Early 19th Century Dances -- Evolution of the Waltz
This week we’re celebrating the release of Dina Sleiman’s new book, Love in Three-Quarter Time. Set in 1817 Virginia, Dina’s story combines the fashions of the English Regency period with an American setting. Since LiTQT’s title (and plot) revolves around the popular dances of the era, I thought it might be fun to look at the evolution of social dances during the first part of the 19th century.
Of course, any look at the Regency period simply must start with Jane Austen. Do you remember this scene from the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice?
Darcy and Elizabeth are doing an English country dance. It has a repeating pattern, and while the dancers have partners, they have limited physical contact with those partners. Think of it as an early 19th century version of a line dance—like doing the Electric Slide in fabulous dresses. Notice how the dance pattern impacts Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s conversation. Those of us who aren’t quick with the repartee can only envy how the moments apart allow one time to formulate a witty response.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, he mentions another popular English country dance from the early years of the 19th century. While traveling back in time with the Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge watches his old boss Fezziwig dancing the Sir Roger de Coverley with Mrs. Fezziwig. Here is a clip of the Sir Roger de Coverley as danced at a Jane Austen Society Ball in Pasadena this year. (Note that while some historical dance sites list the Sir Roger de Coverley as a slip jig, this particular band is playing a regular jig. Slip jigs are in 9/8 time while regular jigs are in 6/8.)
As a side note, the name Sir Roger de Coverley comes from an early 18th century fictional character who represented the ideal English squire. Dickens wanted us to know that by treating his family, friends, and even apprentices to a party on Christmas Eve, Fezziwig was a model employer, in stark contrast to the man Scrooge became.
Many of the English country dances traveled across the Atlantic. Compare the Sir Roger de Coverley with the Virginia Reel, a popular dance in America during the early and mid 19th century, here performed by the Central Illinois Civil War Dance Society Performers. The patterns are similar enough some people mistakenly consider them the same dance. However, reels are danced in 4/4 time.
Then a scandalous new dance burst on the London social scene in the mid 1810’s. Done in 3/4 time, the waltz changed the nature of ballroom dancing forever. Here is an early waltz, performed by the Jane Austen Society Florence. Notice the holds that Dina mentioned in yesterday's post, including how outrageously close the dancers are to one another when they break apart into pairs. Why, they are practically embracing right there on the floor. How deliciously shocking!
Here is another example of an early waltz, also done by the Jane Austen Society Florence. (This one even comes with a Darcy-like figure who walks in front of the camera at 0:53. Watch for him.)
Over the next two decades, the waltz evolved into the purely couples dance we recognize today. In a scene that could be taken straight from a 2012 televised ballroom dance competition, this clip from the movie The Young Victoria portrays the newly crowed queen waltzing with Prince Albert in 1837.Watch for the overhead hold Dina mentioned yesterday.
Just for comparison to a modern slow waltz, here is a lovely performance from a recent Dancing with the Stars.
And because I can't resist another waltz clip or two, here are America's most famous dance partners, in the parts of another famous American dance couple: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from the movie The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.
And here is the most famous animated waltz of all time.
If you'd like to try a period dance, check this site for an upcoming event near you.
Now that everyone has a good mental picture of early 19th century dance, I hope you will check out Love in Three-Quarter Time, available for both Kindle and Nook. Congratulations, Dina!
After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her next book, The Reluctant Earl, will be available February 5, 2013. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at www.cjchasebooks.com