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Dances from Jane Austen's Time

Nearly 40 people gathered in the LRERA Hall in St Albans on a cold February day to enjoy an afternoon of dances from the time of Jane Austen (1775-1817). The workshop was led by Chris and Ellis Rogers, internationally renowned authorities on the dances of this period, and their expert tuition took us painlessly through some delightful and unfamiliar dances.

We started with some country dances, The Merry Wives of Westminster and The Duchess of Devonshire's Reel, by Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780). Sancho was an African, born on a slave ship in the middle of the Atlantic, who eventually became butler to the Montagu family, before retiring to run a grocery business in Mayfair. He was a writer, composed dances and music, and his portrait was painted by Gainsborough.

This was followed by Pain's First Set of Quadrilles (1815), a sequence of six dances with names such as Le Pantalon and La Poule, providing 17 minutes of continuous dancing, although we didn't attempt this. These all need to be danced, rather than walked, which meant learning a few new steps. An unusual feature of quadrilles is that the first A music is for honouring, and the dance proper starts on the B music.

We finished with La Dem, an allemand with some interesting arm wrestling movements.

Herts Early Dance's resident band, The Presence, showed their versatility, exchanging their usual recorders, cittern and curtals for flute, guitar and bassoon to provide an appropriate period sound.