The two first dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy. – Elizabeth Bennet dancing with Mr. Collins at the Netherfield Ball
Mr. Collins could have used the services of the excellent caller at the Regency Ball at the JASNA AGM in Brooklyn. Had he been able to follow her direction (or had he learned his dance steps as a child, as did most well-bred Regency children), then he would not have made Elizabeth feel such shame about her partner. When I attended my first Regency ball, I felt as delighted as a child in a candy store at Christmas. The costumes and music lent authenticity to the event. Even those in modern dress (like myself) felt welcome.
As you can see from the clip, individuals with a wide range of dancing talent were present. The caller, or calling master, taught the steps, people practiced, and then they danced to the lovely music provided by the trio.
An important social element was the calling of the dance by the leading lady (a position of honor), who would determine the figures, steps, and music to be danced. The rest of the set would listen to the calling dancing master or pick up the dance by observing the leading couple. Austen mentions in her letters instances in which she and her partner called the dance. – Regency Dance, Wikipedia
I love the next clip, in which the caller sensed a lack of concentration on behalf of her audience. Listen to her final words!
With so many people in one room, and (in those days) the heat from the candles, ballrooms tended to become hot. Flimsy gowns provided little advantage for over-heated bodies restrained by corsets; time and again fans came to the rescue, as in this short scene. The poor men simply had to grin and bear it and sweat the night away, for, believe me, an evening of dance with two sets per dance partner, could be quite strenuous.
After learning the various moves, the group danced the set. The musicians (a trio in this instance) then struck up the music and the dancers progressed through the set, the movements beautiful to behold. My humble flip camera did not do much justice to the proceedings, and could capture only a few of the moments. If you have never attended a Regency ball and are a Jane Austen fan, I suggest that you find a group in your area.
This experience makes Austen’s ballroom scenes come alive as I reread the passages. One also experiences the social aspects of the dance – the dancers themselves, the people arranged on the sidelines watching, the musicians, and the outer rooms, where others assembled and talked or sought refreshment. In former days, game rooms would be set up for those who opted not to dance.
More images below. If anyone knows the names of the people I captured, please send them on! Thank you.