They wrote reminders on their forearms .
Posted by JennieC on December 08, 1997 at 10:40:23:
In response to Also..., written by Ann on December 07, 1997 at 22:12:54
I have been wondering how couples, when they stood up to dance, knew which dance to perform.
With a fixed set of a certain number of people, I would think it would be hard if a new couple joined the line (eg. Mr. Knightley and Harriet) or a couple dropped out, and that it would be confusing to have people wandering through the middle of the dance ("...Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set...").
Just kidding about those reminders. Actually, most dances went with a certain piece of music. As soon as the music played, couples knew which set of steps to perform. At the English country and contra dances I attend today, the dances are announced, and everyone is walked through the steps, since newcomers may not know the pattern. In Regency times, the music leader could also announce the dance. Dancing masters had taught their pupils the steps previously, so there was no need for a run-through. If you didn't know the steps, you were obviously not cultured enough to bother with.
As for couples joining in late, it is quite simple. A new pair of dancers simply stands at the bottom of the set, which is the resting point. At some time in the dance, each couple will reach this point, when they drop out for one set of figures, before proceeding "up" the set as an "active" (leading) couple. In the course of a dance (a long one), every couple will have the chance to lead, plus proceed both up and down the set at least once. Hope this makes sense. It's much easier to understand when you watch it. I've provided a link below a contra dance page, which has lots of info as well.
For a dance like Mr. Beveridge's Maggot, you are correct. There would have to be two couples joining in, not one. Otherwise, the dance would be all jumbled. I've seen this happen at a few dances. Very embarrassing for the uninitiated couple!
People can walk through a set of dancers without doing any damage if they pass through carefully and not between an actual couple.
Hope this helps! If anyone in the Northern Virginia area is interested in trying out a contra dance, we'll be having one on December 20th in Bluemont. E-mail me for details and directions. There will be a large contingent of Janeites present in full dress!
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