Dancing in December – JASNA-NY Celebrates Austen’s Birthday

December 16, 2016 – Cold weather did not prevent a fine turnout for our Birthday Meeting at The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen on December 10, 2016. Laurie Morison, outgoing Regional Coordinator, presided. The first order of business was electing a slate of new officers. Claudine Pepe is the new Regional Coordinator and Fran Schulz becomes Secretary. Diane Mangasarian will continue as Treasurer. New to non-elected positions are Monica Alvarez (Program Chair) and Genise Blum (New Member Chair).

Meg Levin addressed us about JASNA’s yearly Essay Contest for students in high school, college, and grad school. Meg asked members to help spread the word to schools and colleges with whom they have connections. Details and a poster are available at http://jasna.org/essaycontest/ or contact Meg at mlevin@yu.edu.

Kerri Spennicchia, outgoing Program Chair, gave us more details about “Spas and Spies in Austen’s England,” our supra-regional conference scheduled for April 21-23 in Saratoga Springs. Click here for the early details.  Registration will open in February.

Kerri introduced our speaker, Allison Mosley Thompson, who presented “Dancing with Jane: Minuets, Cotillions, Quadrilles, Waltzes, and Country Dances.” She is a dance historian, musician, and English country dance leader, as well as RC of the Pittsburgh region. She has written for a number publications, including two articles that have appeared in Persuasions Online: “The Felicities of Rapid Motion: Jane Austen in the Ballroom,” and “Dancing at St. James’.”

Ms. Thompson’s focus was on dances that Jane Austen would have known, but she did give us a quick background on dances of the earlier 18th century. Dancing being a vital social skill, children began to learn at age seven or eight. The dancing masters taught manners as well as steps. Public balls differed from private ones in having more rules to ensure mingling, settle issues of rank and precedence, and keep order. In places such as Bath there would have been an actual Master of Ceremonies to preside over the dances, as shown in Northanger Abbey.

Our speaker had us laughing soon after she began when she remarked that the presentation of dances in Austen-based movies, while lovely to look at, is usually wrong, wrong, WRONG. Wrong in the tunes, the moves, the sartorial details. For example, gentlemen did not wear boots in the ballroom. And Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot, well known to those of us who have watched the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, wouldn’t have been danced in Austen’s lifetime. Jane Austen would not have danced to old tunes because everyone wanted the latest music. Turnover seems to have been as frequent as modern pop songs. We were amazed to learn that approximately 30,000 tunes were published between 1730 and 1830!

Ms. Thompson addressed many issues and their talk was accompanied by an excellent selection of illustrations. She closed with an entertaining video of Golden Forests Dance, a Russian historical dance group which illustrated how very energetic such dances can be.

The meeting ended with our traditional toast to Jane Austen, newly written by Zoë Kaplan. Since she could not attend, Claudine and Monica took turns reading the quatrains. Then we all raised our glasses of sparkling cider to Jane!

Meg Levin

Photo courtesy of Marybeth Ihle