Middletown, PA — Larry Keener-Farley of the Civil War Dance Foundation led a free dance class with help from the Victorian Dance Ensemble on February 12 at Penn State Harrisburg.
It might have been a rainy and windy day in Middletown, but that didn’t stop the crowd of eager men and women from heading to the CUB to enjoy their lessons of Civil War era dancing. Whether it was the newcomer young couples or the seasoned older couples, everyone had fun learning the various gestures and movements from the time period.
Instructing behind a microphone, Keener-Farley gave step by step instructions to the participants along with a visual example led by the “top couples” who were already experienced in the techniques. Members of the Victorian Dance Ensemble stood aside from the crowd to assist those who needed additional assistance while the songs played.
Music played from a small boom box as the dancers moved and swayed. Laughs and playful conversations could be heard as they danced with each other.
“We’ve been doing this for years now and we have folks that have been dancing with us for years,” Annette Keener-Farley, wife of Larry Keener-Farley said. “We do get new people in here as well but we’re hoping to get more younger students to continue the tradition on to the next generation.”
With a majority of the dance students being above the age of 50, the Keener-Farley family provides these lessons at Penn State Harrisburg in order to get the younger people interested in taking part in the tradition.
The Civil War Foundation along with the performing Victorian Dance Ensemble, are devoted to promoting and advancing educational, cultural, preservation, commemoration and performing arts programs related to the Civil War and Victorian eras by offering a wide range of programs including fashion shows, displays of period jewelry, photography, newspapers and militaria.
The dances of this era are taught to show the campus, as well as the surrounding community, not only the way men and women danced during the time of the Civil War, but also the social aspects.
Unlike modern dancing that’s also couples-oriented, dancing in the mid-Victorian era was much more social in that it’s expected for dancers to switch partners throughout an event. It was considered ill-mannered to dance with the same partner for the entire time.
With this in mind, some dancers during the class wore white disposable latex gloves in order to not catch any colds as they moved and glided around with one another.
For the most part, all dances were done in formations of circles, squares or lines. The songs included in the class were Soldier’s Joy, Lancer’s Quadrille Third Figure, German Waltz, Swedish Dance and Spanish Waltz. Each song ended with a round of applause as the students became more attuned to the music and got better as the event went on.
Although the lessons only last about two hours, the usual crowd will be back next time to enjoy the familiar dance techniques they’ve learned and, hopefully, have some new members to take part in the tradition of Civil War era dancing.