“A charming amusement for young people”

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In Chapter 6 of Pride and Prejudice, Sir William Lucas and Mr Darcy exchange some thoughts on the merits of dancing…

Sir Lucas proffers

“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished society.”

A less than impressed Mr Darcy sullenly responds that

“…it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.”

A smiling Sir Lucas ignore Darcy’s pointed observations and continues

 “Your friend performs delightfully,” he continued after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; “and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy.”

“You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir.”

“Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. James’s?”

“Never, sir.”

“Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to the place?”

“It is a compliment which I never pay to any place if I can avoid it.”

analysis of Country Dancing wherein are displayed all the figures ever used in country dancesAuthor Wilson
Image from The British Library: Thomas Wilson’s An analysis of Country Dancing: wherein are displayed all the figures ever used in country dances (1811) 

In Austen’s later novel Emma,  the narrator suggests that once a young person feels “the felicities of rapid motion”, it proves difficult to resist another turn around the room

“It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; –but when a beginning is made –when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt–it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.”

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Image from The British Library: “The first quatrille at Almack’s from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1892)
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