By: Abigail Mae
Balls and assemblies were the main social gatherings in the Regency period. These events took place in assembly halls or in private houses in ballrooms. In public assemblies the whole town could come where in private ones you had to be invited by the host family. Public assemblies took place in the town assembly room. Private balls took usually took place in the family who was hosting ballroom. These were both gatherings for wealthy and middle class families. Even though often private balls were for the wealthy.
Social Aspects in Ballroom Culture
Assemblies and balls were very important to the people of the Regency time, especially young people. In these balls young ladies and men could meet their future husband or wife. For the wealthy there was a season referred to as the “social season” which lasted from January to July(Aiello). Families would go to town or London and the young ladies would “come out”. Coming out in the regency period meant the girls were of age, educated and now ready to enter society and find a marriage partner. Girls who were high in wealth would go to charity events, dinner parties and balls. For example in Mansfield Park the ball that Sir Thomas held for Fanny Price could be considered her coming out ball. Some spoke of the balls as “marriage marts” because the girls would be looking for possible partners(Aiello). Not only were the balls of the season for marriage proposals but also a time to gossip about what is happening in the country. During the months of the social season parliament was taking place so many conversations at those balls were focused on politics(St.John). Along with politics people also gossiped about the families who were there. Judging their dresses, manner and looks. A good example of this gossiping would be during Pride and Prejudice. In the book during the Meryton Ball Mrs. Bennet is having a conversation about Ms. Charlotte Lucas and makes a rude comment about her appearance. The Meryton Ball is also a good example of meeting marriage partners as Jane met Mr. Bingley there. Both of them in hopes of marrying. Also Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth met at that ball even though at the time both weren’t thinking of marriage.
Dancing was a very big part in balls and assemblies. To get to know a young lady a man can ask her dance to start off the conversation. Asking a girl to dance one song could actually lead to a marriage proposal. It was also important for young ladies coming out at the time as they would usually lead the first dance. In Mansfield Park Sir Thomas tells Fanny that she will be opening the ball by having the first dance. When being asked to dance the young people have to be skilled in it knowing these dances. This was a big accomplishment to both ladies and men(Wilson). Dances during the Regency period were very tricky and fast so one had to be good (Regency Dances). Many wealthy families would hire a Dance Master to come and teach the children the latest dances(Regency Dances). The family would then hold fake balls to have the young people master the dances before coming out. Middle class families would usually go to a dance studio to learn. Dances in the Regency period actually took after Scottish dancing(Regency Dances). These dances were much smoother and swift than those Scottish dances. Usually partners stood facing each other in a line, this was referred to as long dancing.
Occasionally there was a dance in a circle. The music to these dances was Waltz (Regency Dances). But the music has nothing to do with the dance people do in current time. That dance would not be allowed as it has too much physical interaction.
Adaptations of Austen’s Balls and Assemblies
In Jane Austen’s novels balls and assemblies are important events. In Pride and Prejudice there are two which are important to the story. The Mertyton and Netherfield Balls. Both of these balls are in movie adaptations of the book. The 2005 adaptation is said to be a good adaptation overall to the book. For the ball scenes the locations were spot on especially since it was filmed in the east region of England (Stovel). The Netherfield Ball was a very important scene in the film. Five hours was spent filming one dance between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth(Stovel).The clothing that they are wearing is also appropriate for the time with Elizabeth wearing a white silk gown which was often worn upon young ladies coming out into society (Aiello). The dialogue was spot on during the dance as well. In the film they danced to “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot,” from Playford’s English Dancing Master(Stovel). That dance was popular for about 10 years in between 1650-1703(Kellar). This dance wasn’t exactly what dance they would have done in the book since that took place in the early 1800s. In the 1940 adaption of the book the ball scenes aren’t so exact. They completely take out the Netherfield Ball and replace it with a garden party(Stovel). The dance scenes in this film are more along the lines of what Hollywood finds entertaining instead of sticking to the book.
Aiello, Dawn. “The London Season.” The London Season. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.http://www.thehistorybox.com/ny_city/society/printerfriendly/nycity_society_london_season_article0008.htm
Nora Stovel. ““Will You Dance?” Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.” Nora Stovel. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol34no1/stovel.html
Robert M. Keller. “The Dancing Master, 1651-1728: An Illustrated Compendium.” The Dancing Master, 1651-1728: An Illustrated Compendium. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.http://www.izaak.unh.edu/nhltmd/indexes/dancingmaster/
St. John, Ian. “Victorian Politics.” Victorian Politics. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. http://www.history-ontheweb.co.uk/topic/topic18_victorianpolitics.htm
“The Dances of the Regency Period.” Regency Dances. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.http://regencydances.org/history.php
Wilson, Cheryl A. Dancing with Jane Austen: History and Practice in the Classroom Wilson, Cheryl A., Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal On-Line, 15597520, March 1, 2014, Vol. 34, Issue 2.