Old School Romance Is Making a Comeback With ECD

By Ilana Berger

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On Tuesday night in a hot, stuffy, basement of the the Church of the Village, college students held hands in a circle, excitedly anticipating the caller, or instructor, Orly Krasner’s cue.

Although the Fordham University students were there for a class, a good time was clearly being had at the one of the weekly English Country Dancing (ECD) introductory sessions offered by Country Dance New York (CDNY). Appropriately named “Jane Austen Dancing,” by the program, English Country Dancing is choreographed community dancing, which was popular in the 16 and 1700’s, and has continued to be composed into the 20th and 21st centuries. At the start of each dance, dancers invite one another to be partners.

According to the CDNY website, dances can range from elegant to energetic, from playful to solemn, and from stately to boisterous.

On this particular Tuesday night, the group seemed to be focusing on fast-pace and dynamic dances. One dance, Trip to Tunbridge, involves three couples facing each other, with one couple at a time linking arms and skipping through middle and back around, where they are free to wave and wink at one other unabashedly behind the backs of the other couples.

“They were always very formal in public,” Krasner said, referring to Brits of the 17th and 18th centuries. “I think this dance is like, a very public wedding then flirtation behind the scenes. Both men and women could get away with things they usually wouldn’t be able to get away with.”

According to Krasner, in the iconic Jane Austen novels and in real life, dancing was almost a metaphor for romance. In a society dictated by strict social practices, dancing served as a release for young people. Of course there were older chaperones to enforce proper behavior, but dances which required constant eye contact, hand-holding and elbow linking created a sure recipe for flirtation.

“If someone asks you to dance, you graciously accept,” Krasner said.

“Or you could be Mr. Darcy,” one student added, referencing Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. Giggles echoed throughout the room, but not for long. In a little while, the novices would be joining up with the more experienced (and much older) dances in the gymnasium.

For many regular dancers of CDNY, English country dancing sparked romances that would change their lives forever. Caller and English history expert Beverly Francis and CDNY board member David Chandler, met at a dance and have been married for more than 20 years.

“People like the idea of doing something connected to the past. It’s sociable, easy, not in a bar, just good plain fun,” Francis said. “And, it’s a safe environment to come alone.”

Although the dances mostly attract a much older crowd, experiencing old school entertainment and romance (if you decide to bring a date) could be a refreshing break from the bar scene. It’s also cheap — $12 with a student ID.

“When I graduated college, I felt like I was in a bubble of recent graduates and undergraduates,” said a younger dancer. “Here, I get to talk to people three times my age who remember Pearl Harbor!”

Beginner’s sessions are on Tuesdays from 7–7:30 pm, and regular dances are from 7–10 pm. Come with water, a flowy skirt, and an open mind.

[Photo Courtesy of Jeffrey Bary]