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Waltzing through history – and make 1st March a date in the diary….

Imagine the scene: deep in the rainforest of Malaysia, head full of facts about monkeys, flying squirrels, sea eagles and giant gekkoes. Not a sensible thought in the world, and I idly check my e-mails and stumble across a blog by the excellent Sarah Murden giving details of a talk to be given by ….ME … on 1st March. Talk about coming back to earth with a bang! In my own mind it is way, way off – because I am doing a small lecture tour to the States first (New York and Colonial Williamsburg) and I am still trying to get my head round those talks, let alone think about March. But in practice when I get back from the USA , I have to rush back to Devon for a change of clothes, and then turn round the same day and head for London to give my talk to the Early Dance Circle.

It should be fun. I confess that when I was asked, I thought: what on earth can I say to a load of dance enthusiasts about dancing that they don’t know already? I am after all, renowned for my two left feet. My Dear Lady Wife didn’t help: falling about with mirth at the idea of her husband addressing an audience of dance enthusiasts for 45 seconds, let alone 45 minutes.

After a few hours of panic, swatting up about the Sun King (Louis XIV of France) and his love of court dancing – and studying obscure texts showing notations for 17th and 18th century dance moves, I relaxed and thought laterally. I won’t be talking about the French, or particular dance steps, or showing ‘how to dance’; I will be talking about the importance of dance, in its social context. I will consider what was involved in a simple sentence such as ‘we went to Bath for the Season’. What did you pack? How many days did it take to get there? Where did you stay? What did the Master of Ceremonies do? How could you meet someone who took your fancy and whirl her on to the dance floor? Why was it vital to attend dance classes in order to learn the latest nuance in hand movements and so on?

I will also look at venues such as the Pantheon and Almacks and consider the role of masquerades and balls. And because I love to see how caricaturists revealed the world on the dance floor there will be lots of Gillrays and Rowlandsons.

And then there was the waltz – that outrageous, morally corrupting, dance craze which swept the country in the first decade of the 19th Century. Good heavens, the dancers embraced each other, and wandering hands could cause untold damage to tender nerves! The newspapers were up in arms, linking the dance to the harlots who took to the dance floor in order to entice their paying clientele. It was saved because the royal family loved the waltz, but for a while it looked as if the world was about to come to an end.

The talk will be at:  Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20 Bloomsbury Way,London WC1A 2TH   at 19.15 on 1st March.

To reserve your free place, please book on Eventbrite (click here).

A suggested donation on the evening is £5.00

Alternatively, contact the EDC Secretary: or on 020 8699 8519. That way, you can also enquire about the whole range of activities promoted by the group.

I do hope to see as many of you there as possible – preparing for the talk has been a fascinating learning experience for me and I really look forward to sharing my researches with you. And do look up the Early Dance Circle – they are a UK charity founded in 1984 and they are dedicated to promoting the enjoyment, performance and study of historical dance. Do have a look at their website  here. They have an impressive range of activities including an Early Dance Festival, due to be held this autumn in Edinburgh. They run workshops, study days and host various lectures so, no matter what your  historical period of interest, if dance is your thing, give them a visit.

Meanwhile: thanks Sarah for the reminder – tempting as it is to remain in the depths of the Malaysian jungle!


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