Tuesday, October 23, 2012

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


  1. This might be the best and biggest post ever, CJ!
    WOW WOW and WOW.

    What a sweet treat to see all these dances (and Darcy) in an excellent visual explanation of what is going on in Dina's story!

    I have to say that the Young Victoria clip gives me goosebumps!

    Thank you for sharing all this with us! And how much sweeter for the readers of Dina's book!

  2. I agree!!! Best post ever!!! I loved every minute of it. What a perfect way to celebrate Love in Three-Quarter Time. Thank you so much CJ! Tomorrow, I'll be sharing about the Regency Waltz on Colonial Quills, and I'll definitely refer them back to this delectable visual feast. I'd never seen the Romeo/Chelsea waltz before. Mesmerizing.

  3. Thanks, Deb and Dina. This was a fun one to write. Okay, let me re-phrase. This one was a fun one to compile. (I wish the writing itself had flowed like the dances...)

    And Dina, I realized this morning the Chelsea dancer looks a lot like you.

  4. off topic. sort of...
    Dancing with the Stars, this season, has been just incredible. I stopped watching it lately, but this Allstars Season has been amazing.

    I have a feeling this post is going to be one of our most visited over the years! Super job!!

  5. Wow! That's quite an extravagant compliment, CJ. I'll choose not to argue. Ha ha ;) Chelsea was also on So You Think You Can Dance. I'm a fan for sure.

    Deb, I had stopped watching too, but I've caught a few live episodes this season, and I agree. Might have to go back and watch this one from the beginning.

  6. Boo Hoo, I have to wait until I get home to watch all the lovely dances, but be assured that I will! Thanks for helping us all have an even greater appreciation of Dina's story. Oh, and it's available today... Off to Amazon I go!

  7. Awesome! You're going to love the videos, Lisa.

  8. Oh this is such an awesome post, CJ! I love the Young Victoria dance.

  9. This is fabulous - not only because it's romantic and informational, but because you mentioned Jane Austen at least 4 times :-)

    I love watching the Jane Austen Society's dances. Lovely!

  10. Dina, well, the hair is definitely you. And that dress would be fabulous on you. Maybe you should dress like that next time we do lunch.

    Lisa, hope you find a few minutes tonight to relax. It's not a long post, but it takes a while to get through because some of the clips are longer. (I tried to find short ones, but you really do need the Darcy/Elizabeth conversation in there.)

    Suzie, the Young Victoria dance is one that should have been longer...

    Pepper, I didn't count the mentions of Jane Austen until you pointed it out. But most of them are mentions to various Jane Austen Society dances. Isn't Youtube great? This was so helpful to me as a writer to be able to see the dances being done.

    There's a Jane Austen Society in Williamsburg. Hmmm. Hey, Dina, maybe we should check it out.

  11. Oh wow, is right! Exceptional post, CJ. Not only did I watch every single video, but I ended up watching an extra 6 or 7 clips as well. LOL

    It was fun to see how the dance evolved from the Country Dance where you spent 10% of the time with your partner and 90% watching and waiting, and then the Virginia Reel where it was reversed and only 10% waiting and watching.

    I can see how the intense 'arms clasped above heads' movement can add delicious stolen moments to a public social affair. Whoever thought of that move had romance on the brain. :D

  12. Anita, you wouldn't believe how many clips I left on the cutting room floor. Um, okay, maybe you will, if you were watching more than I put in the post. It was hard to keep within a reasonable time because I kept wanting to add more. I probably have enough for another whole post.

    One of the forerunners of the waltz was supposedly the landler, so be sure to look up the scene of Captain Von Trapp dancing with Maria. (As my college choir director once said, the Austrians have 3/4 time in their blood.)

  13. Pepper, did you know I call this my "Scarlett O'Hara meets Jane Austen novel" ?

  14. Anita, I think we'll be getting a lot of hits on this post for many years to come. I've never seen such an amazing compilation of dances before.

  15. Anita, what was even worse was that I'd get distracted, and the next thing you knew, I was watching P&P or Young Victoria, etc.

    I'm not sure how many of those hours I get to count as work...

  16. Yeah, and just think of poor CJ, slaving away at her computer watching all those videos as she looked for the perfect ones for this post. Must've taken hours.

  17. Sorry about the order... I had a typo on my comment so I deleted and you answered before I had a chance to put it back. Are we dancing with the comments, CJ? LOL

  18. Okay, Anita had another comment here that I responded to -- and now it has disappeared.

    The good news is that there was a comment earlier on the thread for, um, male performance medications that also disappeared. I wonder if there is a spam folder where these things go. I'd hate to think of Anita's comment languishing there with only that other one for company.

  19. Oh, good. You're back.

    I'm afraid I don't know these steps very well...

  20. Oh wow! WOW.

    Now I want to learn to dance like that.

    C.J., you're awesome for sharing these!!!!! Yes, do another post.

  21. THe Sound of Music dance is great. I am sure I didn't know it at the time ...

    I'm old enough that I actually saw that movie in the theater when it came out (with my school class). I sat with a girl who is still my best friend and that's her favorite movie...

    but I digress.
    That dance between Maria and the Captain is so romantic end a little steamy for it's intensity and control.
    In an era where people just go to bed to get to know each other, I love the controlled heat behind the mere touch of a hand or the long stare. I also remember thinking Captain Von Trapp was a bit old. Now I know how handsome he was.

  22. Gina, I included a link for dates/places with upcoming period dances. (Most of them seemed to be in the UK--but why should we let that stop us? Inkwell road trip!)

  23. Deb, he must have been considerably older than Maria if he had a 16-year-old daughter at the time they met.

    But yes, Christopher Plummer made a fine looking specimen of an older gentleman. That scene is incredibly hot -- and all they do is touch hands and give each other looong looks.

  24. This whole post makes me miss our vintage dance group that no longer exists. So much fun. The Napoleonic Ball Waltz clip reminds me very much of the Circle Waltz. It's an audience participation dance a lot of vintage dance groups do at re-enactments.

    I love reels best though. They're so much fun. The Virginia Reel is one of my favorites. So many forms you can do, and it's easy to make up your own.

  25. That Virginia Reel did look really fun. Rachel, I'd say you had a pretty neat opportunity to learn those things at all, even if they were short lived.

  26. Fabulous post, CJ! I loved it and will refer to it again.

    And I'm watching Mr. Darcy again just for the fun of it. :) Thanks.

  27. Wow is right! How neat to hear some history of the dance and see these wonderful clips.

    Mr. Darcy (especially THAT Mr. Darcy)? Lovely.

    And, yes, the Young Victoria clip was just mesmerizing. Now I must see that movie.

    Fred and Ginger? Beauty and the Beast? Wonderful and wonderful.

    Thank you!

  28. Rachel, there are a number of groups in our area that do period dances. We've been to the contra dances a few times. (Every once in a while, they have an Open Band, and my fiddler son has played. There was an Open Band Saturday night, but we had something else going on.) And I think there's an English country dance group that meets over in the Williamsburg area.

  29. Haha, Susie. I like to inspire people.

    And DeAnna, yes, you must see The Young Victoria. In fact, I might have inspired myself to watch it again.


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