Students in Assistant Professor of English Nicola Minott-Ahl’s “Jane Austen in Film” class and the greater HWS community recently were given an opportunity to experience the dances that play such a large role in Jane Austen’s on-screen adaptations when they were instructed in the art of English Country Dance in Hirshson Ballroom.
“I included instruction in English Country Dance to enable my students to see firsthand the opportunities for storytelling that dance scenes provided Jane Austen and the filmmakers who adapt her works,” explains Minott-Ahl. “I wanted to reveal to them the narrative qualities of individual dances, as well as to demonstrate the many ways in which the dance form itself facilitates courtship and interaction between the sexes in a society that rigorously separated the sexes and assigned them different roles and spheres of public and private activity.”
Attended by other HWS faculty and students in addition to Minott-Ahl’s class, participants had the opportunity to learn several different dances during the two sessions offered. Dan and Barb Seppeler, of the Country Dancers of Rochester, instructed the class in the correct steps as well as highlighted the importance of etiquette, eye contact, correct deportment, and body language in these dances.
“Having the opportunity to learn English Country Dance gave me a better grasp of the culture and society of the early 1800s,” says Kazia Berkley-Cramer ’13, an English major and child advocacy minor who took Minott-Ahl’s class last spring. “Reading about it is one thing, but actually doing an activity that average people regularly participated in at that time really helped both Austen’s stories and history come alive.”
Max Ettenborough ’13, a media and society major with a studio arts minor, was one of several Hobart students to attend the event. “This opportunity helped to illuminate some of the themes in Jane Austen’s books, especially seeing it from a firsthand perspective,” notes Ettenborough.
Minott-Ahl remains committed to providing this opportunity to future classes and is currently working with students who are interested in forming an English Country Dance club. Anyone interested in joining the club should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.