Monday, October 22, 2007

Dance And Danceability

An unforgettable night of honour and grace, just as Jane Austen would have wished it -- another noble effort of We Make History.

From the writing desk of Mr. Christopher Francis, a regimental, and with full apologies and tribute to Miss Austen.

Photographic mementos are preserved here.

The seasoned regimental stood amongst his friends, settled for only a short time in the line of highly respectable ladies and gentlemen, dancing companions all. He was a sprightly man, known for spontaneous demonstrations of spirit, with enough welled inside to sustain him through a prolonged and hurried travel of one hundred miles by carriage. Yet he could still be disposed to moments of weariness, as much as he laboured to disguise them, as in the moment when an involuntary expression of fatigue migrated from his lungs through his mouth despite his best effort at suppression.

It caught the eye of the ballroom host standing next to him. "Mr. Francis!" he said in a low tone of teasing disapproval.

"It has been a long day's journey into night," the regimental replied, ashamed that he would permit a display so incongruent with the occasion. Indeed, it was with haste that he had departed a wedding in his other life and time. Moments after witnessing a colleague joined in matrimony, he offered the new couple a hearty, if anachronistic, "HUZZAH!" as they passed by him at the ceremony's conclusion.

Not one inferior of character had been received into the large hall. Genteel and graced young Britons in their finest apparel, gowns and coats and breeches, awaited instruction from the dancing mistress Madame Toussaint, a highly regarded caller whom the regimental regretted could not share in more of the dances she explained. She laboured to ensure each step footed with precision, in order, with a steadfast patience and kindness well-suited to many eager newcomers, numbered in the dozens about the room, to the point of starting the music over if need be to ensure the enjoyment of the gathered.

When Sellinger's Round was called, she hinted not at the dance's complexities, but of its repetitions, its choruses and verses, which relieved the regimental's first dancing companion. She was a young lady who, during the opening promenade, confided she had never attended a ball such as this one. The regimental reassured her as his eyes floated between her and the guests in their satin and silk. Fathers accompanied their daughters, and they would be recognized by the host throughout the evening as the finest of company. He took note of a few three-cornered hats. As was tradition, a few had strayed from the designated segment of time, offering long coats and baggy breeches or more opulent gowns. A few ladies chose fashions in tribute to the Renassiance. And one gentleman prophesied by his gray wool uniform of a future conflict in the former colonies.

But his focus would remain on his partner as he led her through the intricacies of the opening number, sometimes catching himself in mistakes, but making his best effort to please the lady and dampen any fear. Both of them found themselves hurrying through figures at times but not losing themselves.

"It is a bit complicated," he admitted. The regimental worked to support his disclosure as a gentleman of experience as his legs maneuvered through settings and sidings and slippings to the notes of the pianoforte.

"Thank you very much for a wonderful dance," he said upon bowing to her at the end, indicating not only the pleasure of her company, but his thankfulness for her willing tolerance of his awkward figures.

He found it unseemly that perspiration should adorn his forehead, although the fluttering waves of the guests in hopes of generating a breeze gave him some solace. He questioned his choice of attire: the dark blue embroidered coat and tails topping his white breeches and hose. His shoes, to much relief, were quite up to the task.

"From perspiration comes inspiration!" he declared and continued dancing.

However, he realized his coat might attract the suspicious eye, its epaulets hinting at French sympathies, which he made every effort to dismiss before anyone could challenge them. "I must have a word with my tailor." he explained. "She has a eye for things French. But I am loyal to Britain!"

As if to prove his allegiance, he sought out a gentleman topped in a large hat and dark regimental coat trimmed in the manner of a naval commander.

"That is a wonderful bicorn," he noted of the headpiece which reminded him of French soldiers. "Are you allied with Napoleon?"

No, he returned with kind resolution. "The British Navy."

Of course, the regimental concluded. How could he not recognize the vestments of his mother country? "There may be spies among us," he offered, desiring to explain away his unfounded suspicions.

Upon seeking another partner, he found himself in a dilemma, approaching two ladies standing together and not sure which one to bow to in request for a dance. How could he offer in such a way that would be both fair and mannered? His mind brought forth a memory from another ball in another time, of a technique shown to him by a commander whereby he closed his eyes, pointed, and twirled around, with his tip of his finger indicating the winner of the lot. The regimental did so, and upon opening his eyes, found a smiling face in front of him.

"You," he smiled. Perhaps it was not as mannered as he desired. But fair it was.

The call came for sets of six, and from a demonstration at the front of the hall, many could tell a favourite dance was upon them: "Come, Let Us Be Merry!"

Heads around him turned in confusion, and the regimental quickly gathered he was the only one in the set who knew the dance. His determination strengthened in the realization he must lead them, or find the effort disintegrating into confusion. Standing with his partner as head couple, he encouraged observation as he took hands with the lady and gracefully turned her towards the others, bowed, and turned again with the appropriate honours. He cast her off to the middle, touched hands briefly with her, and then cast to the bottom of the set, where they joined inside hands, and the regimental walked her in three-quarter time up the centre of the couples, turning to face her on opposite beats until the top of the set where they cast back to the centre and all joined hands to circle round.

The others learned quickly, after an iteration or two. A young lad in a ponytail and three-cornered hat danced as well as his betters, and no one frowned at any missteps. "Thank you for leading us!" a lady proclaimed to the regimental upon the dance's conclusion. He bowed to her in return.

He would have another opportunity to demonstrate his abilities, when Christchurch's Bells was announced. The gracious caller sought him to show the assembled the proper way of turning a lady, in a serpentine manner with the partner's hand held gracefully -- and sometimes closely in a crowded set. Then, to the amusement of the guests, she demonstrated the improper way, swinging his arm about as if she were throwing him aside to the gutters of London. The regimental exaggerated the moment for as much comedic effect as he thought proper, stumbling as her hand let go in feigned dizziness, leaving no doubt as to the absurdly of gracelessness and the discomfort it would cause.

"I am a bit of a player," he softly admitted later, hesitant to leave an unseemly impression among the refined, cultured and knowledgeable.

They proved themselves worthy when prizes were announced, offering historic facts and dramatic recitations instead of the common jig to claim their rewards, save for one gentlemen at the end. Somebody, the regimental concluded, must always bend against the wind. Yet all would cavort a few moments later to claim tins of cookies passed among sashaying couples in several lines.

Perspiration adorned the regimental once again, and he ventured outside after the end of a set. "Air, glorious air!" he proclaimed, letting the wind revive his spirit. Others had gathered outside in search of the same relief. His heavy uniform was indeed the culprit, more dangerous than any French spy. Yet the concern lingered enough that several gentlemen decided, on a future occasion, to provide more representation for the Royal Army, in brightly coloured uniforms. Procurement would be another matter.

"Do you wish to be head couple?" a lady offered after she accepted the regimental's bow and offer of a dance.

"Yes," he replied and formed a new set. The host and a young lady joined him as Madame Toussaint introduced the caper: "The Spaniard."

To the regimental's relief, the host pointed out the Spanish influence of the young soldier's uniform. Perhaps, the gentleman thought, he had defended his loyalties unnecessarily and thought too little of his seamstress.

He smiled as he skipped up and down the line with his dancing partner, a seasoned young lady of impeccable manner and beauty, inside and out. He added extra flourish to his turns and lilts in his steps to match his joy, his free hand raised in happiness as they cavorted. The dance progressed them all the way to the end of the line, where another soldier awaited the regimental and his free hand. He enthusiastically slapped it in what societies would later call a high-five.

"I don't think that was historical," the lady remarked with the grin of humour.

"Yes, but it was lively," the regimental replied.

The end of the evening drew nearer than many expected, as minutes evaporated in the bliss of good company and fine dancing. Time remained for two more dances before the final waltz, but the moments were consumed in merely one: the Duke of Kent's Waltz.

For the final set dance, the regimental asked for the company of a young lady with an infectious smile, one who had impressed him with her spirit and quality of footwork. She did not disappoint him as the two balanced and turned each other, casting off in graceful steps behind the other couples. In one measure, he added an ambitious flourish, leaping slightly into the air and touching down lightly in a "double-axle," as it would be known later. He tried it only once.

All through the dance, the two exchanged smiles, the regimental grinning and returning grins as they were drawn into the beauty of the music and the movements. The caller's voice drifted into silence as the moves ingrained themselves among the couples. The dance ran long, and then longer, and then longer still, nobody wanting to end the moment, all enveloped in the joy of grace and pleasant company, basking in a moment long anticipated.

When the evening ended, after the final waltz, the regimental offered his traditional cry of approval: "Huzzah! Huzzah!" Even among the genteel, the cry echoed over and over again.

Early in the evening, a charming schoolteacher offered her approval of such boisterous displays.

"I know why we love you," she whispered to the regimental.

"I love you too," he responded, his heart humbled.

Click here for more reflections and moments of happiness from this evening's fine assembly.

NEXT: A Servant In The Cause

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