Wednesday, April 5, 2017

One of the First Refinements of Polished Societies

The Meryton Assembly Dancers at Rose Hill Mansion, Geneva
(photo credit Lisa Brown)

“It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind;--but when a beginning is made--when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt--it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.” Emma chapter 29

Jane Austen loved to dance. Indeed, the very first of Jane Austen’s published letters opens with a ball scene as she describes a recent ball at Manydown.

After this necessary preamble, I shall proceed to inform you that we had an exceedingly good ball last night…” Jane Austen's Letters Diedre Le Faye (ed) 4th ed. p. 1

The letter goes on to describe who was at the dance, how they appeared, and how they behaved.

Given the importance of dance as a social activity for Jane Austen and those around her, it is not surprising that most of Jane Austen’s novels have ball scenes, and that these scenes often form pivotal moments in the novels. In Pride and Prejudice the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is initially defined when Mr. Darcy remarks:

"Which do you mean?" and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me." Pride and Prejudice chapter 3

It is clear later in the chapter that Elizabeth has heard every word. The relationship goes downhill from there, as Elizabeth hears more about Darcy from Wickham.

So, what was it like to dance in Jane Austen’s time? JASNA CWNY is proud to host the Meryton Assembly Dancers at our next meeting. Dressed in period costume, this talented group of experienced performers will demonstrate the art of English Country Dance.

Meryton Assembly Dancers at Rose Hill Mansion Geneva
(photo credit Lisa Brown)

We are all familiar with the dance scenes from the 1995 movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. While it is true that many of the dances featured in the movie actually predate Jane Austen’s lifetime, these scenes have left a lasting impression on all Jane Austen fans. Recognizing the importance of this movie to the appreciation of Jane Austen, the program will present some of the classic dances from this movie. You will be able to imagine yourself dancing Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot as Lizzy and Darcy seek to better understand each other’s character. The Meryton Assembly Dancers will also dance Shrewsbury Lasses. Hopefully, Mr. Collins will not step in to wreak havoc. Other dances from Pride and Prejudice and Emma will also be performed.

For a preview see the video below.

 The Meryton Assembly Dancers perform Mr. Beveridge's Maggot

After the demonstration, all attendees will have an opportunity to participate in a series of dances from Pride and Prejudice (2005), Becoming Jane, and Emma. So you need not just imagine yourself dancing like Jane Austen, you will actually be able to do so. All dances will be called, there will be plenty of instruction, and the Meryton Assembly Dancers will gently lead the way, so you need not fear a Mr. Collins moment.

Please join us and learn to dance like Jane Austen. Here are the details:

Event:    JASNA CWNY presents The Meryton Assembly Dancers 
Where:  Community Room, Barnes and Noble, Pittsford
When:   April 15, 2017 at 1 pm

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