioned.
I knew that the famous Maggot wasn't at all correct, but didn't know that the Hole in the Wall was too.:(

But please don't say that the Boulangerie is easy to dance. It's horribly difficult. (At least the version I danced).

Thank you for the article. I will forward your site to friends who will certainly be interested in this information.


Thanks, Lisette. This post has gotten so many hits I will clearly have to post more about this era of dance!

What version of the Boulanger(ies/e/etc.) did you dance? It really should be easy - 2/3 of the choreography consists of circling to the left and then circling to the right.

That would be the one--and while I last saw the whole thing back in the mid-1970s, I caught a bit of the ball scene on Classic Arts Showcase a couple of weeks ago--and the bit of dancing I saw looked to be formed sets, with one couple at the head of the room, leading the others. IIRC, this was the opening dance of the ball, and I have no remembrance at all of how much dancing of any sort was shown in detail after that.

Yet another Christmas Carol?

Serge: Yep! With motion-capture technology. Picture a row of dancers in black spandex bodysuits with little green balls sewn all over them! Jim Carrey stars. My friend is doing the physical acting and some singing for a bunch of different roles. It's slated for 2009, not sure what month.

Sounds interesting. Speaking of that story, was the dancing at Mr.Fezziwig's party done correctly in the Alastair Sim version? Unless I figured things wrong, Scrooge would have been a young man during the Regency.

What an interesting article! Perhaps you can answer a dance question: when describing the ball to Mr Bennet, Mrs Bennet refers to the dances by what I assumed were the time signatures: "Then the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifths with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger---"
Or does this indicate some sort of dance configuration?

Also, I'm no dancer but I would love to find some of the regency dance tunes for piano that Mary Bennet and Anne Elliot seem to play so well. Any suggestions on where to look?

Looking at the waltzing couple: I can see how it would be considered scandalous.

I have access to a piano book with various dance music, not later than about 1900; I know I've seen 'Sir Roger de Coverley' in it, and also various reels. (How authentic they might be is a whole 'nother question, which I'm not equipped to answer.)

Even though I'm disappointed to discover that I'm not being as accurate as I thought I've been, I'm super hapy that "Sir Roger de Coverley" is authentic to the Regency Era -- that is SOOO my favorite dance ever. Probably my favorite overall activity ever, too :)

alison: I've answered your question about the ball in P&P in a separate post.

As far as music, there is quite a bit surviving, but mostly it is in fragile antique books in research libraries. However, there is a wonderful book out of music by Neil Gow, who was the orchestra leader at the London social club Almack's during the early 19th century and the composer of many popular tunes dance tunes. You can purchase it from Amazon.

The usual answer from me about movie questions: sorry, haven't seen it! If I ever do I will keep the question in mind.

Exactly how old Scrooge is and when Christmas Carol takes place (and thus when Fezziwig's ball does) are not entirely clear to me. It (Fezziwig's ball) could be Regency or it could be 20 years earlier. The dancing wouldn't have been significantly different in the late 18thc except that there would not yet have been quadrilles and definitely would not have been waltzing.

Hi Susan,
I danced indeed a version in which we had to go 16 (?) paces to the left in a unknown amount of time (first problem) and in the next part to the right.
Second problem was : male 1 links armes nd does a turn with female 2 and then 3 etc. Problem there was, which arm and turn in which direction.

But then, we had three afternoons for four dances (Maggot, Shrewesbury Lasses, Boulanger and Hole in the Wall).


Thank you for this very interesting & informative post!

Jane Austen mentions the waltz twice in Emma:

Mrs Weston, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.


"If you are very kind," said he, "it will be one of the waltzes we danced last night; -- let me live them over again."

I suspect this may be the source of so much confusion over the waltz in Jane Austen's era. My understanding is that the above quotes actually refer to country dances danced in waltz time rather than the dance we think of as the waltz. Is that a correct interpretation?

Yes, that's correct. When he says that he "led her up to the top", he is referring to the top of a country dance set, where each couple begins to dance.

Thanks for writing such an informative article, Susan! I had pretty much figured out #8 on my own...but early dance manuals could be ambiguous that I was never absolutely certain. Could you share your source on that point, so I can show solid evidence to my country-dancing friends who may not readily believe me? Thanks!

Goodness, there's no single source. It's consistent dance practice for longways dances from the 16th century onward. Feuillet (early 18th century) is very explicit on this - check #3 here, "That a couple, ought not to begin to Dance, till they're come into the first Couple's place". Thomas Wilson (early 19th century) covers it in most of his works as well. I have a wonderful diagram of the "snowballing" start, unfortunately not on-line, but here's some description from Wilson (italics mine):

"The top couple of the general set commence the dance, and after performing the various figures set to the tune, finish a couple nearer the bottom; and the second couple will by moving up, become the top couple. The dance commences again...As soon as the top couple can form a Minor set, that is, as soon as the leading couple or couples going down the dance have gone down three couples, or performed the figure three tithes, then the couple left at the top of the general set, or of any Minor set, must commence. When it relates to the general set, only then each couple will, according as they stand in rotation in the dance, become successively the top couple, and so on till all the couples forming the set have in succession (what is termed) 'gone down the dance'."

I hope that's helpful. I'll try to write more on each of these points in detail as I have time!

Thanks so much for your answer, Susan! Yes, it's very helpful.

Excellent! Finally! I have a very hard time persuading people that NO minuet in any film has anything to do with an an actual minuet--let alone the country dances. Having studied 19th century ballroom dance with Elizabeth Aldrich, I am well aware of all these minutiae--and how exasperating they can be to a trained ballet dancer, since the steps are similar to small ballet allegro steps, and the names too--but they don't always coincide!!! Ms' Aldrich's comments on trying to teach correct dancing of much later in the century to certain movie stars are mordant, indeed, culminating in her remark that "thank heavens they were only photographed from the waist up." But so it goes in movies.

" Real Regency Dancers Do It In Threes"

I really think this needs to be a bumper sticker!!

Wow... SO much to know about Regency Dance. We always just do ECDs at our balls, it would be interesting to create a real 'regency' dance series for our balls and parties for the members to learn.

I am always happy to come and teach if you can afford to bring me out!

Hi! I was interested in the Boulanger as well. Can anyone tell me about its origin, popularity in the Regency period, ect, please? Also the coreography, but I care especially about the historical aspect of the dance, and its connection with Austen. Thank you!

"Regency-era dancers were not interested in doing the dances of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, any more than today's teenagers are. Dances like "Hole in the Wall" and "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" were written in the late 17th century. Their music is completely inappropriate for the Regency era. Their style is inappropriate. Their steps are inappropriate. There is no sense in which these dances belong in the Regency era. "

Though I do not disagree entirely with you It is equally wrong to say that these dances would never have been danced. Go to a wedding today and you still have people dancing "the electric slide" and "the hustle". A dance like "Hole in the Wall" may well have been danced if the person calling for it liked it or it was well know to the dancers. But as for the movies it is most likely chosen for its suitability to filming. Not that others might not have been chosen and worked as well.

Sorry, you're just wrong. The electric slide and hustle are dances from the last three or four decades (1970s onward). A comparison with Regency to "Hole in the Wall" would be whether kids today still dance the Washington Post, Lancers Quadrille, Rye Waltz, and so forth.

If you can provide one iota of proof of "Hole in the Wall" or any dance of similar vintage (1690s) being danced in the Regency, I'll be happy to look at it, but the very suggestion that they danced a particular named dance means that you haven't really grasped the way dance was thought of in the period. Go back and read #10 above.

Thank you for the post. I'd really love it if filmmakers tried harder to recreate the times as they were. After all it's why we watch the movies.

I have one small quibble:

Mr. Darcy was not being complimentary in Pride and Prejudice when he asked

"Do you not feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?"

Reel was considered proper for a familiar, family setting. Darcy proposed it at home, and not during a ball. He really wanted to dance because he was already in love with Elizabeth. And what dance could be better than one in which he could both show off and become more familiar with the girl?

Lizzy thought that Darcy wanted to offend her, because she chose to think he didn't like her and that he was a very unpleasant man who wanted to purposefully harm others, but she was wrong about him throughout half of the book. We shouldn't read Regency customs from her attitude to him. Caroline Bingley, who was privy to the exchange, didn't think that Darcy wanted to offend Lizzy. On the contrary, his behaviour towards her rival alarmed her even more.

On the other hand, Lizzy wasn't blind to Bingley's offending other girls by singling Jane out, and yet she didn't mind it at all. Customs are customs, and romance is romance.

HOW i would love a DVD of how to do it properly! are there any out there? I've always felt, from the descriptions i've read, that it didn't actually tally with anything i've seen on previews [one reason i eschew films of the books] nice to have that confirmed!
Haven't done Roger de Coverley since school....

What an interesting article. I shall have to share this with my English classes.

I am curious to know your thoughts on the new BBC documentary 'Pride & Prejudice: Having A Ball'?

Hi Sarah,

I have downloaded it and am planning to watch it next week with a friend. If I have any thoughts more complicated than either "ooh!" or "ick!" I will try to write a post about it.

Sorry if you've addressed this elsewhere; I couldn't find a "search" function for your site. I'm wondering about the history of the "grand march" - a local Austen club plans to do one at a tea dance they're holding - which is not particularly aiming for accuracy, so that's fine, whatever . . . but it just got me thinking: I was under the impression that the Grand March came after the Regency period, but I'm certainly no expert and I don't know where I got that idea. When did the Grand March become a "thing"?

Hi, it's really interesting, I must admit I downloaded Purcell music thinking in a ball for my Austen club. But, I can't find proper music, I'm starting to think in romantism music, since I can't find albums, I'm from Argentina and buying from internet from another country can be quite expensive. Do you have a particular composer or composers that wrote music for regency dance?

A question which I cannot find the answer to, please -- if the minuet which traditionally started formal balls was out of fashion by the time of the Regency, with what dance did a formal ball then begin?

Anna, it would vary somewhat by time and place, but as far as I can tell, for England in Regency era, they would simply launch directly into the first country dance, at least until the advent of the quadrille and waltz made it possible to have balls that involved exclusively those two dances.

(catching up on old comments, far too late to be useful to the original commenters, but perhaps useful for others)

Vuokkosims: most composers of Regency country dances were anonymous; probably the most useful single name would be the Scottish musician/composer/bandleader Niel Gow, who was responsible for many of the popular Scottish tunes used for country dancing. Quadrilles are more often credited. But you're not likely to find much usable dance music by searching by composer.

Jenna: a Grand March appears to be more of an American tradition and more of the mid-19th century onward. I strongly suspect (but haven't actually researched) that it descends directly from the Polonaise, which was a march-like dance in 3/4 time popular in Eastern Europe and spreading from there into Western Europe, England, and America. A polonaise would be a reasonable thing for a Regency ball set in, say, Warsaw, Moscow, or Vienna, but somewhat unusual for England until the 1820s, and I'm not clear on how common it was in England even then.

Can you direct me to some videos or other resources giving examples of proper country dances from Jane Austen's time. Every source I can find falls prey to all of these errors. Even the dances I have learned for Regency balls in England were all done with two couples, not three, among other things.

I am trying to cite this article for a research paper I am writing. Could you help? Also, what is your last name?

Charlotte: my full name is Susan de Guardiola. I believe the citation format would be:

Guardiola, Susan de. (2008, March 12). Real Regency Dancers Don't Turn Single: Ten Tips for Judging Authenticity [Web log post]. Retrieved [date of your paper] from http://www.kickery.com/2008/03/regency-dancers.html.

But you should check with your school to see what their preferred format is.

Dear Susan de Guardiola, I just read your excellent article from 2008. I teach a course CALLED "Jane Austen Dance," which is really a course in English Country Dancing as done today. I KNOW that the dances I teach are not authentic Regency. They'rePlayford, mostly, but done the modern way: duple, not triple minors, starting with all couples dancing together, not just with the first couples at the top, and WALKING the dances.

But where do I FIND dances that are actually from Austen's time, and HOW do I learn what the foot-work was really like? I always could tell that the dances were danced, not walked, but how can I learn the foot-work?

I teach the course at a woman's college, and I call it Jane Austen Dance so people will sign up for it! (It works!) I tell them it's not authentic, but I don't stress it.

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