Stepping back in time with Colonial-era dance lessons


January 21, 2002|By Sue du Pont | Sue du Pont,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MOST OF the dances are done with women lined up on one side and men on the other. Ten to 20 couples follow the instructions of a caller. Often, two or more pairs dance figures together. Couples on one end are sent to the other end of the line as the dances progress.

If it sounds a little like contra or square dancing, it is. Colonial-era English country dance is just slower in tempo, more fluid and more elegant - and classes are forming in Edgewater, where students will learn the smooth, simple movements of the dance.

When they do, they'll be ready for an 18th-century ball at Historic London Town and Gardens.

English country dancing is less obscure than it sounds. In this region, groups re-create the historical dances, which are set to period music, in Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria, Va., almost weekly.

Shown in the films Sense and Sensibility and Emma, the dances are not difficult to learn and they encourage socializing.

"If you can count to four twice, walk, and know your left from right, you can do it," says dance instructor Corky Palmer.

According to Palmer, the earliest published dance descriptions available today are from a collection published by John Playford in 1651, a few years before colonists established the town of London on the banks of the South River.

Palmer will teach many of the Playford dances, with names such as Irish Lamentation, Fishers Horn Pipe, Barham Down and Ashley's Pride, to recorded music.

At the London Town ball, there will be 12 to 16 dances, set to live music. Palmer will open the ball with a minuet, which is a dance for couples, before proceeding with the country dances. As the caller, he will introduce each dance by stating its name and the figures before the music begins. During the dances, he will prompt the figures for novices.

With residents so keenly interested and involved in the rich history of the area, country dancing is a natural draw.

Two years ago, London Town held a similar program and received great reviews. The lessons and ball were attended mostly by local living history interpreters, such as the volunteers at the area's many historic sites and guides employed by Three-Century Tours in Annapolis.

Vicki Lerch, London Town's volunteer coordinator and a Lothian resident, attended those classes and is helping to organize this year's events.

"We had lots of fun," says Lerch. "We don't take ourselves too seriously and are dancing for our own amusement, not as a performance."

The colonial dance lessons will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 5, 12, and 19 at Historic London Town and Gardens, and the fee is $10 per class or $25 for all three. The ball will be held from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. March 1, and the cost is $20 per person or $15 for London Town foundation members.

The lessons and the ball are open to individuals and couples. Light fare and a cash bar will be available at the ball. Colonial-era garb is encouraged for the ball, but casual, comfortable clothes are suggested for the lessons.

Information about the lessons or ball: 410-222-1919. Information about Historic London Town and Gardens: www.historiclondon

Last concerts of season

To experience other musical traditions, consider attending Chamber Music Annapolis' final two concerts of its 2001-2002 season of Music in the Great Hall at St. John's College.

The intimate and acoustically excellent performance space is ideal for the small musical groups that are the focus of the Music in the Great Hall series.

At 7 p.m. Feb. 24, virtuoso Danish recorder player Dan Laurin and his trio - Tanya Tomkins on the viola da gamba, Hanneke van Proosdij on the harpsichord and organ and David Tayler on the orbo, archlute, and baroque guitar - will perform.

Ensemble Galilei and traditional Scottish singer and storyteller Jean Redpath will perform at 7 p.m. March 24. Redpath is a regular performer on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion.

Tickets are available at the door and in advance. General admission tickets are $20, or $16 for students and seniors. The concerts will be followed by candlelight receptions with dessert, at which audiences will have the opportunity to meet and talk with the artists.

Information: Carolyn Surrick, artistic director of Chamber Music Annapolis, 410-849-2494, or send e-mail to

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.