“One cannot have too large a party.” – Jane Austen, Emma
Folger Theatre took Miss. Austen’s advice to heart on Friday, October 21, with its first Ladies’ Night pre-show event. Patrons enjoyed numerous activities on offer, including a coloring station with scenes from Austen’s novels, a magnetic poetry mash-up that combined the word craft of Jane Austen with our own William Shakespeare, British bangers ‘n’ mash on sale from Sixes and Sevens, and special talks by Folger docents on our current exhibition, Will & Jane: Shakespeare Austen and the Culture of Celebrity.
The main event was the Regency dance session run by English Country Dance in DC, which temporarily turned the historic Paster Reading Room into a ballroom worthy of those found in any Austen novel. Led by founder Michelle Sebastian, and in period costume, ECD in DC performed the The Duke of Kent’s Waltz for the assembled participants. The group previously practiced at Dumbarton House, a Federal house museum and headquarters of The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America located in Georgetown, until Dumbarton House’s closing for renovation. Although ECD in DC is “on hiatus” for regular practice sessions, its performance group remains active and Sebastian remains hopeful for ECD in DC’s future as it searches for a new venue. “Unlike other, more difficult dance forms, ECD gives everyone an opportunity to take specific choreography in a social setting, and whilst interacting with others, put their own personal stamp on the dance,” explained Sebastian. “In dance, there is joy, and we could all use a little more joy in our lives. ”
Then it was time for all the Elinors and Edwards in the crowd to take their turns around the room, getting a taste of what it would have been like to attend a Regency ball in Austen’s era.
According to Sebastian,
Austen herself was an enthusiastic dance participant. She writes about dancing in her personal letters and certainly employs dancing in her literature. Anyone who is an Austen follower would certainly be able to connect absolutely in doing something that Austen herself would have done, and the dances as notated by Playford would certainly have appeared at balls she attended. Someone can actually follow in Austen’s footsteps dancing The Duke of Kent’s Waltz or The Young Widow.
With dancing playing such a large part in Austen’s life, its no wonder it features so prominently in her novels. Potential suitors are judged by their willingness or ability to dance, ballrooms are a hotbed of romantic possibility, and who could forget Mr. Darcy’s refusal to take a turn around the room with Elizabeth Bennet?
The dramatic potential of Regency dance also influenced Folger Theatre’s current production of Sense and Sensibility, an energetic adaptation that features a great deal of physicality, mobile set pieces, and–of course–a company dance number to introduce the action. Choreographer Alexandra Beller prepared for her work on the show by consulting Baroque dance experts, explaining “There’s really no distinction in this production between the movement and the meaning, and the words and the space–it’s all extremely interactive.”
It was a wonderful night of dance, both on stage and off, and we can’t wait to share it with you again when Ladies’ Night returns on November 4.
Curious to give English Country Dance a try? Join us on November 4! Tickets are limited, and can be purchased here. Sense and Sensibility is on stage at Folger Theatre until November 13. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.