Every Savage Can Dance

The Holiday season is upon us. Hopefully you meet friends and family and get to eat lots of wonderful food. Two hundred years ago these festivities would have offered many opportunities to dance.

This autumn Mrs E and I decided to sign up for a dance class. One needs a project, right? We are nowadays on different levels, so we chose historical dances for beginners and moderately experienced dancers. Many of the popular country dances – as described by John Playford – I could perform in my sleep, but I have never quite mastered the menuet.

How did they learn to dance back in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? Well, many dances are easy enough to learn by following suit, but many more have complicated formations that don´t come to you without some effort. And the dances often come in different versions, depending on time and place. We know that dancing, or in Jane Austen´s words “the felicities of rapid motion”, was an important social activity. One of her novels wouldn´t be complete without a ball or the occasional dancing. And of course the dance scenes are important in the film adaptations.

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Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

A grand ball was the highlight of the Season and there was plenty of impromptu, spur of the moment dancing in parlours and drawing rooms. Public or semi-private dance tutoring was offered to the middling classes. Professional dance masters (both male and female) could receive paying customers in their homes. Another method, although more difficult, I imagine, was to purchase a book with written instructions – again Playford´s country dances, first published in 1651. The gentry would hire tutors on a regular basis. It was expected of young masters and ladies to be in control their limbs, to have correct posture. Lord Chesterfield wrote to his son: “Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand or walk well, unless he dances well.”

If you dance – how did you learn? A last minute workshop before a ball? Long time practice? Are there dance courses available in your town?

On a side note: I find it much easier to dance wearing period attire. The fitted garments come with posture and dignified manners. And it´s much more fun!

One of the best parts with this dance project is to visit the old town every week. Stockholm is built on islands (“Venice of the North”), and the historical old town with the Royal Palace is surrounded by water. Facing the big market square, opposite the elegant stock exchange building, is the cultural centre, housed in a labyrinth of historical buildings. All sorts of activities seem to go on there such as yoga classes, Russian folk dancing, art classes, baby-meetings… Our teacher Ivar is great and it is nice to catch up with old friends and meet new fellow dancers.

Photo by Regencygentleman

Photo by Regencygentleman

One of the dances we have learned is a Swedish quadrille: Gustaf´s Skål, recorded by Baron Åkerhielm in 1785. I found this uncommented clip, showing the quadrille performed by members of the eighteenth century association in Sweden. Nice costumes! (Gustaf III was king 1772-1792.)

Equestrian Excercises or just Horsing around…

Dogs may be man´s best friend, but only two or three generations ago another four-legged friend was absolutely essential on so many levels: the horse. Different breeds of horses were everywhere, not only in the country, but in the city as well. Horsepower was needed for transporting people and goods, in farming, the army, the industry, and so on.

Photo by Maria del Carmen

“Good morning my dear Lady X!”

Society expected gentlemen to be good horsemen. (And – to a certain degree – ladies too, for that matter.) One was practically brought up in the saddle. By 1800 people enjoyed watching races, were involved in the prestigeous Jockey Club, and of course the fox hunt. Riding in the city was a fashionable pastime, as a way to see and to be seen. I admit the subject is not my forte, so please read more about horses and riding during the Regency here and here. (I have never given it a thought before, but have now realised that you find many, well, half dressed ladies and gentlemen when googling “regency riding”…)

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The Heathcote Hunting Group, painted in 1790 by Daniel Gardner (1750-1805). It shows the Rev. William Heathcote (1772–1802), on horseback (son of the 3rd Baronet) with company.


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Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley. (Pride and Prejudice 2005)

Now, with all this in mind, I accepted an invitation some time ago to join a photo session out in the country – with a very nice horse named Diva. I packed my Regency attire and joined my friend and fellow-model Helena, dressed for genteel riding mid 18th century style in black and red silk. We met up at the stables outside the city with Maria, our photographer, and her friend Caroline, owner of Diva. Maria also brought an additional 1750s-ish men´s outfit for me to wear, but it was made for a gent of a somewhat sturdier build, so those photos did not make it to this blog…

Following photos courtesy of Maria del Carmen.

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Photo by Maria del Carmen

Photo by Maria del Carmen

Amiring the estate. Yours truly was practically brought up in the saddle. Not. Please overlook any historical inacurracies regarding the horse tack.


Photo by Maria del Carmen

This could be the cover of a cheesy (but classy!) romantic novel…


Fooling around with a crow. I started the session wearing a rather loose-fitting 1750´s outfit.

It was an interesting experience to mount a horse dressed in full Regency attire. However comfortable they are the clothes restrict one´s movements. It is practically  impossibe to sit like haysack in them. It was also fun to observe the group of horses in the adjoining paddock. They followed every step we took and listened to our attacks of giggles, in full astonishment. Apparently we were an unsusual sight!

I had a wonderful day with Helena, Maria, Caroline, and Diva.

Photo by Regencygentleman

Quel horreur. In the afternoon my breeches looked like this. But I prefer a ripped seam rather than torn fabric. It is so much easier to mend…