Learning to dance
“May I have the pleasure?”
Before a lady could accept such an offer from any suitor she needed to learn to dance.
How did they learn to dance?
If a young gentleman or lady were fortunate enough to have older siblings it was most likely they would learn how to bow or curtsy and at least the most basics of dance steps from their brothers and sisters, or perhaps even their parents. Those with no skills or no older siblings would have had to look to the dance master or mistress for assistance.
For it was essential to be able to dance, as it was one of the ways in which a lady and a gentlemanmet before they were married.
What was the role of the dance master when learning to dance?
Some dance masters or mistresses were itinerant teachers, who were invited to set up academies in large houses around the country offering coaching in techniques. These were attended by affluent families to learn the latest dances. Other families may have employed these teachers to do private lessons in their homes.
Lady Caroline Lamb recalled inviting people to her house where steps were “being daily practiced… a number of foreigners coming here to learn”.
The foreigners she talks off, may have come from the next village, rather than abroad. Although despite the Napoleonic wars there was much travel between the United Kingdom and Europe. Foreign visitors did bring new dances from the continent, such as the scandalous waltz from Germany (which is discussed in the Scottish Regency Ball article)
To become truly proficient, they would practice all day and go to the ball in the evening.
Did they use dance books?
There were many books printed about dancing.
Manuals had been printed since 1700’s. Some books depicted figures dancing and linked their moves to tunes.
In one such guide, the author A. Cosmo Mitchell hoped the book would,
“… deepen the current instructions in the classroom, and to the devotee of maturer years who's enthusiasm outruns memory, the guide will, its author hopes, prove as welcome as it has been his aim to make it trustworthy.”
What dances do you need to know to go to a ball?
Social country dances like the French cotillions which were later in the era called quadrilles were a necessary part of the dancer’s repertoire (discussed later in an article on Scottish Regency Ball).
An Edinburgh Ball would not be complete without a reel or two and a strathespey.
The oldest known reels are typically Scottish and thought of as the foursome reel, but there were threesome, fivesome and eightsome reels (which is not the same as the eightsome reel danced at ceilidhs today.)
The strathespey is both music and dance. Originally the music was written for the fiddle, with the typical ‘scotch-snap’, giving the music a staccato accent in the four four beat time. The dance of the same name is a slow reel.
By the beginning of the Regency era in Scotland (1810), all dancers would have been proficient in reels, strathespeys and a range of country dances.
Further preparations for a Scottish Regency ball or assembly?
If you would like to find other articles on preparations for a regency ball with a distinctly Scottish tilt take a look on my website http://www.carolinebagshaw.com.If you want updates on my next books, feel free to sign up for my newsletter - Caro-Lines and receive a free story which I hope will make you giggle.
Most of my stories have dances of one type or another.
Regency Anthologies. A Tangle of Tinsel & Tartan http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08M945JBR
- How did people learn to dance in the Regency era. https://www.historyextra.com/p...
- Regency dance https://www.earlydancecircle.c...
- Scottish dance
- The Development of the Country Dance as Revealed in Printed Sources Hugh Thurston Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society Vol.7, No. 1 (Dec.,1952), pp. 29-35 (7 pages)