On Saturday, my Mr. Darcy and I, accompanied by my parents, attended the Society for Manners and Merriment's annual Jane Austen Evening ball. This was our first experience with English country dancing and we really enjoyed it. Donning our empire waist dresses and period military outfits, we quickly joined in the spirit of the evening. At the beginning, we didn't know the steps but by the third dance we had the hang of it and by the end of the evening we chasséd and cast down with ease. I now understand why dancing instructors were hired to drill the dances into young ladies and gentlemen. The moves can be elaborate and if they aren't second nature, it's difficult to maintain a conversation and maintain the correct dance steps at the same time. Maintaining a conversation is important because the constant changing and hand turns makes it easy to meet a number of people within a single dance. Heaven forbid a Regency lady concentrate on the dance steps and miss the opportunity to converse with a very eligible Viscount. Since dances can last between fifteen minutes to a half hour, there is ample time for young Regency gentlemen and ladies to become acquainted.
Experiencing Regency period costume, or very close approximations, was exciting. Many costumes were incredibly detailed and captured the look and feel of the era. Men dressed in cravats or elaborate military costumes and a number of women looked as though they'd stepped straight out of Sense and Sensibility. Dancing in a somewhat period costume, I understand how dance may have influenced styles. Flat slippers are a must to prevent a young lady from tripping during a lively move, while a shorter dress keeps the dancer and her partner from stepping on her hem. Even in a modern room with air conditioning, it was hot and a fan proved a very necessary accessory. I've heard it said that the Regency is one of the few eras where women enjoyed more comfortable clothing than men. After last night, I believe this. The many layers involved in Regency men's fashion proved quite oppressive in the hot ballroom. Wool coats over a vest over a shirt with a high collar and a cravat left many gentlemen "glistening" profusely after the end of the first set.
It was a thrill to be in a room full of people who appreciate the Regency as much as I do. Oohs and aahs met the caller when she announced we were dancing Mutual Love, Jane and Mr. Bingley's first dance in the A&E Pride and Prejudice. The last dance I participated in was Auretti's Dutch Skipper, and I quickly recognized the music from the first ball scene in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice. Anyone with a love of the Regency period should attend a Jane Austen Ball. It is a great way to share your Regency obsession and enjoy an evening of elegance.