I believe every great historical book set in the 18th century should have a dance scene. Dancing was socially expected, and it’s within those scenes a character’s character can be shown. I’m also a big believer in conducting first-hand research. So this week, accompanied by my very good-natured friend and writer Mary Chris Escobar, I attended an English Country Dance lesson.
Men lined up one side. Women across. Anyone who has seen this scene from Pride & Prejudice knows this line dance. I watched it and other period films to help write a scene in which my protagonist first dances with his love interest. However, now having spun down the line myself, I’ll make some adjustments.
First, dancers must maintain eye contact. How evocative if you fancy them. How torturous if you don’t. Dancing was also one of the few times men and woman would publicly hold hands. Some hands are strong. Supportive. Others are clammy. Wilting.
Words describing the moves are indicative of the social structure. When you let go of your partner and spin away to move down the line, it’s called “casting off.” If a man ends up on the woman’s side of the line (or vise versa), it’s called “improper.” When you cut through another couple, you are “crossing over.”
I used to think these dances looked easy, but I was literally flushed from all the spinning. And I was not in a corset and layers of silk, or partnered with Colin Firth. Oh, Miss Bennet, no wonder your cheeks hath such a rosy hue.
Authors, what have you done in the name of research?
If you’d like to find an English Country Dance group near you, a partial list of Country Dance Groups across the US can be found here. (Although my Richmond chapter is not on here.)