Friday, May 3, 2019

A Dress in Motion: Paine's First Set, Figure 5

I reference dancing a lot on this blog, both because I love it and because moving in period patterns in period clothes really changes your understanding of what it means to wear these ensembles. I really enjoy getting to do that! It informs my clothing scholarship and my dance scholarship, as they are so informed by one another.

When I first made my 1817 ball dress, I wrote a post sharing lots of dance history details based on the ball I attended in Scotland. In that post I referenced quadrilles, a style of dance popular in the period (and one that remains popular in various forms throughout the 19th century), and Paine's First Set, a quadrille written by dancing master James Paine. Recently we performed Figure 5 of this quadrille at our Jane Austen Ball, and I wore the 1817 ball dress. I thought this would be a good opportunity to share a little bit of clothing in motion, as it was meant to be worn!

Quadrilles are particularly tricky dances, because they consist of several parts, called figures, that are each set to their own short piece of music. Regency quadrilles are a special kind of endurance test, because you do them with energetic steps, as we do in the video above. Can you see how out of breath I am? And this was only one figure!

The author of Paine's First Set was James Paine, an orchestra leader at Almack's Assembly Rooms from sometime before 1816 through about 1821. As a band leader and dance publisher, he was an influential part of the London social landscape through his quadrilles and musical accompaniment at Almack's and aristocratic parties. In London Society, an Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature vol 4 (published 1863), an article called "Recollections of Almack's by a Chaperon" (sic) recalls the introduction of Paine's quadrilles to the ballroom:

"Quadrilles came —— Paine’s first set, I remember they were called. It was ages before country gentle men could learn them..It was necessary, when the balls at Almack’s began, to go through the whole set, and learn a code of steps consistent with each. And there was a long preparatory training, with great loss of temper, and loss of fiddle-strings on the part of the teacher."

I love the description of quadrilles as "a code of steps"! It does feel like we're speaking in code sometimes, when we shout (or more often, gesture wildly) at each other to recall what is coming next.

If you're interested, the whole piece is available for free on Google Books. The Almack's article begins on page 150.