“There were twenty dances & I danced them all…” – Jane Austen
In Jane Austen’s time, dancing was one of the few ways young men and women could spend time together and court one another. “Every savage can dance,” Mr. Darcy says, but unless one wished to dance very ill (Mr. Collins comes to mind) lessons were crucial. Dancing was considered such an important social skill, that parents hired dancing masters to come into the homes and teach their sons and daughters not only dance steps, but also deportment and etiquette. So, as an author of half a dozen other books set in the Regency era—and someone who loves to dance-- it was probably only a matter of time until I wrote about a dancing master.
To research the book, I read old instructional guides and journals written by dancing masters of ages past. But the best and most enjoyable kind of research was actually learning dances from that time period. My dear, longsuffering husband and I went English country dancing several times. It was research, after all! We learned a lot and enjoyed ourselves.
I also attended the annual general meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, held in Minneapolis in September 2013. It was my first time attending the conference, though I have been a JASNA member for several years. A sold-out crowd of nearly 800 gathered to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice—a favorite with Austen fans everywhere.
For four days, Janeites like me devoted ourselves to the study of Jane Austen’s life, novels, and the time period in which she lived. We attended academic classes on topics like inheritance laws, travel by carriage, the military, etc. taught by the top Austen scholars from around the country and even from other countries. We also attended more diverting sessions on things like the history of tea, fashion, how to make your own bonnet or reticule, and more. I also signed up for two dancing classes to polish my skills and learn a few new dances in preparation for Saturday night’s Netherfield Ball, complete with live musicians and costumes. It was a wonderful experience dancing with fellow Austen fans from around the country--and very timely with The Dancing Master coming out a few months later.
If you’d like to learn more about the JASNA conference, here’s a video my publisher took of me at this event.
What about you - have you ever attended a JASNA meeting, or tried English country dancing yourself?
Thanks for having me here. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed researching it!
The Book - The Dancing Master
Dancing master Alec Valcourt is forced to leave his London academy and move his mother and sister to remote Devonshire. There he hopes to start again, but when he arrives, he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing for reasons buried deep in her past. Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch’s daughter, and the two join forces to uncover old secrets, and restore life to the village.
JULIE KLASSEN loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also won the Midwest Book Award, Christian Retailing’s BEST Award, and has been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards and the Minnesota Book Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota.