“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy!-There is nothing like dancing, after all. -I consider it one of the first refinements of polished societies.”
“Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance!”
Thus goes the exchange between Sir William Lucas and Mr. Darcy. As these esteemed gentlemen of literature point out dancing is for the refined and polished societies as well as the lowly and poor.
Benefits of Dancing:
- Improves mood and energy
- Encourages grace and ease of manner
- Keeps you young
- Fosters attachment and good will
In Victorian times dancing was essential to society. it was a way for young people to meet, mingle and pursue a courtship. I argue it was more than a mere matrimonial tool. I put forth a claim that dancing was popular because it makes people happy, it makes you feel young and joyous.
I have entered on a dance experiment. I will try to dance for a half-hour a day to some of my favorite songs, then keep track of my mood, energy and weight. By dancing I don’t mean ceiling pushing, that thing common among young people since the 1980’s where you jump up and down with a gesture that looks like you are trying to prevent the ceiling falling down.
Ceiling pushing is little better than jogging on the treadmill to music; there is some benefit to mind and body but it isn’t the same as coordinated dance moves.
There is something about moving your body in time to the music, about coordinating steps that makes you smile, it gives you a feeling of well-being and cheerfulness that aerobic exercise alone doesn’t give.
The efficacious effects on health
Miss Caddy Jellyby explains it nicely in Bleak House:
“I felt I was so awkward,” she replied, “that I made up my mind to be improved in that respect, at all events, and to learn to dance. I told Ma I was ashamed of myself, and I must be taught to dance…I was quite determined to be taught to dance, and so I went to Mr. Turveydrop’s Academy in Newman Street.”
Miss Jellyby attended lessons at a dance academy, other young people were taught at school or had dance instructors come to their home but many I believe learned simply from watching and imitation. Dancing was something people did.
Recent research as well as personal experience shows that dancing does indeed improve balance and coordination as well as muscle tone and flexibility. According to the BBC program How to Stay Young dancing is more efficacious than treadmills and stationary bikes even when such are undertaken in a group with music. Why? They don’t really know but they think it is because multiple muscle groups are activated, it requires balance, coordination and has variety.
Maybe we were simply designed for dancing.
I love that in Jane Austen’s day when a group of young people gather of an evening there is very likely to be a spot of dancing. In Wives and Daughters Cynthia and Molly dance together around the house. In Anne of Green Gables even they at the young age of 14, and against Marilla’s better judgement, Anne and Diana attend a community dance.
In Little House in the Big Woods there is of course the dance at Grandma’s to celebrate the sugar snow where the dancing is interrupted by grandma’s call for the sugaring off. Then it picks up again, continuing late into the night.
From the British Aristocracy to the American Frontier, dancing used to be an integral part of our culture. Now it is relegated to professionals and competitions, something we pay money to go and watch not something that happens in our living room on a Friday evening.
I say we return to the days of dancing, whether you choose line dancing, square dancing or tap dancing, a waltz or an Irish jig, the Virginia Reel or the Cotillion. Do it alone, do it with your children, your spouse or your friends.
If you wish to dust off a dusty tome and replicate authentic figures from past I would love to know how you go. I however prefer the modern home instructor known as YouTube.
I challenge you to have ago and experience the efficacy of Dancing!
Next time: What dances will you need to know to cut a fine figure at your next ball? and which ones might endanger your reputation?