The Jane Austen Evening
The Jane Austen Evening!
Saturday January twenty-third, a horde of well dressed travelers slipped through the rents in the veil of time to descend upon the Pasadena Masonic hall. That’s not entirely accurate, but in an evening of elegant make-believe you will find many willing to suspend their disbelief and plunge with immense delight into another era. Since 1998, all but one of the annual Jane Austen Evenings have filled to capacity. This past year it sold out in under five minutes. There is a high demand for a swirl around the dance floor with Mr. Darcy!
Regency dancers whooping it up!
This year, there was even a second event hosted by the Victorian Tea and Dance Society the following afternoon to welcome the overflow (and those who just couldn’t get enough) to dance the same program. The Jane Austen Evening is a beautiful sight. Everyone makes an effort and the crowd seems to be positively beaming whilst navigating the dance floor in their Regency costumes. Everyone from teens to seniors make up the list infectiously enthusiastic, energetic guests.
Ready to get the party started!
This year began, as usual, with tea and entertainment. An abundant meal and several teas are provided, but guests are encouraged to bring their own tablecloths, china and centerpieces to add to the ambiance, then indulge in teatime treats with old at and new friends as a start to the evening.
Tea time at a Jane Austen Evening past.
Every year there is a different entertainment to amuse the guests. Previous years have included an Austen improv troupe, lectures, or, like this year, music of the period. There is a break between the tea and ball in which many ladies change into different gowns– not because they must but because they can! The women at this event are an incredibly kind and take turns helping each other as some gowns have tricky bits.
A Regency gown.
I can attest to the fact that not only can it be difficult to get into a Regency reproduction gown on one’s own (or even with the help of a well meaning husband), but it can sometimes be incompatible with a comfortable car ride, in which case it travels along in a garment bag. Regency wear is not required, only formal wear. Some rent costumes, but those who sew make their own delightful Regency clothes. Many order their gowns either custom made or ready-made from costume websites or local seamstresses.
Luckily, the Regency is one of the easier eras for sewing dresses. Clothing for men is trickier, although many a lady has lured her menfolk into the Regency with the promise of some sort of military garb. Welcome, boys! Just leave your weapons outside the ballroom… I’ve seen a dagger go flying during a jig. It was scary, but no one was hurt.
It wasn’t him.
Unfortunately, several of us have had some hurt feelings due to brief, unpleasant encounters with a few we name the “costume police” (or something worse), but I have, without shame, worn gowns that zip up the back made of fabrics that would baffle Mr. Tilney as well as dresses that are more authentic.
A gown from another event which would make Mr. Tilney cringe. Synthetics!
This year, I talked to one woman dancing happily in a gorgeous gown and her five-toed running shoes so as not to aggravate plantar fasciitis. We had a laugh as I hiked up my skirt to show her that I was sporting Isotoner memory foam slippers with beading. A sprained toe a few years ago forced me to wear Sketchers beneath my flowing silks. Who cares? Because, in the end, it’s all about enjoying the evening—and, of course, the dancing.
Visible Sketchers peeping out from under my dress at a different ball.
The dances for the Jane Austen Evening are called from the stage by the invariably excellent Marsden Macrae who sets the program which she varies from year to year. We always have live music and a talented contingent of costumed musicians on the stage.
This year, fans of the 1995 Pride And Prejudice were reveling in Shrewsbury Lasses better known as “Other way, Mr. Collins” as well as the one dance always on the program, Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot, during which, as you well know, Elizabeth and Darcy exhibited “such superior dancing”.
Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot. A silly name for a lovely dance.
Other favorites included Irish Lamentation, Ramsgate Assembly, Sally in Our Alley and Prince William. Simpler dances like Knole Park,The Collier’s Daughter and Sir Watkin’s Jig delighted beginners. Waltzes are added to the end of sets for those who are inclined to try out the scandalous dance which gained popularity in the Regency. Some of the Regency waltz holds feel awkward, but we’re game to give them a try.
Regency waltz hold 1815
Much like during the Regency, women outnumber the men. No worries! Ladies often dance together and since most Regency dances aren’t terribly clinging, we have a great time.
Manners are less reserved as it was during the Regency, and at this ball ladies will often approach a gentlemen and invite him to dance. Those of us bringing our own gentleman know that we have to share him to a degree, yet to my knowledge, no marriages have been broken up at the Jane Austen Evening by the wiles of Regency floozies.
The traditional end to the dancing is Sir Roger De Coverley, the only dance Walter Nelson, the event’s founder, walks us through once from the stage and then cuts us loose. He smiles and assures everyone that it will doubtless devolve into anarchy as the band speeds up, but whatever you do, he exhorts the crowd, “JUST KEEP DANCING”! Without fail, decorum flies out the window, grace gives way to speed as it all ends in laughter and applause.
Swirling madly on the dance floor!
My husband and I began Regency dancing at a Jane Austen Evening. It seemed the natural progression for a couple of old goths who spent many years wearing out the soles of our pointy shoes on the dance floors of nightclubs with names like “Fang”. Laying on the frills for a night out was already a part of our culture. As a devout Janeite and avid Anglophile, the Regency was a world that begun tempting me decades earlier. The balls in the tv and film adaptations had me aching to step through the screen. It was time. We gathered our courage, bought tickets to the ball and headed to our first Jane Austen Evening dance practice.
Getting ready for the dance. Hands four!
The practices are taught with incredible clarity and patience by Marsden Macrae, who leads a dance group in Las Vegas but comes back every year to coach newbies as well as more advanced dancers and leads the ball. It was the perfect starting point for us as beginners. We were dancing quickly toward a hobby that encompasses as much time and as many costumes as we want to devote to it.
Just plain fun.
Dances of this period are FUN! There is a symmetry, logic and liveliness. Some dances are graceful, romantic and stately while others seem just an excuse to frolic or get silly.
Complexity varies and there is a sense of accomplishment as we progress in mastering moves like a double mirror crossover hay. We now attend many different English Country Dance balls during the course of a year, and dance with local groups at least a few times a month, but we have a special love for the Jane Austen Evening. We seem to leave troubles behind in the magic of the Regency night. We’ve also noticed that we smile an awful lot while we are whooshing around the dance floor. For that, I thank Jane.
The ladies have lost all sense of decorum!
Here are some links for more info on the Jane Austen Evening:
Lady Elyse Ashton