A Victorian Christmas

The Victorian age was ushered in when England’s Victoria was crowned queen on June 28, 1838 and it spanned sixty-three years until her death in 1901. Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and they had nine children: four sons and five daughters. They lived a model family life, setting a fashion of respectability. Even today, the Victorian Era reminds people of good manners and a highly moral way of life.

During the 1840’s Queen Victoria and her German-born husband introduced the Christmas tree as the centerpiece of the royal family’s holiday celebration. The Christmas tree quickly went from being a fashionable fad to a required tradition. But perhaps the Victorians greatest contribution to Christmas was that they made it a family affair where for one glorious month adults and children spend extra time together baking, shopping, decorating… and dancing!

I collect antique photos and cards, and I would like to share this Christmas verse with you:
Christmas Greeting
All Joy at home for thee!
Old Christmas falls upon the world,
Like blessing from above,
It comes once more ‘mid Winter’s cold,
To Warm our souls with love.
To You, dear friends, I’d greeting send,
And this, would humbly pray;
A happy, joyful home be yours,
Upon this Christmas Day.

And that is my prayer for you – May your home be happy and joyful this Christmas Season!

Merry Christmas!

Debra Newby


I want to thank each of you who has taken the time to read my musings about dance. I’ve had a lot of fun reading and researching various aspects of dance and sharing them with you. I set a goal for myself to write one blog a week for four months which I managed to do, even with all the other activities that vie for my attention! But with the holidays quickly approaching, I am going to take a break from writing weekly and add to this blog more sporadically. I hope you check back then and again, and please feel free to send me your thoughts and musings at heritagedanceevents@gmail.com.

I will leave you with this poem written by an anonymous Confederate Soldier in the 1860’s.

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.

May God richly bless each one of you!

Dancing on,

Debra Newby


My family attended the Moorpark Civil War Reenactment this past weekend – and what a great time we all had! We went with several other dear family friends and cooked over an open fire, slept in a canvas wall tent and wore hoopskirts. (Well, just the ladies.) My husband and girls even had the opportunity to play for Abraham Lincoln himself! But one of our most interesting experiences was to have an old fashion Ferrotype or “Tintype” photo taken of our family. The photographer was Will Dunniway, and you can learn more about this type of photo at www.collodion-artist.com.

Through a wet emulsion process, a photo is made on a piece of black enameled iron. Some interesting characteristics of this photo are that the image is the reverse of how we actually looked in front of the camera. Also, this process doesn’t pick up the color blue, so everything that is in the photo that was blue appears white. That made for some odd looking eyes for my daughter and I! And the varnish they use for the tintype is made with lavender oil, and I catch a whiff of it every time I walk by the photo.

As the keeper of my family’s genealogy and old photos, I have old tin types of two of my great-grandparents as children that were taken in the 1800’s. I also have tin types of my great-great-grandparents’ wedding photos. I will treasure this new/old tintype of my own family for many years to come.

Also at Moorpark, we attended a wonderful Saturday evening dance for the reenactors where I learned several new dances that I will be sharing with our group at our upcoming Civil War Balls. There is always something new to learn and new to do!

Remembering Miss Brown

Like most little girls, whenever I had a pretty dress and music was playing, I would twirl around and around to the music. But the first time that I was ever in a “structured” dance with a partner was in fifth grade. I grew up in Los Angeles where at Hickory Elementary School you were introduced to different sports every semester. One year we learned to play baseball, and another year it was volley ball. However, when you were in fifth grade, the spring semester was for learning how to square dance.

Miss Brown was my fifth grade teacher, and she was a formidably large woman in her fifties who had given her life to teaching. She was strict and stern, and we were all a little afraid of her. So when she told the boys to stand next to a girl and swing her around by the elbow, they muffled their “ewws” and “yucks” and did just what she said. When she told the girls to hold those boy’s sweaty hands and promenade around the circle, we did. Sweaty hands aside, I thought square dancing was amazing. To be able to work with other kids and create patterns and move to the music was wonderful.

An interesting side note about Miss Brown. In fifth grade, we studied the westward expansion. While the other fifth grade classes were drawing pictures of forts, Miss Brown brought in a bunch of refrigerator boxes, and we cut them up and painted them and turned our classroom into a western town complete with mercantile shops with cardboard awnings. She would read to us stories about the “wild west,” and we would write letters to the other students in the class and take them to our western “town post office” to mail them. To this day, I love creating “historical sets” and living out history.

A few weeks ago our family lived in a canvas tent at the Fresno Civil War Reenactment where there was book reading, letter writing, music and dancing. I think Miss Brown would be pleased.

Talent is Overrated - Take 2

Did you practice your dancing this week? Because you may find that that deliberate practice and support from a mentor has a lot more to do with your dancing ability than you may think.

From an early age, Wolfgang Mozart received musical instruction from an expert teacher, Leopold Mozart, his father. Leopold was a famous performer and composer in his own right who was also very interested in how music was taught to children. He wrote a book about violin instruction that was influential for decades. He began to teach Wolfgang to play and compose when the little boy was around three years old.

Wolfgang Mozart’s first four piano concertos, composed when he was eleven years old, contained no original music. Mozart put them together out of other composer’s music as most beginning composers do. Mozart’s first masterpiece – Piano Concert No. 9 was composed when he was twenty-one years old. That is an early age to compose such a masterpiece, but by this point Wolfgang had been through eighteen years of extremely diligent training.

And Tiger Woods? From an early age, Tiger Woods received golf instruction from an expert golfer and passionate teacher – his father. Tiger received a golf club at seven months of age. Tiger’s high chair was set up in the garage where Tiger watched his father hit balls into a net for hours on end. Before Tiger was two, he and his father were on the golf course practicing regularly. Tiger Woods has repeatedly credited his father for his success and has written, “Golf for me was an apparent attempt to emulate the person I looked up to more than anyone: my father.” When asked to explain Tiger’s success, both father and son give the same reason: Hard work.

Shizuka Arakawa knows what it means to work hard. Arakawa began training as a skater when she was five years old, and when she was twenty-four years old, she won the gold medal in figure skating at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Winning means performing flawlessly moves that most of us would consider impossible. Practicing jumps that win Olympic gold means falling down – in a thin costume on cold, hard ice – a lot. It is estimated that Arakawa fell down at least twenty thousand times before achieving Gold.

Does this mean that people must have a motivated parent or teacher training them by three or five years old if they are to be good at anything? No! There seems to be a ten year rule that researchers have discovered when they study outstanding performers in all domains. It takes most writers, musicians, dancers and businessmen ten years of diligent study and work before they begin to accomplish what society considers great. Howard Gardner, author of Creating Minds said, “I’ve been struck throughout this study by the operation of the ten-year rule… Should one begin at age four, like Picasso, one can be a master by the teenage years; composers like Stravinsky and dancers like Graham, who did not begin their creative endeavors until later adolescence, did not hit their stride until their late twenties.”

Geoff Colvin ends his book Talent is Overrated by saying, “The evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Perhaps it’s inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence shows also that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better. Above all, what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking, liberating news: that great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and everyone.” So keep dancing!

Talent is Overrated

“I can’t dance. I have no talent for it.”
“Sure you can! Talent is overrated!”

I am currently reading a book by Geoff Colvin entitled Talent is Overrated. His premise is that no one is a natural born musician, doctor, businessman… or dancer. He gives some compelling examples of people who look like they have amazing natural talent, but their great ability actually comes from hours and hours of deliberate practice. Colvin says, “Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works. More of it equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.”

Deliberate practice is more than just working hard. It’s asking questions such as, “What exactly needs to be practiced. Precisely how? Which specific skills or assets must be acquired?”

Dr. Suzuki asked these questions of what it took to play violin. He was able to take various songs and break them down into their essential parts and then link the study of these parts sequentially creating a methodical way of learning to play the violin. He coupled the method with the supportive and motivating team of parent and teacher, told students that they only had to practice on days that they ate, and encouraged each student with the statement that “Every Child Can.” (A variation on “talent is overrated.) The result has been that many young children have been able to learn classical pieces that were thought to be impossible for that age level several decades earlier. Our family has had personal experience with the Suzuki Program as both of our daughters have graduated from all 10 books of the Suzuki violin program, and our eldest daughter is now a Suzuki violin teacher who shares the vision that “Every Child Can” with her own students.

In 1992, a group of researchers went looking for musical talent. They couldn’t find it. They looked at 257 young people in England where there is a rigorous and uniform grading system for young musicians that places them in one of nine grades. In comparing the highest level students with some of the lower level students, they found that there was no evidence for early or natural talent.

Colvin said, “The researchers calculated the average hours of practice needed by the most elite group of students to reach each grade level, and they calculated the average hours needed by each of the other groups. There were no statistically significant differences. For students who ended up going to the elite music school as well as for students who just played casually for fun, it took an average of twelve hundred hours of practice to reach grade 5, for example. The music school students reached grade levels at earlier ages that the other students for the simple reason that they practiced more.

By age twelve, the researchers found, the students in the most elite group were practicing an average of two hours a day versus about fifteen minutes a day for the students in the lowest group, an 800 percent difference. So students could put in their hours a little bit each day or a lot each day, but nothing, it turned out, enabled an group to reach any given grade level without putting in those hours. As one of the researchers… put it, ‘There is absolutely no evidence of a ‘fast tract’ for high achievers.’”

But wait! Surely Mozart was naturally talented? Look for Mozart’s – and Tiger Wood’s – stories in next week’s blog.

Until then – we’ll just keep practicing our dancing!


I’ve made a lot of dresses over the years. My first dress was a lime green jumper that I made in my Jr. High Home Economics class. I took sewing in high school too, and there I made a much fancier blue sundress with ties at the shoulders. I went on to make small dresses for my daughters when they were young, and then even smaller dresses for their dolls as they got older. My most recent sewing accomplishment is a blue and white checked Civil War era day dress, complete with pagoda sleeves and gold trim. I wore it last weekend at the Fresno Civil War Reenactment where we lived as if in another century for three days.

Of course all of the ladies who reenact wear dresses, but most of the public observers who attend do not. But I hope that the girls that we spoke with got glimpse of what they were missing. When a lady wears a lovely dress, I think she finds herself more inclined to sit straighter, walk more gracefully and feel over all more elegant and refined.

The first day of the reenactment was a field trip day for local school children. As we walked between the different education stations, the youngest girls would look and point and exclaim to their friends, “It looks like they’re floating!” when hoop-skirted ladies would glide by. A group of teenage girls dressed all alike in camouflage army fatigues came up to me and my friend as we walked down the main street. They all wanted to know where we got our dresses, and each one wanted to be in a photo with us. My friend remarked after the girls had walked on, “Deep down, they would rather be wearing dresses.”

While a group of us were sitting in camp, three teenage girls came up to ask us questions. They also wanted to know where we got our dresses. When I told the girls that I made my dress, one of them looked surprised and said, “I don’t even own a dress.” My dear friend, who has been reenacting for years sharing her vision of southern gentil womanhood with many girls, said, “But wouldn’t you like to?”

Will the girls we met this weekend remember the ladies in the fancy dresses? Did we inspire them, even a little bit, to be graceful, beautiful and feminine? I hope we did.


“I’ve seen Pride and Prejudice, and I’ve seen Civil War movies, and the women are not modestly dressed. Why do you have such strict modesty standards for the Civil War Balls?” – A Civil War Ball attendee

That is a fair question, and one I hope to answer in this week’s blog. It is true that the women that you see in “period” movies to not appear to be modestly dressed by our modern standards. Necklines and hem lines have been going up and down for centuries. Even in the 20th century, the flappers of the Roaring Twenties were more scantily clad than the more conservative 1940’s ladies. People showed more skin in the 1960’s than they did in the 1980’s.

To a woman in the 1860’s, a low neckline was an indication of her femininity, and her sense of modesty would be horrified by a woman in pants… or even worse… shorts! It’s interesting to think about the fact that the part of the body a lady endeavored to keep covered at that time was her ankles.

In the book of Romans, Paul says that it is good not to do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Victorian Balls are social events with the purpose of dancing and talking with a variety of people. It is not comfortable for a gentleman to dance or speak with a lady if he feels he must constantly avert his eyes. We are at the balls to build community. Because there are people, particularly men but also children, who would be affected by loose modesty standards, we will always adhere to the rule of – No cleavage, no plunging necklines and no bare shoulders.

So we ask our ladies to dress modestly, knowing that, as it says in the 1828 Webster dictionary… “Modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem.*”

(*Diadem - badge of royalty, a crown)

What do I wear?

Our balls are formal events, and one of the challenges is to come up with modest, elegant attire that doesn’t impact the pocketbook too severely. At the first ball that our family attended, my oldest daughter and I wore old bridesmaid dresses that I had saved from when I was in my twenties. (Yes, I save everything.) My son and husband wore slacks with shirts and vests (only $3) that I had purchased at the thrift store. As we continued to attend more and more balls, my girls sometimes wore my high school prom dress. (See, I told you that I save everything) or something we had purchased at a thrift store or garage sale.

One of the most difficult and expensive ways of providing a lady with a dress for the ball is to purchase a hoop skirt and make a period appropriate dress. After several years, my girls and I eventually did do this.

Ideas for making or purchasing period costumes can be found at:
Timeless Stitches
Abraham's Lady
Gentleman's Emporium (which has ladies' clothing as well)
Civil War Lady

And watch the videos on the Heritage Dance Events Website for more ideas.

HOWEVER, there are other ways to come up with an appropriate long gown.

This lace shawl is securely pinned
 so that  she can dance the night away.
For the Ladies: Inexpensive dresses can be purchased at garage sales, thrift stores and off the clearance rack at Ross. But the problem with most of them is MODESTY.

I purchased a green satin gown at the thrift store several years ago that I am sure was someone’s bridesmaid dress. It was a little short on me and it had a plunging neckline, which is not acceptable at the balls. So I took a triangle of black satin material and put it in the front, and then made a strip of satin and sewed it along the bottom… and ta-da.. I was ready to go! I plan to wear it again at our Christmas Ball in December.

My Green Satin Dress
You can also cover spaghetti straps and low cut gowns in other ways. Period appropriate coverings include Fishus, Berthas, Shawls and Bolero Jackets.

This is a great Fishu over
 a spaghetti strap dress.
A Bertha is a square or oval piece of material that goes over the top of the dress neckline. There is a picture and pattern for one at the Timeless Stitches website.

A Fishu is a long strip of material that goes around the back of the neck and shoulders, crosses in the front and then ties in the back. You can use a scarf or a shawl and tie it in this way so that it would not come off while you are dancing.
Here's the back of
the Fishu

A Shawl – Most of us have shawls at home, even if we don’t often wear them. I have a couple crochet shawls that my grandmother made years ago. Even a large piece of lace would work. They are a little difficult to deal with at a ball unless you pin them securely. But with a couple of lovely pins secured in the right places, a shawl can be used to cover up an immodest dress.

A Bolero Jacket – A short jacket made of cloth or crocheted yarn with long or short sleeves works well as a ball gown addition. Our friend’s daughter found a black velvet Bolero Jacket to go with her forest green gown. It is quite lovely.

Simple Sewing - If you sew, you can make a simple skirt and top it with a pretty blouse and be ready to go.

More Challenging Sewing - If you decide that you just can’t live without making yourself a period dress, you can take a look at Timeless Stitches. Simplicity also has some Civil War Ball gown patterns.

Rent - Perhaps this buying and sewing is more than you are willing to undertake at this time. You can always rent a costume for the evening.
1. Alesen Corella rents dresses and hoops at Family Theater Project.
2. Aimee Oliver rents dresses and hoops at Aimee's Armoire. 
3. Colleen Canaan rents dresses, hoops and men's attire at Costume Connection in Atascadero. Contact her at 438-4635.
4. Costume Capers in San Luis Obispo (behind Smart and Final) rents dresses, hoops, and uniforms and tuxedos. Call 544-2373.

Expect to pay $30 to $60 for a dress and hoop rental.

And for the Gentlemen – A nice pair of slacks, a long sleeve button shirt and tie are things that you probably already own, and they are acceptable for the ball. However, a Victorian gentleman would not be seen without a vest or jacket, so if you want to take it up notch, you can go to a bridal shop and ask if they have any vests on clearance. I recently purchased two satin vests for my husband and son at a local bridal shop, and I bought my son an inexpensive tuxedo jacket. Vests and jackets can also be purchased at the thrift stores or rented at the locations listed above.

For Children – Many children dress in a similar fashion to the adults. I purchased flower girl dresses for my girls at garage sales when they were young. (Which I still have. Remember, I save everything.)

Shoes – For the ladies – dress in something comfortable. You will be on your feet most of the night and will be getting a lot of exercise. I wear a pair of Mary Jane style black Sketchers. Gentleman, comfortable dress shoes are best.

Gloves – Gloves are required for our Grand Balls. They lend an air of elegance to the event and cleanliness too. You can purchase vintage gloves at antique stores, and you can get regular gloves at uniform supply stores. At some Balls, you can get a pair of gloves for a suggested donation of $5.00.

I hope that helps you with your concerns about what to wear. Email me at cwdanceinfo@gmail.com if you have any questions!


“It’s not about you.” – Rick Warren

This quote, from the first chapter of Rick Warren’s best selling book The Purpose Driven Life, comes as a shocking revelation to much of society. But those of us who use the Bible as the fundamental guide for social conduct find that we are to “let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well being.” And also, “let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification (building up).”

Building community is one of our missions at our Civil War Balls, and one of the ways we do this is to encourage each participant to treat everyone in attendance with kind manners and proper etiquette.

Victorian Balls were social events where service, respect and honor were practiced. They were held so that guests could have the opportunity to dance and talk with a variety of people. In the 1800’s there would have been people from various ranks of life in attendance – Colonels and tradesmen, old and young, beautiful and not-as-beautiful. But from the perspective of social responsibility, it didn’t matter. At the ball, then and now, a gentleman has the responsibility to dance with a variety of ladies, and the ladies have the responsibility to accept if asked.

So how do we begin? When entering a ballroom, a well-bred person smiles and bows or curtseys in greeting. They address the guests by respectful titles such as Sir or Madam, and they use words such as please and thank you.

It is a gentleman's duty and privilege to ask the ladies to dance. When a gentleman invites a lady to dance, he does so with words such as, “Will you honor me with your hand for this dance?” or “Will you give me the pleasure of dancing with you?” It’s often helpful if the man has been introduced to the lady, so extend a kindness to the people you know at the dance and introduce them to someone new. The gentleman then offers his arm to the lady to escort her to the floor, and upon the conclusion of the dance, takes her back to her seat.

A lady should not refuse an offer of a dance unless she has already accepted the offer from another gentleman or if she is planning on sitting out that particular dance. But if she refuses one gentleman, she must not accept the offer of another.

When dancing, smile at your partner and the couple dancing across from you.

In the Victorian Era, it was very ill-mannered to dance with the same partner more than once, even if the lady was the gentleman’s wife or one he had escorted to the ball. At our events, we know that married couples enjoy dancing together, but we encourage everyone to mix it up as much as possible.

And at some of our balls, as was true in the Civil War Era as well, there are more ladies than gentlemen present. We encourage the ladies to don a Civil War hat and play the part of a gentleman for a few dances so that everyone who wants to can dance.

At our historical Civil War Balls, we are portraying a very gracious, higher class group of ladies and gentlemen. It is important to behave with manners, respect, grace and gratitude appropriate to gentility. And please remember that everyone at the ball has the social duty to mingle and ensure that everyone in attendance has a good time. We are to “look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

What are we doing?

A friend of mine has a daughter who competed in her High School Mock Trial program this past year. The team won at the local level and had the opportunity to go to Sacramento and compete at the state level. After contending for several days, the students were looking forward to attending the Saturday night dance. When my friend’s daughter and team mates arrived at the dance, they watched the chaotic and frenzied jumping and bumping and left after five minutes. They had come to dance… but that’s not what they were doing.

A pastor of a local church recently said to me that his church does not allow dancing, but that doesn’t include the Civil War Balls because dancing is not what we are doing.

What are we doing? I guess it all depends on how you define dance. One of my favorite definitions of dance is found in the Noah Webster 1828 dictionary.

Dance - … to leap or step with graceful motions of the body… to wait with obsequiousness (what does that mean? – I’ll look this up too… ready obedience, prompt compliance with orders of a superior) to strive to please and gain favor by assiduous (diligent) attentions and officious (kind, obliging) civilities… a lively brisk exercise or amusement, in which the movements of the persons are regulated by art, in figure, and by the sound of instruments, in measure.

If people ask you what you do at the Civil War Balls, you can tell them - we gracefully follow the directions of the dance caller, giving diligent and kind attentions to our partners, and we gain brisk exercise and fine amusement in an orderly and regulated fashion.

That’s what we are doing!

Come Together

One of the most important missions of our Civil War Ball events is to bring people together and build community.

In 1985, when researchers asked a cross section of Americans how many confidants they had, the most common response was three. When they asked again in 2004, the most common answer (from a full 25% of the responders) was zero. In 1950, only 9.3% of American household consisted of people living alone. In 2000, the numbers jumped to 26% of all household are now people living alone.

We lived in LA when our children were small, and I used to take the van to the corner car wash. This was in the days before cell phones, and so most of the people who were waiting for their cars would strike up a friendly conversation with the stranger setting next to them. I’ve always loved to hear people’s stories, and so I looked forward to meeting someone new and getting to know a little bit about them. It’s been years since I’ve been to a car wash now that I have a strapping teenage son who washes our cars, but I’ve noticed something interesting when I drive by the local car wash. Every person waiting for their car seems to be sitting in an isolated chair by themself talking on their cell phone. They are missing out on hearing new stories.

Because our dance events are for families, we usually don’t have people attending who are living alone. But in many cases, our children at home are often isolated too. Many spend more time with their cell phones, computers, and game consoles than they do talking with adults. They have emails and text-messaging that fill the down times in their day that might have been better spent in a person to person conversation. People create and tell stories when they come together.

We want to bring people together and give them a worthwhile activity to share. They can talk. They can laugh. They can create something intricate, graceful and beautiful. They can create a new chapter in the story of life – together!

Communication as a Form of Dance

“Gentleman, reach across to the lady opposite you with your right hand and take the lady’s left hand in yours. Ladies, go under the gentleman’s arm as you both make a quarter turn.”

These are the instructions for making a quarter turn in our circle waltz dance – Spanish Waltz. The words may be confusing at first, but once you see it done, it is easy. Communicating knowledge to you with my words AND actions gives you a lot more information.

In-person, vocal communication has a physical dimension. I always talk with my hands –sometimes so vigorously that I have elbowed one of my children standing behind me in the face. But even if you don’t wave your arms around and around like I do, there is still movement in your shoulders, head and face that is communicating to your listener, perhaps even more than your voice.

In the 1960’s William Condon, analyzed social micro rhythms by video taping conversation between small groups of people and then slowing the videos down to watch the mirco-moments. He found that each speaker in the video would move a shoulder, cheek, eyebrow or hand in perfect time with their own words so that each person was basically dancing to their own speech. And that is not all. All of the listeners were making similar movements as well, and they were in perfect harmony with those of the speaker. Other studies have shown that it’s just not the movements that get synchronized, but it is the volume and pitch of the voices as well.

I just finished a book this week by Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point. It is a fascinating book about how social epidemics – both good and bad – get started. The author talks about the importance of persuasive communicators and how they get their message across. Glad tells of meeting with a very persuasive salesman, Tom Gau. He says, “We know how people talk back and forth. They listen. They interrupt. They move their hands. In the case of my meeting with Tom Gau…some of the time he leaned forward and planted his elbows in front of him. Other times he sat back in his chair and waved his hands in the air… If you had a videotape (of our meeting) and slowed it down until you were looking at our interaction in slices of a fraction of a second, you would have seen … the two of us engaged in what can only be described as an elaborate and precise dance.”

Have you ever thought about your conversations as being a dance? Are some people better conversationalists (and better dancers) than others? Does dancing help you become a better communicator? A more persuasive speech maker? Like most skills, the more you practice, the better you get. So get out there and dance, and you may find that you receive the extra benefit of becoming a better communicator as well.

Maybe you didn’t realize it, but you and everyone around you are dancing all the time!

The Prince and the Princess

Many of my favorite stories involve a "princess" being rescued by a handsome "prince." It may be an old fairytale like Sleeping Beauty or a modern remake like the movie Enchanted, or perhaps a classical literary piece like Sense and Sensibility. Every little girl dreams of the day when her prince in shining armor will come and take her away to be party of a bigger story as she plays dress-up with silky scarves and lace. Every little boy practices being a fighting warrior by whacking at trees with sticks and throwing rocks at tin cans.

Our Civil War Balls give children, youths and adults a chance to be the Prince or Princess for the evening. Our music pastor attended our last ball, and as the father of three daughters, one of whom was married this summer, he said that the thing that touched his heart about the dances the most was watching the fathers dance with their daughters. These young girls look to their daddy to know if they are pretty and worthwhile. When a father turns and spins his satin-dressed daughter, he says that she is.

When the prince in Sleeping beauty rescues the princess, he must first defeat the fire-breathing dragon. For some young men who attend the balls, asking a young lady to dance is even scarier than fighting a dragon. But the young prince's valor increases as he overcomes and conquers this fear. (Okay, this is a little over dramatic, but I still think that the essence is there.)

At our balls, it is the gentleman's responsibility to ask a girl to dance and invite her to be party of the story. It has been asked by several of the young men (and never the ladies!) if we could have some of the dances be "ladies' choice." But as it would take away from the story of sleeping beauty if the princess jumped out of the tower with a hatchet and took care of the dragon herself while the prince was off drinking lemonade with his pals, in the same way it would decrease the honor and beauty - the essential story line - of the Ball.

Be party of a story with grace and beauty, valor and courage - Attend a Grand Ball!

The Dancer as the Star in the Epic of Life

"I've always felt life first as as story - and if there is a story, there is a story teller." - G.K. Chesterton.

I've been writing and directing plays since I was in elementary school. My first "big" production was a Christmas play that I wrote when I was around ten years old. I roped my siblings and relatives into performing and asked my pianist mother to play the music that I had carefully picked out. I even typed up programs (with several misspellings - I know because my mother saved them) to hand out to the audience. It never became a hit play on Broadway, but for me, it was life changing.

Fast forward past my marriage and on to the birth of our three children. I realized that I could incorporate my love of children, history AND drama by offering to direct (and sew costumes and paint scenery) for an American Girl Felicity play. My oldest daughter and her friends were about six years old when we put on this grand production. We practiced a lot, and since a few of the girls in the play were not good readers yet, the mothers got together and read our own daughter's part into a tape recorder so they could learn their lines by listening. We were able to use a local church for the performance and had a sizable audience. My greatest delight was to watch the girls shine in the roles that they had worked so hard in preparing. It was worth all the time and effort to watch them become more than they were when they started. I got to, in a small way, be part of their life's story.

I've gone on to direct plays for other children's groups and choirs, and I've directed choreography as well. And each time as I sit in the dim light of the front row watching and cheering the stars of the production on and watching them shine, I am deeply satisfied. And I get the same sense of satisfaction teaching and calling dances at the balls. But at these dances, instead of having a few "stars" and a large audience, everyone gets to have a part and be one of the "stars" at the event. And just like a play, we practice their parts by teaching the dance steps, and then when the music plays, each person is ready to be the prince or princess of their evening's story.

I believe we are all part of a bigger story. John Eldredge says in his book Epic, "Live unfolds like a drama. Doesn't it? Each day has a beginning and an end. There are all sorts of characters, all sorts of settings. A year goes by like a chapter from a novel. Sometimes it seems like a tragedy. Sometimes like a comedy. Most of it feels like a soap opera. Whatever happens, it's a story through and through."

I look forward to dancing with you sometime, and being part of your story!

Welcome to my Dance, Music and History Blog!

I originally created this page to give people information about the teaching and dance calling that I am doing at local dance events, but now we have our own website at http://www.heritagedanceevents.com/. Please check it out if you are interested in attending or hosting a Victorian Era Ball. And if you have any questions or comments about anything that you read here, you can always contact me at www.heritagedanceevents@gmail.com.

I am now going to use this blog to write my muses about dance, music and history. There are many benefits and reasons to dance, and I plan to explore some of the following topics:

The Dancer as the Star in the Epic of Life
The Prince and the Princess
Communication as a Form of Dance
Dancing as a Respite from Isolation

I'll also share with you some random facts and various quotes.

To get us started, here's random fact #1. Did you know that the Greeks used dancing as the chief means of physical training for their soldiers? And that famous Greek Plato said, "To sing well and to dance well is to be well educated."

As a teacher with a passion for dance, music and history, my hope is that my blogs will be entertaining, educational and will give you a reason to get up and dance!

Dancing on,

Debra Newby

All essays on this blog are copyrighted and may not be copied or printed without permission. Debra Newby/2009