By Anna Kathryn Lanier
I finally attended college in my 40’s, graduating in 2008 with an associate of arts in history and teaching. For my art appreciation class, I took Dance Appreciation. I loved it. Though we learned about the history of dance, we didn’t have to actually dance. Which was good for me, because my arms and legs are not always coordinated. We did have to write a paper on a dance. I chose to write on the first dance scene between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice,” the Colin Firth version. Here’s my paper (which received an A):
I choose a dance from the 1995 A & E version of Jane Austen’s book “Pride and Prejudice,” starring Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett. Mr. Darcy is a wealthy land owner, who is very reserved. Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of a not-so-wealthy country gentleman, “whose spirited wit and good sense keep her away from folly—most of the time,” according to the DVD’s back blurb. Upon their first meeting, at a soirée, Mr. Darcy makes it known, through his behavior, that he does not dance. However, after observing Elizabeth over several weeks, he decides to dance with her at the Netherfield ball, after she’s claimed to a friend she would never dance with him.
“The dance chosen for this scene is a duple minor longways dance first published by John Playford's son, Henry Playford, in his 1695 Dancing Master. Although neither this particular dance nor the duple minor formation it is in were being used in Jane Austen's day, the dance is a very 'cinegenic' dance,” says Aylwen Garden on earthlydelights.com. Additional research on the English Folk Dance and Song Society website reveals that Cecil Sharp is one of many responsible for the preservation of not only this particular dance, but several other folk dances. However, “the Cecil Sharp version…has a longer B part dance sequence,” according to Garden. She suspects the “change from the original dance was probably inspired by the need for a more dramatic face-to-face beginning…for a 'battle' between the two protagonists.” The dance offers “a lovely, camera-confronting, film-effective, 4-in-line (with Darcy and Elizabeth 'trapped' side-by-side in the middle) up and back figure,” Garden explains.
When the dance starts the couples, ten in all, stand opposite each other, women in one line, men in another, about five feet apart and bow or curtsy to each other. Couples meet in the middle, circle, then back away. They then circle the couple next to them, meet again in the middle, then join a line with another couple, four people in all—female, male, female and male—step forward once, then back once, repeating twice. They then start the circling again. The description of the dance given on earthlydelights.com is:
A1 The 1. Man cross over and go back to back with the 2. Wo. Then the 1 wo. Cross over and go back to back with the 2. Man at the same time (in short, 1s cross r.sh. to other side- possibly giving r.hs momentarily, then after a bow to 2s below, do-si-do-ing with 2s below)
A2 Then meet and turn S. over r.sh. with 6 steps (2 bars) then 1 man turn the 2. Wo. with his right hand, and 1. Wo. turn the 2. Man with her right hand at the same time in 12 steps (4 bars), then 1. Cu. take left hands and turn into their own places with 6 steps (2 bars)
B The 1 cu cross over into the 2 cu. place by pulling on l.h., passing l.sh. and casting down on opposite side while 2s meet partner and lead up, and go back to back with their Partner while 2s cast out with 6 steps onto outside end, then all four lead up hands abrest with 2 steps and a rise, then back with 2 steps and a rise, then 1M and W cross (W in front) as they lead up and go the partial Figure through; and cast off into the 2 cu. place while 2s meet partner again and lead up.
The choreographer, Jane Gibson, used the element of space quite well for this dance. With a large ball room at her disposal, Gibson utilizes an area of about twenty feet by six feet as the couples move down the line, then back up again. The dance lasts over five minutes, giving Elizabeth time to draw Mr. Darcy into a conversation.
The music accompaniment, Mr. Beveridge's Maggot, is performed by a group of 8-10 musicians on a platform to one side of the ballroom. The musicians play violins, piano, clarinets, bass, and flutes.
The costumes are of typical Regency period. The men wear breeches, stockings, vests, coats, shirts with ruffled cuffs and fronts (Mr. Darcy doesn’t wear ruffles, as he is more reserved in both manner and dress) and a neckcloth intricately tied. There are also several men dressed in military uniforms of white breeches, and stockings and the familiar red coat with black and gold trim. The women wear romantic and Grecian styles dresses. Their hair is swept up in buns and dos, with feathers, flowers, beads or jewels for adornment. The women also wear arm-length gloves, which cover any exposed skin.
The point behind the dance is two-fold. Mr. Darcy, who proclaims more than once that he does not dance, is attracted to Elizabeth and, though he’ll never admit it, is jealous of the fact she’s dancing with other men. Elizabeth like-wise declares to never dance with the infuriating Mr. Darcy. However, when he approaches her for the dance, she can think of no excuse to refuse him.
Elizabeth has heard some disturbing news about Mr. Darcy, which seems counter to his character and during the dance she tries to draw him into conversation in an effort to discern the truth. The length of the dance allows her time to speak with him, even if the conversation is interrupted by the separations caused by the steps.
The other incident that occurs during the dance is when one of her neighbors congratulates them on their wonderful dancing. Unfortunately, he also brings to Mr. Darcy’s attention the fact that the local people expect a wedding announcement soon between Mr. Darcy’s good friend Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth’s sister Jane. This sets into motion a chain of events that cause great heartache for several people, not the least of whom are Jane and Mr. Bingley.
When the dance ends, Mr. Darcy leads Jane off the dance floor, but she is just as confused as she was at the beginning of the dance because the dastardly deed she thinks he has done is not discussed and therefore, the air is not cleared.
Garden, Aylwen. Dances From Pride and Prejudice. Earthly Delights website. www.earthlydelights.com.au/english3.htm. (6-25-07).
Pride and Prejudice. 1995
Regency Dress, Pride & Prejudice 1800s Gown, Napoleonic. E-bay website. http://reviews.ebay.com/Regency-Dress-Pride-amp-Prejudice-1800s-Gown-Napoleonic_W0QQugidZ10000000000085139. (6-26-07)
This article first appeared on my blog, Chatting with Anna Kathryn, on July 18, 2008.