Janeites gather to celebrate 200 years of the Austen lifestyle

English Country Dancers in costume at the 2012 Christmas Ball.
English Country Dancers in costume at the 2012 Christmas Ball in Toronto. (Christmas Ball2012_E)

Sometimes the men and women move in a line opposite each other. Other times they move in a circle, their hands barely touching in the centre like spokes on a wheel. There is music from the early 19th century. The caller, Karen Millyard, directs the men and women through their moves.

“I approach the dance with a certain amount of historical context,” she said. “I’ve used a wide range of music and dances from the full repertoire which stretches over many of hundreds of years.”

This is English Country Dancing on a Sunday afternoon in 2013 in Toronto. But it all originated in a time 200 years ago depicted in the literature of Jane Austen. Millyard is mindful of the Austen adaptations for movies and television. She’s a social dance historian. She studies the dance form and how socializing is the primary focus of the dance.

“We are planning a Jane Austen film festival,” she said. “We are going to be having regency picnics in the open air with everyone dressed in regency clothing.”

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Austen’s iconic Pride and Prejudice, which shows how environment and upbringing can determine the development of young people’s character and morality. Of course, it depended in which level of society one lived.

At the University of Toronto, Professor Deidre Shauna Lynch teaches students 18th to early 19th century English literature. Professor Lynch edited the book Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees. It examines what Janeites do and explores the appropriations that have been produced from her lifetime.

“Her novels (offer) innovative ways (of understanding) views and the psychology of characters,” she said. “Her amazing talents (make) us feel as if we know the people in her stories.”

Professor Lynch will be celebrating the Jane Austen bicentennial later in the year at the University of Queensland in Australia, where she will deliver lectures on Pride and Prejudice.

Meanwhile, Karen Millyard stage a number of events to celebrate the 200th anniversary, including her English Country Dancing. For more information see (Link: http://danceweavers.ca/janeausten.html) for details.