Regency Dancers Celebrate the Social Life of Years Ago


(Wednesday, April 16, 2008 4:25 PM EDT)

Enjoy dancing, but prefer an elegant Jane Austen-inspired ball to the more modern moves seen on shows like “Dancing With the Stars?”

The the Piedmont Regency Dancers might be right up your alley.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this June, the group specializes in Regency and English country dancing, and hosts formal balls throughout the year.

Under the guidance of dance master Thomas Spilsbury and with live music played by pianist Julie Gorka, the dancers meet once a month at the Trinity Church Parish House to learn the steps for dances for their upcoming ball.

“It is neat to do dances known to the likes of George Washington or Jane Austen,” Spilsbury said. “It is a beautiful form of dance, with elegant moves and lovely music . . . and it is a very social form of dancing.”

During the three-hour classes, the participants learn everything from longways country dances (a dance performed with couples in two long lines facing each other) to waltzes.

But that's not the only preparation they make - many of the dancers put a lot of effort into the outfits they wear for the festivities.

“I have over 10 dresses,” said the group's organizer Susan Richards, who has used Jane Austen films as inspiration for the dresses she's had made.

The balls, held at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, start with a brief socializing period, during which the dancers find partners and have their dance cards signed.

In an effort to make the evening authentic, there are footmen to welcome the guests, the ballroom and dining room are lit by candlelight and the food is of the Regency period.

“You're just transported,” Richards said. “It's very magical.”

The group tries hard to make the ball experience as historically accurate as possible, but not at the expense of having a good time.

“We're not re-enactors,” Richards said. “We're more into the fun and fantasy of it.”

And the emphasis on fun applies to the dancing itself, as well. The group welcomes dancers of all ages and ability levels, and participants are very willing to guide recent arrivals through the steps.

“The experienced dancers are always happy to dance with newcomers; the atmosphere at these dances is very relaxed and friendly,” Spilsbury said.

“Our fundamental philosophy is that the group should consist of people of all abilities,” Richards said. “Are we perfect? Heavens no, and sometimes it's when you mess up that it's the most fun.”

Plans are in progress for the 10th anniversary ball in June. Richards has gotten in touch with many of the people who have been involved with the group over the years, but she said she “encourages anybody and everybody” to come.

For more information on the Piedmont Regency Dancers and the upcoming ball, call Susan Richards at (540) 554-8570.

The Piedmont Regency Dancers enjoyed the Highbury Ball, held May 15 at Ayrshire Farm. The group keeps alive the tradition of dancing from the colonial period.

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