CASTING an eye over the TV adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ starring Colin Firth or the film version starring Keira Knightley, is dangerous ground for any modern woman as she will soon wish to be in the shoes of Miss Elizabeth Bennett being waltzed around a ballroom by a handsome English gent.
Well fear not ladies, thanks to Paxton House’s Val Knowles, you could soon have the fancy footwork you’ll need to bag your own Mr Darcy at the Palladian mansion’s grand Regency Ball next month.
And gentlemen you can too get in on the act by learning the moves that will have women falling, or at least swooning, at your feet.
A lover of all things Jane Austen, Val moved to Berwickshire from the West Midlands with her husband Alan five years ago.
The couple had always taken a keen interest in the past, taking part in historical reinactments so on stumbling upon Paxton House they thought they’d found an outlet for their hobby on the doorstep of their new home.
Val began: “Before moving to Eyemouth we had a look to see if there was anywhere here that did historical reinactments on a regular basis but we couldn’t really find anywhere.
“We went to Paxton House for a day and noticed that they had a croquet lawn. We asked if it would be possible for us to play a game in full costume and the staff said they’d be delighted to have us.
“So we played our game and since then we’ve been involved in the house’s Christmas Cracker and Easter events, reading in some of the rooms while dressed up and Alan also played David Hume for Chirnside’s recent celebrations.”
Although she admitted to doing some English country dancing in her youth as well as some ballroom, Val said she was by no means a dance expert and it was during the Regency Ball at Paxton last year that she first had the idea to start her own classes.
She told ‘LIfe’: “I love English country dancing and on moving up here I was disappointed to learn that the nearest classes were in Edinburgh which would have involved travelling an hour and a quarter there and back.
“I went to the Regency Ball last year and had a fabulous time but I looked around and noticed that there were a few people looking a bit hesistant and shying away from the dancing.
“I’m not a pro by any means and if I can do it I’m sure others can too. I think people are a bit put off by what they have seen on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as although it looks lovely it does look like it’d be quite difficult but it’s easier than you might think.”
And Val said that anyone wanting to go to her classes at Paxton House, which run every Thursday until September 8, didn’t even need to bring a partner just a sense of fun and an eagerness to learn.
“We’ll always find you someone to dance with and you can actually learn a lot of the steps on your own.
“There’s no need to worry about being flung in at the deep end either as I always walk people through the steps before introducing the music which itself plays a very important part.
“A song has to be so many bars to fit in with a particular dance and thereare so many different dances.
“There’s the one Colin Firth danced to, ‘Mr Beveridge’s Maggot’ (which means fancy rather than the fish bait!); Hole In The Wall and the Indian Queen.”
Val said that she particularly enjoyed the Regency style of dance as it embodied a time when chivalry was still very much at the forefront of the courtship between men and women.
“Everyone likes to romanticise about certain periods and one way to do this is dancing,” she continued.
“Earlier dancing was more more sedate due to the cumbersome dresses but by the time we reached the Regency period the dresses were not as restricted so the girls could move more freely.
“The most exciting thing is that back in those days young women weren’t allowed to be in the company of young men they didn’t know without a chaperone so for many dancing with someone was the first contact they had with them.
“It was also a time when gentlemen would open doors for ladies and pull out chairs; polite things that modern society is somewhat lacking in!”
As well as playing host to dance workshops in the run up to this year’s Regency Ball on Saturday, September 10, Paxton House is also holding sewing workshops although Val won’t need to attend them as she already has her outfit.
“Being able to dance in costume makes you feel so special; in your mind you are Elizabeth Bennett dancing with Mr Darcy! I first became interested in Regency costume because of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but as a slightly larger lady I found sourcing original dresses to fit very difficult.
“I managed to find a book with some patterns in and decided to have a go at making my own outfit.
“Now as my husband and daughter will tell you, any mention of me using a sewing needle and they’d go out as it would normally ended up with me screaming, my temperature rising and the offending garment being thrown into the corner!
“But this time I knuckled down and got in with it and to my surprise making a dress was quite easy so I made others.”
Anyone wanting to to the Regency Ball but panicking about having no suitable attire can go along to the Costume Workshops and either make their own dress from scratch; adjust something they already have to fit the Regency style or pay for the sitching services of Maltings wardrobe mistresses Val and Veronica and then hire or buy the dress.
You can of course go along to the Ball in smart modern evening wear if you so wish.
Val had six couples along to Paxton House for the first of her dance workshops last week and if you fancy giving them a whirl, they run from 6-7pm and cost £3.