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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Jane Austen's Novels: The Village Dance

As one who plays music for modern equivalents of the public and private dances in Emma and Pride and Prejudice - held in the village halls of England - I must tell you the tradition is unbroken.

My band is frequently invited to play for such events. (I took the photo above at one of them.) We play steady, gentle music - not amplified. Often, as I play, I look at the dancers and imagine myself transported back two hundred years to the Crown Inn at Highbury. With a change of costume and a very slight change of music, we could be right there.

Proceedings have changed very little: enthusiasts have always spent hours decorating the room or hall; ladies still take trouble dressing up; there is always a break for refreshments; and sometimes there is additional entertainment (a quiz or at least a raffle replacing the card tables of earlier times) and there may also be a local guest soloist - a Mary Bennet or a Jane Fairfax. Even candle-light is occasionally used - a praiseworthy ploy to maintain the link with the past.

Sir William Lucas, Lydia Bennet and Jane Bennet are always among the guests in front of me. Unfortunately, so is Mrs. Elton.

There are no longer so many rules about dancing with particular partners, though I notice that most people have about 8 dances with their principal partner and 3 or 4 dances with other friends. Also, of course, dancing is much more 'free-style' than it was then, though some of the elderly folks still dance with formality. As for the number and duration of dances, today we average about 8 in an hour. Each dance lasts about six minutes. Probably about twelve dances in total would have been danced in the candlelight at Netherfield.