In the olden days, pretty much everyone, peasant or noble, danced. They were often different dances, but it was regarded as an essential part of life. The nobles' dances were more stately, the peasants more of a romp, but still, whenever the opportunity arose, everyone danced.
Those Regency dances we catch glimpses of in TV shows and movies seem pretty slow and tame, but they're deceptive. My friend Keri, who is very fit — she walks 15 kms (nearly 10 miles) most days, and also attends a gym regularly, recently attended a conference where they did some Regency dancing. She loved it — and said she was exhausted at the end. "Those dances go on forever," she said. "Those Regency girls must have been pretty fit."
Of course young ladies were taught to dance —and practiced at home so when they performed in public, they would shine. Practice is the key. I loved this picture showing a lesson in the art of using a fan.
But back to dance. My parents grew up going to dances weekly or more often. They loved to dance, and all it took was a catchy tune and they'd be up and dancing, whether at a party or a club, or in the kitchen dancing to music on the radio. So often, Mum would be at the sink, and Dad would just whirl her into a dance. By the time I knew them, they were so attuned to each others movement that it was like one person moving.
Most of their contemporaries were the same. When they were young they went to dances every week—even out in the rural sticks—and at weddings and 21st birthdays there was always dancing. And if friends and relatives were gathered for any reason, of an evening someone would produce a fiddle or sit down at the piano and they'd roll back the rug and dance. And they danced right on into old age. (This pic isn't of my parents — it's from Pinterest, but conveys the joy.)
My grandmother was a fine pianist, and during much of her long widowhood, after her kids were married, she'd be invited out to large rural properties as a guest for weeks at a time. Nothing was said, of course — nothing so vulgar — but her popularity was largely due to her skills on the piano, and most evenings they'd gather around the piano for a singalong or roll back the rug for an impromptu dance. A kind of singing for her supper.
Some people learned dancing formally, at a dance class, or at school, but most often, they taught each other. I suppose they simply absorbed it, and practice made perfect. It was an important part of their social life.
And a boy who could dance — well, that was an asset. I remember as an awkward eleven year old, dancing the barn dance at some country cousin's 21st. For those who don't know, a barn dance is a progressive dance — everyone is in a big circle, men on the inside and women on the outside (or maybe the other way around—I forget) and you dance a certain no of steps with one partner, and then, twirling, you move on the next. Must have been a great way to meet people in the old days.
I remember as an awkward pre-teen, not ever having been taught to dance, and having little opportunity to practice, stumbling along, feeling like a clumsy clot, until I was partnered by a man who Knew His Stuff — suddenly I was twirling, light as a fairy, dancing with the best of them. Yay!! — I could dance!! And then he'd pass me on to the next partner and I'd be back to clod-hopping along.
My friends and I never learned to dance properly. By the time we went out dancing as teens, it was all free-form individual dancing — not "proper" dancing with partners, requiring coordination and an actual sequence of steps. It's ironic that I'm much better at Greek dancing than I am at any other kind. When I was in Greece as a young thing, the ladies in the village we were living in thought I must be a bit mentally deficient, because I couldn't dance. Even little Greek toddlers could dance, but here was this grown woman who hadn't a clue. They took me out the back of the church and taught me there in privacy, so I wouldn't shame myself any longer.
I'm also pretty good at "bush dancing" — a mix of country dances, mostly Scottish and Irish in origin — "Strip the Willow" the "Virginia Reel", and dances like that — all due to the folk craze of my youth, and a later incarnation where I taught bush dancing for a colonial era performance, and ended up teaching half the school — several hundred kids— at lunch time on the oval, using a cassette recorder and a megaphone. Yes, it was mad. But those dances are very similar to some of the Regency-era dances. (These aren't my school-kids – mine were older.)
But ask me to foxtrot, or two-step or even waltz or any other partner dance with steps, and I revert to clod-hopperdom. The same goes for most of my generation. The Movie "Strictly Ballroom" which helped foster shows like "Strictly Come Dancing" and "Dancing with the Stars" caused a brief resurgence of dance popularity, but I think mostly it was dance classes who benefitted there. Most people of my generation, and younger, don't know how to dance as a couple. And a lot of the younger generation's dancing is really more a tribal group beat than anything else. Or individual showcase dancing, like breakdancing.
Is it a pity? I don't know. I do think something has been lost.
What about you — can you dance or not really? Do you go out dancing? What dances do you know? Have you ever danced Regency-style?