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|The Importance of Dance in P&P
Written by BarbaraB
(5/10/2013 12:12 a.m.)
An earlier discussion of dance intrigued me enough to take some time to give it a bit of thought. While I’m not able to give it the time it deserves, I feel that Austen’s use of balls/dancing and all it entails, is an important part of this story.
All gentry children learned to dance (with possibly the exception of Mr. Collins :)), and it was important to learn, not only to dance, but to dance well. Regency/Georgian society believed dance “to teach graceful deportment, to polish manners, and to provide healthy exercise.” (Fullerton) “...it was felt that the skill of a person’s dancing expressed the quality of his soul or spirit” (A. Thompson) and it was a “reflection of the mind and personality.” (Fullerton), not to mention that is was a sign of gentility.
Balls, we know, were venues for young men and women to meet, socialize and enjoy each other with the hope of finding a potential partner for marriage and Austen makes good use of this setting for all sorts of social intrigue from attractions to distractions and everything in between. The Meryton assembly triggers the initiating event which fuels the conflict and all the balls produce events which drive the plot giving life to a myriad of emotions and providing a multitude of opportunities to characterize and create tension.
Three of the four couples who end up at the altar, met at a dance:
*Charlotte and Mr. Collins--This couple was introduced at the Netherfield ball and I believe it likely that Charlotte immediately surmised, that here was her guy and if she played her cards right... She knew Lizzy would never accept Mr. Collins and, imo, figured it was just a matter of biding her time while positioning herself for success when the moment was right.
*Jane and Bingley--This couple found themselves attracted at the Meryton assembly and unfortunately it was another dance, the Netherfield ball which was used as a catalyst to bring about their separation.
*Lizzy and Darcy--Although they were not formally introduced at the Meryton assembly, they had their first encounter at this ball where Darcy rudely refused to dance with Lizzy and thus the theme of pride and prejudice got its start. At Lucas Lodge, it was Lizzy’s turn to do the refusing. The Netherfield ball brings them, finally, together on the dance floor where they engage in a verbal tango that ends in no good feelings for either party.
The Netherfield ball chapter, in particular, is teeming with all sorts of ill-humor, provocations, disappointments, mortifications, improprieties, tensions, and heated emotions. So much is happening, one thing upon another, it is almost dizzying. It is a great chapter (adapts well to visual media) and long after this last dance, actions which happened during all the balls reverberate throughout the story; they produce and prolong obstacles that require much maneuvering in order to get around them and get all the ladies to their desired place at the altar.
This is merely a skeleton of the part that balls play in this story but it is enough, I hope, to support the fact that they were an integral part of the plot which Austen used to great advantage.
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