In His Choice of A Wife, Darcy allows his sister to learn to waltz from a dancing master, and this has some romantic consequences for Darcy and Elizabeth. But did anyone waltz in Regency England?
By the 1790s, the couple-waltz appeared in England at society balls—twenty years before His Choice of a Wife is set. The Morning Post in 1801 describes how the Marchioness of Abercorn opened her ball with the “German waltz” and it was attended by much of the nobility and royalty. Other balls mentioning a waltz appear in the newspapers in the first decades of the 19th century, and dancing masters began advertising their services in teaching the waltz.
So what was the controversy about this new dance?
Some hints appear in what was said in this 1811 article: “… no considerate father, mother, husband, or brother, can approve of this familiar clasping German Waltz, and that it can only find advocates among volatile young men who like to twist, twirl and spin the girls about, and turn them into whirligigs”.
The debate waged through the first decade of the 19th century, but the nobility danced it, and the moralists were worn down. A turning point was in 1814 after the temporary defeat of Napoleon when European dignitaries had state visits to London and the waltz was widely danced. Even Jane Austen’s brother Henry attended one of the state balls that summer!
Different classes of London society had differing opinions of the waltz, but it was popular among higher circles and foreign dignitaries, and it gradually made its way down the social ladder and substituted country dancing.
If you’re like me and want a visual for what Elizabeth and Darcy practiced in His Choice of a Wife, check out this video clip.
You’ll see the side-by-side promenade position, and then the more intimate closed position, with left arms arched over their heads and right arms wrapped around their partners. Perfect for staring into the eyes of the man who still loves you after you claimed he was the last man in the world you could be prevailed upon to marry!