This week’s word is brought to you by the process of chasing rabbits. Or, more accurately, dancing rabbits.
Rabbits that lead you to reevaluate everything you thought you knew about a subject. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, either.
I’ve always loved the phrase “maggot in the brain.” I’ve read it in countless novels, usually to introduce some hair-brained (or hare-brained, ha!) scheme by a main character. The results range from comedic situations to ill-conceived consequences to compromise-ruination-marriage. Remember poor Jane after her mother’s scheme to go on horseback to Netherfield?
(Side note: do not Google maggot in the brain, ever.)
I’ve also read of “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot,” an English country dance from Palmer’s Pocket Playford, 1695. It’s the dance of choice for beauty and elegance in Jane Austen adaptations, featuring in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma from 1996.
So when I came across maggotty in the Vulgar Dictionary, it was no stretch to picture a maggot in the brain as a whimsical or fanciful idea. And perhaps the change in movements in a Maggot could be labeled capricious, and the act of dancing can certainly be fanciful and playful. I confess I can’t wait to describe a relative’s idea or story as maggotty over Thanksgiving dinner next week.
I had thought to describe the steps of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot, show a diagram, and then close with a YouTube clip from one of the movies mentioned above.
I came across a website with the fantastic name of Capering and Kickery, and the post entitled Real Regency Dancers Don’t Turn Single: Ten Tips for Judging Authenticity. I suddenly had a very bad feeling, and my mouth went dry as I prepared to have a bubble or two burst. I was not prepared for the shattering of romantic dreams and Colin Firth dance moves. Of course, I take very little at face value and always seek corroboration or refutation . . . and it saddens my heart a bit to say what we read (and we authors write) about Regency dancing is possibly more fictionalized than it should be. It has long been an understood that what makes it to the small and big screens often bears little resemblance to its original.
In short, on screen (and what we picture in our mind’s eyes whilst reading novels), we see couples move gracefully through sedate, almost regal dances, the camera capturing meaningful glances and well-placed dialogue. In reality, those were the dances of an entirely different era altogether, one hundred years prior. Regency dances were lively, progressive, and serious business. And there were plenty of contemporary dances being written and published for the Regency set: Thomas Wilson, Dancing Master, published over fifty collections of dances between 1808 and 1846. Moldy oldies from the late 1600s were not necessarily good ton.
At Capering and Kicking, Susan de Guardiola makes the argument that Real Regency Dancers:
- Don’t Walk (you’re not dancing if you’re not sucking wind)
- Mind Their Curves (no stiff arms and rigid ‘W’ elbows here)
- Don’t Turn Single (couples only in the figures, if you please)
- Are Au Courant (that Maggot is sooo 17th Century)
- Do It In Threes (because three is better than two, and never one; see #3)
- Really Reel (kick up those heels, missy!)
- Vary Their Attitudes (waltzing was not simply one-two-three-repeat)
- Work Their Way Down (wait your turn to dance, and mind the queue!)
- Are Totally Square (quadrilles rule, minuets drool)
- Name That Tune (dances and music weren’t linked, unlike the Electric Slide or the Whip/Nae Nae)
Ms. de Guardiola does cite Captain Gronow, who was and is so notoriously unreliable that I’m not even going to provide a link to anything about him, but her other sources are spot on – contemporary, varied, and helpful. Follow that link above to read her reasons and research behind each point.
I now have a maggotty idea floating around my head: I need to rethink and re-choreograph dance scenes that I write to reflect a Regency mindset, rather than casting them with my 21st century tendency toward nostalgia. Regency dancers had plenty of current material from which to choose; they may have thought of them, or heard talk of them from dowagers and doddering aunts, but they had no need of their grandmother’s Maggot.
“Much obliged for the quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day.”
Jane Austen to her niece Fanny Knight, in a letter dated February 20, 1816
I don’t know. I’m not sure if I can yet picture Regency balls as having more in common with the jig at the Meryton assembly than the Grimstock in the Lucas’s drawing room. Some things – anachronisms though they may be – are just too ingrained. And one of my favorite lines from a Pride and Prejudice adaptation was complete fiction and not in the book: when Miss Bingley remarks to Mr. Darcy, “I can’t help feeling that someone’s going to produce a piglet and make us chase it.” Sneering at the rowdiness of the country folk just fit (perhaps because the 2005 adaptation had an odd preoccupation with pigs of all sorts, but I digress).
I still think I’ll end with the lovely, though perhaps not historically accurate, ballroom scene from Pride and Prejudice. Just call me maggotty. And Because Colin.
Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. All citations and credits for information in this post are highlighted, with links provided, in the body of the text.