(Another post from the midst of Jane-land)
The two first dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstacy.
Dancing. With partners. Of the opposite sex. Many teenagers would find this distinctly unnerving. I know I did, when I was in my first musical (The Music Man). Luckily for me, there were more girls than there were boys (aren't there always?). The dances worked with boy-girl and girl-girl couples, and I ended up dancing with my sister for the show.
Due to the multiple casting, I'm spending three shows dancing in the Sound of Music ensemble. I love this system - I had a horror of being just one of the crowd before I danced in The Music Man ensemble, but now I've learned to love it. It's a different sort of acting, and it's often just as important. For Sound of Music, girl-girl partnering for the dancing is NOT acceptable. For one thing, there's a dip at the end of one dance. And if you think about the situations we're dancing in - in one scene, a big party - that really requires boy-girl partners. So each week we girls must leave our shyness at home and not be afraid to say to the boys, "Hey, wanna be partners?" Yes, I know, that's not the way it should be. It's so unlike the days of Jane Austen when the gentleman courteously engaged the young lady for the next dance. But since the boys do not take the initiative in finding partners, the director's tune has changed from "Guys, grab a girl," to: "Girls, grab a guy."
Choosing a partner can be a tricky business. Sometimes it's just a matter of who is left over after all the best dancers are picked. Sometimes it's a matter of "No, I am NOT dancing with the guy singing Sombody to Love in a falsetto voice." Height must be taken into consideration. My younger sister is so fortunate as to be especially chummy with one of the boys around her height and she always dances with him. Until the other night, when we were assigned our partners for the show, I really don't know if she danced with anyone else since rehearsals began. And I don't blame her. He's a very good dancer. Past experience with Certain People narrows down the list of possibilities a great deal(see anecdote under "often moving wrong without being aware of it" down below).
I myself have become a tolerable dancer since I first began. I have been put in the first row onstage in two shows - this was a huge confidence booster way back when I wasn't so confident about my dancing. To own the truth, I dance with more animation than real skill. My feet go where I want them to go, and they go there with great spirit, but I won't be winning any prizes for my uncommon gracefulness.
But I am a good enough dancer to be sensible of the discomfort that comes from dancing with a partner who seems to have two left feet. I have had my share of those "Mr. Collins" dancing partners.
"Awkward and solemn" - You could smile at me a little bit. I promise I won't think it means you're in love with me. And believe it or not, we are supposed to be touching each other. Once I danced with a guy who was either a terrible dancer, really nervous, or thought his girlfriend was watching. His hand was at least six inches from my waist. And then of course there are the not-so-solemn partners who always want to talk, prompting me to think of another quote from - guess where! "Do you talk by rule, then, while dancing?" My sister's assigned dancing partner seems very solemn indeed. She says he is most certainly of "an unsociable and taciturn disposition."
"Apologising instead of attending" - Once, a guy was trying to dip me. I could tell as I was going down that he wasn't supporting me enough. It is not pleasant to discover that your partner is not going to dip you properly when you're already halfway down. So I just sort of gently lowered myself to the floor, rather than lose my balance and fall ungracefully. So there I was, lying on the floor, laughing at the absurdity of the situation as the music ended. My partner was profusely apologetic. I really think he felt bad... he certainly wasn't laughing when he said "sorry" about six times. But I was uninjured, and it was certainly less embarrassing than it could have been.
"And often moving wrong without being aware of it" - By far my wildest dancing partner story is this: We were dancing the Grand Waltz. This is danced at the party at the end of Act 1, and the melody is a waltz version of My Favorite Things. I am usually very patient with my partners. Not everyone can learn the dances quickly - I've definitely been there! But this guy was really trying my patience. We twisted around, he saying, "No, get over there! Aaahhh!!! This is NOT one of my favorite things! No, that's wrong. Ah, crap!" I was trying to guide him as best as I could. Then, in the middle of the dance, he broke away and had, to all appearances, a tantrum. He just sort of ... shrieked... and flapped his arms around. I was horrified.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I just had to get that out of my system."
"Well now it's out," I said, "So please don't do it again!"
It was indeed a dance of mortification.
I'm always relieved when we learn who our permanent dancing partners are. Even though it's not such a big deal to find a partner for myself anymore, I like to be told who to dance with. We found out a few nights ago, and my partner is really not a bad sort. He's friendly enough (without being overly-chatty), doesn't swear when he misses a step, generally knows what he's doing, and can dip me quite competently.
All the discomfort and unpleasantness of finding a partner, getting your toes stepped on (or getting whacked in the face, or arm, or stomach, or ear), and standing for prolonged periods of time with your arms around each other aside, these dances have an old-fashioned grace and pattern that do make me feel like I could be at a ball at Meryton. Oftentimes I have been obliged to sit down due to the scarcity of gentlemen in the room, and this gives me leave to observe the people before me. Sometimes I even think I can find Pride & Prejudice correspondants for some of the people I see. There are no Mr. Darcys (our boys are forced to give consequence to young ladies who have been slighted by other gentleman - or weren't quick enough claiming a fellow). There are no Mrs. Bennets - thank Heaven! There are Charlotte Lucases, to share our dancing woes with. My sister is surely Jane Bennet, and her favorite partner is Mr. Bingley, who offended several young ladies by not asking them to dance (but they are not in love, I assure you all). There are, perhaps, Lydias and Kittys, but you didn't hear it from me. I'm sure there are Mary Bennets, who should infinitely prefer a book. There are Mr. Collinses to be sure. And every girl is, in her own way, a Lizzy Bennet.