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Jane Austen-Era Dancing Whirls Into Greenwich Village

By Andrea Swalec | August 16, 2013 8:14am
English Country Dancing
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MANHATTAN — Learn how to dance for when you meet your Mr. Darcy.

A group that teaches and performs stately English group dances dating from as early as the 1600s will launch its fall season in the West Village soon.

As the comedy about Jane Austen obsession, "Austenland," hits theaters Friday, members of Country Dance New York are preparing for the Sept. 3 kickoff of their weekly English country dance nights at the Church of the Village.

English country dances are routines ranging from somber to lively that each have their own song, instructor and caller, Elizabeth Freedman explained.

"It's the kind of dancing that Jane Austen did when she was alive," said Freedman, an Upper East Side lawyer who started performing in 1987.

Most dances — which have memorable names like The Queen's Jig, Shrewsbury Lasses and Juice of Barley — begin with a long line of couples facing each other. The dance caller tells the couples what motions to make to the live music and the couples then switch, so everyone in the room gets the chance to dance together.

Country Dance New York participants wear street clothes for their sessions in the church basement every Tuesday from September through June, but they hold a ball every April where people are invited to wear historic replica costumes.

English country dancing suits people with a strong interest in history, said Freedman, who wore a custom-made English Regency-era gown for this year's gala.

"It takes us back to a different time period," she said.

Austen has had a lasting cultural impact because of her timeless humor and insight, Freedman said.

"The way she wrote about people's concerns and social issues still resonates today," she said.

Beginners and experienced dancers are invited to attend the dances at the Church of the Village, 201 W. 13th St., from 7:30 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday starting Sept. 3. Beginners can learn basic terms and movements from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

Admission costs $15 per person, with a $3 discount for full-time students. There's no need to arrive with a partner. Participants are asked to bring a pair of clean, soft-soled dancing shoes.