I admit it; I watch Dancing With the Stars every week. It’s not just for the sake of seeing people dance, for I usually ignore the numbers done by all professionals. I think what intrigues me most is the magic of the non-dancing “stars” (a term interpreted very broadly in this case) getting a chance to try something beautiful, brave, and improbable – to waltz, cha-cha, and jive with the best of them.
For me, dancing is a bit of a dream, something I’ve always wanted to do. And unlike becoming a world-class ice skater or climbing Mt. Rainier, learning to dance is still within the realm of possibility. After all, I am younger and probably in better condition than Kirstie Alley, who’s holding her own very nicely on the show this season.
Dancing is all about romance – a stylized act of courtship set to music – which is probably why it appeals to women more than men. In Jane Austen’s day, however, single men were no doubt more eager, since dancing afforded them one of their best opportunities to talk to, and about their only opportunity to actually touch, single women. So the ball became a social highlight and an indispensable part of the courtship process.
The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to every female of the family … Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of their brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham… The happiness anticipated by Catherine and Lydia depended less on any single event, or any particular person, for though they each, like Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham, he was by no means the only partner who could satisfy them, and a ball was at any rate, a ball. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 17)
The Bennet ladies anticipated a night of pure felicity. Things didn’t turn out quite as they planned, though, especially for Elizabeth. The handsome Mr. Wickham was absent; she was obliged to dance with the odious Mr. Collins and the proud, disagreeable Mr. Darcy; and she was mortified by the unseemly conduct of her family.
Dancing plays a prominent role in Jane Austen’s writings. I didn’t appreciate how often it’s mentioned in mine until I did a word search to locate this clip from For Myself Alone. I was surprised to discover how many of the pivotal scenes I’d managed to set on the dance floor.
Arthur declares, “It is not fair to urge her in this manner. Let her choose for herself as well as the rest of us. If Jo is opposed to dancing tonight, surely we are capable of finding some other source of diversion …”
“No, Arthur,” I interrupt. “Thank you, but it is all right. I have no serious objection, and it would be selfish of me to spoil everyone’s pleasure.”
“Well, if you are quite certain …”
He offers his hand again. This time I take it.
I have accepted that same steady hand dozens of times before, but always in friendship. Everything is irrevocably altered now. For me, Arthur has changed over the course of the last three months from friend to foe, and as of tonight, unwelcome admirer. No wonder, then, that I sense an unfamiliar charge when our fingers meet this time. It gives me an odd, unsettled feeling in the hollow of my being as I rise to take my place opposite him.
The truth is, I will never be invited to appear on Dancing with the Stars, and I will likely never convince my husband to sign us up for ballroom dancing lessons either. But I can live out all my fantasies through my characters – one of the great perks of being a writer.