Given that I’ve been working for a couple of days now on two scenes, in present and past, where my characters are dancing, it’s occurred to me that,
a) I write a lot of scenes, it seems, in which my characters are dancing; and,
b) I have a lot of favourite scenes in other writers’ books, in which their characters are dancing.
And I’m wondering if it’s something that’s just personal to me, or if it’s generally a thing we do as writers, and enjoy as readers.
Dancing—in historicals, at least—not only lets our characters get close to one another in a way that doesn’t scandalize their friends and neighbours, but it also seems a way to move relationships along. And in a way, if I remember back to my own teenage years, that’s a reflection of real life.
I still remember being asked to dance by my first boyfriend—before we were technically a “couple”—at a youth theatre cast party. I know what songs were playing. I know what the moonlight looked like through the window. And I still remember how it felt.
So maybe it’s natural that I developed a fondness for dance in my stories.
Here are a couple of my favourite dancing scenes from books—one relatively modern, one historical—that have stayed vivid in my memory since I read them years and years ago:
From Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart…
“What’s much too late?”
“You, for one thing,” said Florimond, calmly. “Now take Miss Martin away and dance with her and try to atone for leaving her to the goldfish.”
Raoul grinned. “I’ll do that. Linda, come here.”
Florimond’s eyes followed me, still with the pucker of trouble about them. Then I forgot them as the music took us.
His voice said at my ear: “It’s been an age. Had you been there long?”
“Why were you so late?”
“I was scared to come down.”
“Scared? My God, why? Oh, of course, Héloïse.”
“She saw us; you know that.”
“Yes.” He laughed. “D’you mind?”
“You’ll have to learn not to.”
My heart was beating anyhow up in my throat. “What d’you mean?”
But he only laughed again without replying and swept me round with the music in a quick turn…
And before I knew quite what he was about we were out of the ballroom and on the loggia, slipping as easily and unnoticeably out of the throng as a floating twig slides into a backwater. The music followed us through the long windows; and there was the Easter moon and the ghosts of jonquils dancing in the dark garden. My skirt brushed the narcissi on the terrace’s edge. Raoul’s shoulder touched jasmine and loosed a shower of tiny stars. We didn’t speak. The spell held. We danced along the moonlit arcade of the loggia, then in through the dark windows of the salon, where firelight warmed the deserted shadows, and the music came muted as if from a long way off.
And from Bride of the MacHugh, by Jan Cox Speas…
She stood up, watching Alexander stride towards her. “He thinks my curiosity the result of a busy nose,” she said lightly to Gavin. “Here he comes to put a stop to my questions.”…
The fiddles were scraping into a wild, foolish tune, a country dance much like a dissipated galliard which delighted the clansmen at the village fairs. Across the hall Jean Lamond took Simon’s arm and watched Alexander as he spoke to Elspeth.
“He thinks to provoke her before all the guests,” Jean said, dismayed. She had long since discovered that decorum was not a word to be easily associated with the MacHughs, and she knew quite well that Alexander had requested the tune.
“I imagine she’ll prove a match for him,” Simon said. “We’ll watch this, Jeannie. I’d have walked the length of Scotland to see him bested by a lass.”
Jean was not reassured. “I pray he doesn’t humiliate her,” she said. “’Tis a wanton dance, scarce the thing one would learn at court.”
Elspeth was feeling no humiliation. Alexander looked most elegant, she thought, with his crammesy velvet doublet and white linen shirt…
He was intending some mischief; she could see it in his slow grin and in the way his eyes laughed at her. But she held out her hands to him and observed his steps closely until she had grasped the proper rhythm, and his hands touching hers sparked a small flame inside her which stirred her blood and quickened her feet to match his.
The fiddlers increased the tempo until it was as boisterous as a reel; Alexander began to swing her around the floor faster and faster, whirling her so that her skirts flew high above the floor. They were the only dancers on the floor, and indeed it was an abandoned dance which no proper lady would perform before a company of dignified guests. But Elspeth thought she had never before tasted such joy of movement, and she laughed at Alexander each time he whirled her around to face him.
The music came to a final wild crescendo, so urgent and contagious that they seemed to spin in a continuous circle, deep blue against crimson, like two jewels blazing in the candlelight. At the end, Alexander lifted her high in the air above his head, and the irrepressible laughter caught again in her throat till she was almost choked with it. He whirled her once more before he placed her feet on the floor; but he did not relinquish her hands and they stood laughing at each other in the center of the hall.
What scenes would you add to my list? What are your favourites?