In Which I Feel Like Lizzy Bennet

Image by Michael R. Perry, via Flickr. Not us. Just a good image.

It is probably not a secret–or a shock–that I am a die-hard Jane Austen fan. I mean, let’s face it: what female blogger isn’t? I’m a complete sucker for a spinoff book invoking the name Darcy, Bennet or Austen (although some of them are quite markedly better than others), and I’ve seen a fair few movie interpretations, too. Those dance scenes, in particular, look like so much fun.

So when Christian’s pre-Valentine search turned up something called English Country Dance (with lesson and “called” steps), I held my breath. “What do you think?” I said. “It sounds like it could be fun.”

Because my husband is the best guy ever, he said, “Let’s go for it.”

We both spent the next two days trying to talk each other and ourselves out of it, right up until the time we went into the building. I told myself we were doing that “introvert” thing. A dance is inherently social, and we like to be a world unto ourselves when we go out, not feel compelled to make small talk with complete strangers.

When the man at the door told us the idea is to choose a different partner for every dance, I saw Christian’s body language bolt for the door. But we decided to stay.

We spent twenty minutes learning terms like set, cast, straight hey for three, pass right, Gypsy, and cross and go below. It was all done at a walk, and I shrugged and wrote off the bit of “exercise” I had been hoping for following a really big dinner.

Then the music began, and all of a sudden it didn’t work to walk the moves anymore. The music just about required you to skip through them. The dances were all done in long sets, just like in Emma  and Pride & Prejudice movies, and the songs lasted until you went all the way down the line and made it back to your starting place by moving back up. We did pretty much what you see in this dance, at the 29:19 mark. Including the “Other way, Mr. Collins!” comment. Made to me.

By the end of seven minutes, Christian had thrown off his jacket and I was breathing hard, partly from skipping for seven minutes almost without pause, and partly from laughing while doing so. Because it was so much fun.

I understand Jane Austen’s world in a way I never did before. I’ve heard them called social dances, and that means something. It almost doesn’t matter who your “partner” is, because you only spend about half your time dancing with that person anyway. The music is at a volume that not only facilitates but encourages conversation, as does the fact that you’re usually taking turns moving.

There’s a real art to it. The spacing has to be just right or you crash into other people–or you can’t get to the next person in time. Each dance consists of a sequence of moves that might take twenty-four beats of music. It’s a repeating pattern, but it’s a long repeating pattern. Your brain has to be on the whole time.

There’s a restraint to touch and to interaction that heightens the whole emotional quotient. Where modern dance is all deafening music, grinding and body gyrations to parade one’s sexual desirability, the seduction of the past is much more subtle. I can see how flirtations took place in those days: the gentle squeeze as you turn with a dancer who is not your partner, a squeeze no one can see; the expression on a person’s face as you greet and then move on to the next person in line.

It has been a long, long time since I had so much fun on a date. I felt like Elizabeth Bennet. And it made me wish we still entertained ourselves by dancing instead of parking our butts in front of electronics and big screens.