Flashback Friday: Of Pinewoods and English Country Dance

I’ve talked here and there about my dance background, but I’m not sure if I’ve specifically mentioned English country dancing before. I love English country dancing. I’ve been doing it since I was 8 years old, though at the time I didn’t know exactly what it was. I knew generally, but it’s very similar to American contra dancing and square dancing, so I certainly didn’t know the differences between them.

When I was seven years old, my parents went away to a special place: an amazing dance and music camp, for adults, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, called Pinewoods. Since it’s technically adults only, my parents left my brother and me behind with my grandmother. When they returned a week later, we told them, “you’re never leaving this house without us again.”

Every week at Pinewoods is a different theme (most of them run by the Country Dance and Song Society), like English Dance Week, Scottish Week, American Week, English and American Week, Folk Music Week, Early Music Week, etc. So the next year, my parents took my brother and me to Family Week, one of the two weeks during the summer that allowed children (Campers Week is the other).

It was the most amazing time of my 8-year-old life.

I’ll be writing more about Pinewoods in the future (hopefully not solely on this blog), but suffice it to say that the experience was so amazing that I went back to Pinewoods every summer until I was about 26 years old. I spent the entire summer there three times, working on crew, cleaning toilets or washing dishes (not at the same time), and learning the differences between English and American dancing. Pinewoods transformed my life. The dancing I did there, the knowledge I gained, and the experiences I had, became part of my self and my career. It molded me into the person I am today.

That’s all just introduction to tell you about English country dancing. But hopefully you now have a small idea of what it means to me.

English country dancing, as I said, is like square dancing, but it’s usually done in long lines (though occasionally in square formation). Dancers use a simple walking step (though sometimes fancy footwork is involved) to travel through space in patterns, or figures, while a prompter calls the figures, telling the dancers what to do.

It started in the Renaissance (or at least they started collecting and writing down dances then), around the 1650s, but people are still composing new dances today. Jane Austen wrote about certain dances in her novels, and if you’ve ever seen a Jane Austen film adaptation (like Pride & Prejudice), it probably has at least one or two dance scenes. For those reasons, people tend to associate the dances with the Regency era and Jane Austen more than other periods. But I’m fine with that because it’s probably the easiest way for people to envision what the dance looks like. There are even a few film adaptations where the dances are pretty close to what they are traditionally. I really appreciate the version of Hole in the Wall that they do in Becoming Jane (though not all dances are this slow and stately): the first two times through the dance is how it’s written traditionally; then it changes for the sake of the story.

Plus I love watching James McAvoy. 🙂

But there are lots of places around the city (wherever you live) where you can do English country dancing (or contra or square dancing), and you don’t have to dress in fancy period costumes to do it. I’ve lately been dancing with Culver City English Country Dance (I’m helping them build their website too), and I love it. They meet every 2nd and 4th Sundays, and it’s a fun, welcoming group that does an interesting selection of dances. No partner or experience necessary. Come check us out.

I’ve also been calling a few dances for them here and there (I’m a dance teacher and caller anyway), and this Sunday, November 8, is their Open Mic dance. That means they’ve opened up the microphone to whoever wants to call a dance or two, and they’ve had more requests to call this year than ever before. Eight people, myself included, are calling one or two dances Sunday night. It should be fun!

I was going to use today’s blog to talk about how I prepare for the dance, how I learn and practice the calls, but this is already lengthy enough so perhaps I’ll leave it there. There’s at least 24 more opportunities to do that this NaBloPoMo!

And while I wasn’t planning to do a Flashback Friday today either, this has certainly been a little trip down memory lane for me. So there you go! Flashback Friday it is! 🙂

So what do you think, readers? Ever do English or American country dancing? Want to try? It’s lots of fun!

One thought on “Flashback Friday: Of Pinewoods and English Country Dance

  1. […] NaBloPoMo Day 6, I wrote a Flashback Friday about Pinewoods and English country dancing, because I was trying to […]

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