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Regency Dance Manuals


In the eighteenth century, a craze for dancing called "danceomania" swept Europe. Everyone was dancing.

Up until the early 1800's, all formal balls started with the stately minuet. By the time of the regency , the minuet was mostly danced at court and at the balls of the more traditional hostesses.

Country dances - or Contra danses-- were popular as they allowed much variety-- the top couple often called the dance as they pleased.2

In the eighteenth century dancing was considered genteel. Society danced refined country dances and imports from the continent. Dancing was seen as a good way to train boys and girls in deportment. It was also thought a good way to help young people overcome the awkwardness of adult bodies. The way a person moved was a badge of his class and betrayed his training and breeding.



On the nights of full moon, the carriages and horses's hooves clattered over the cobble stones towards inns and assembly rooms where subscribers danced the night away. The subscribers were often a mix of the social classes in the country. The noble families usually had enough room at their houses in which to hold balls.

Images of regency dances

Regency Dance

It was the mixture of social classes at the assemblies and inns that led to the establishment of Almack's. The class of people participating at a previous subscription assembly had deteriorated so badly that many mothers no longer felt their daughters were safe.

Almack's protected itself against such deterioration by putting the vouchers in the hands of a group of patronesses who scrutinized the applicants and ruthlessly weeded out those they thought inadmissible.

Almack's was very conservative as to dances. They limited to English contra dances and Scottish reels.

There had been a country dance called a waltz before the couple waltz came to England. Byron said it came in 1811. The haut ton held waltzing parties in the morning and danced waltzes at private balls.

It isn't known when the Waltz  was first danced at Almack's. It might  have been Princess Lieven who  introduced it there , though the English aristocracy was dancing the waltz before she arrived in England. in late 1812.

The waltz was controversial. There was an editorial in the newspaper expressing outrage that the Prince Regent had allowed the waltz to be danced at one of his balls.

It is hard for us to learn exactly what about the waltz was so scandalous.

Byron's satirical poem referred to embraces on the dance floor, and Sir H.E. went further:

What! the girl of my heart by another embrac'd?
What! the balm of her lips shall another taste?
What! touch'd in twirl by another man's knee?
What! panting recline on another than me?

To which someone made reply:

Sir H.E. thinks each Waltzing Miss
From every partner takes a kiss.
Then O! how natural the whim
That makes them loath to dance with him.

There have been several debates about the waltz and it is always being discussed on lists dealing with Jane Austen and regency research. Three people will each have a picture of a waltzing couple and insist that her illustration is the correct one. Did the man put his hands on the woman's waist? Did he hold her only by one hand while holding the other hand in the air? How did they hold each other?

I found a book of the 1850's Lowes Ball-Conductor and Assembly Guide published in Edinburgh. The directions cover quadrilles and other dances, but what I found most interesting was the section on "Waltzing." After saying that the waltz came from Germany, Lowe gives four different ways in which the couple stand where they place their hands.

  1. "The Demi Sautien Or the Half support: The Gentleman puts his right hand round the lady's waist, and holds her right hand with his left, whilst she rests her left hand on his shoulder."
  2. "Le Sautien Mutuel: The Mutual Support: Each person puts the right hand round the other's waist, whilst they allow their left hands to hang down; rest them on each other's shoulders or place them behind their backs."
  3. "Le Sautien Entirement: The Entire Support: The gentleman places both his hands upon the lady's sides, whilst she rests her hands upon his shoulders."
  4. They could also just join right hands, held high, with the left hands down by their sides.

During the dance the dancers might change to hold their joined left hands.

A variation has the left hands on the other person's shoulder.

Though these descriptions are from mid century, they could easily be describing some of the illustrations we have seen of the waltz in Byron's day.


Emmerson, George S. A Social History of Scottish Dance. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. 1972.

Piggot 167.Piggot,Patrick. The Innocent Diversion. A Study of Music in the Life and writings of Jane Austen. London: Douglas Cleverton, 1979.

Richardson,Philip J. The Social Dances of the Nineteenth Century In England. London: Herbert Johnson,1960.

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. The Scottish Country Dance Book. 12 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AFPaterson's Publications Ltd. London. 1981.

Cooke: Selection of the Present Favourite Country Dances for the Year 1796.

Emmerson, George S. A Social History Of Scottish Dance: Ane Celestial Recreation. Published 1972 by McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal. Hardcovers with dustjacket, 352 pages PLUS 32 PAGES OF ILLUSTRATIONS. Book measures 10¼ inches (26 cm) high by 7 inches (17.7 cm) wide.

Regency Dance Manuals


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