Family

Kids learn Jane Austen-era customs and dance moves

The Lexington Vintage Dance Society came to the Hunt-Morgan House to help host a Regency Ball in Lexington, Ky on July 26, 2010. Kids arrived at 2:00pm for a dance lesson and then returned with their parents for the Ball from 7-8:30. The Vintage Dancers were in costume and many of the kids dressed in period clothes as well. 
Photo by Latara Appleby | Staff
The Lexington Vintage Dance Society came to the Hunt-Morgan House to help host a Regency Ball in Lexington, Ky on July 26, 2010. Kids arrived at 2:00pm for a dance lesson and then returned with their parents for the Ball from 7-8:30. The Vintage Dancers were in costume and many of the kids dressed in period clothes as well. Photo by Latara Appleby | Staff

Full skirts swooshed and buckled shoes gleamed as dancers moved not just across the dance floor but back through time.

For a moment last week, the main room at the Hunt Morgan house was alive with music and dance as children re-created what it would have been like to have a ball, literally.

For two hours in the afternoon last Monday, seven children learned the finer points of dancing and etiquette as if they had lived from 1800 to 1830. Later that evening, they returned with their parents for a truly old-style dance party dubbed the Regency Ball, complete with period dress.

The dance was a way to bring history to life, said Alison Carter, historic preservation specialist for the Bluegrass Trust, which sponsored the free event. The trust offers such events at historical sites or out in the community. For example, a group recently went to the Lexington Farmers Market to show people how to make their own butter in a baby food jar. (Shake, shake, shake and shake some more.)

The idea for the Regency Ball was a suggestion by a visitor to the Federal-style house off Gratz Park, Carter said.

Laura Goble brought her daughter, Katherine, 12, to the house to show her what life was like for her ancestors. Distant relatives rode with Morgan's men, she said.

Katherine Goble was most impressed with the agility that went into not only getting into a hoop skirt but navigating the world once it's been secured.

"Getting into the car was crazy," she said.

(Of course, getting into a car wouldn't have been an option in the old days.)

Brooke Ryan brought her three children to the event, inspired, she said, by a recent viewing of the movie Pride & Prejudice. Each child was dressed in period costumes that started as thrift-store finds, she said.

Her daughters Abygail, 7, and Bethany, 12, had pale-yellow dresses, white gloves and ringlets curling down their necks. Her son, Timothy, 11, had a gentleman's waistcoat in green, a white high-collared shirt and white linen pants with gold bows at the calves.

"It just feels great," Timothy said of his ensemble.

Tim Lamm of the Lexington Vintage Dance Society was the teacher and etiquette master. Several other society members dressed for the occasion to serve as party patrons.

With a relatively short practice time, Lamm said, he didn't teach anything too complicated. Most of the dances, he said, were based on walking, beginning with the opening number, which was a grand march. Other numbers included moves that the uninitiated might relate to square dancing. Of course, not everything was completely authentic. Lamm said children younger than 12 would probably not have been invited to a society ball, although they would have been allowed to dance at family functions.

Also, the ball's music was played on a boom box rather than by live musicians. In the early 1800s, chewing gum had yet to be invented, and a young gentleman probably wouldn't have uttered "oh, come on" in frustration as Timothy did when his partner struggled through a promenade.

But the historical genteel spirit was real. Katherine Goble was pleased to be, even briefly, a part of a time when ladies were truly ladies. She laughed at learning how to politely decline a dance.

"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid," she said with a grin, practicing her newly honed skill, "that I might tire."

Lamm said he hoped that he might have inspired some of the children to share his passion for vintage dance.

Timothy Ryan appeared to be a convert. He spent part of a break discussing with Lamm the relative merits of knee-high socks versus tights.

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