7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dance of the Colonial Era

Members of Atlanta Baroque Dance in Charleston, SC. Kat is in red.
Having come lately to researching and soon-to-be-writing for the Colonial Era as part of my multi-era Restoration Chronicles (1920, 1870 and 1790), I have spent most of my previous years as a writer, historian and vintage dancer from the mid-1800s, as befitted the era of my Georgia Gold Series (www.deniseweimerbooks.webs.com). While leading a group of dancers from North Georgia, I met Kat Peng, now Kat Peng Nagar, and her group of Atlanta-area dancers, also doing mid-1800s dance. On several occasions we enjoyed recreating elegant dances of the Civil War era with them at re-enactment balls. Since those days, I’ve concentrated more on writing and less on dancing, while Kat has gone on to become an expert (who sometimes appears in film!) on various periods of dance, from Baroque to Swing, and just about everything in between! She is the directress of Atlanta Baroque Dance Company. Today I’d like to introduce you to Kat and ask her to share from her expertise on Colonial-era dance, a subject which I am sure will delight many Colonial Quills writers and readers alike!

So Kat, if you will introduce yourself …

My name is Kat Nagar and I am a historic dancer and costumer.  I am a classically trained dancer who stumbled upon historic dance when I was getting my art degree at GA State University.  I had no idea that anyone even studied the subject and I became completely hooked.  I have always been fascinated by historic dance in film and am so happy that I get to create costumes and perform those dances I admire in real life.

In a nutshell please tell us how Atlanta Baroque Dance got started and what type of dances you do.

About fourteen years ago, I attended a Baroque dance for musicians workshop and met Chris Wilson, a fellow Baroque dancer.  Since we had both studied this form of dance and there was no current performance company to join, we decided to start our own company.  Since that time, we have added about ten dancers and have performed and taught Renaissance and Baroque dance all over the metro Atlanta area.  Chris and I perform the more complicated earlier dances, and our company members perform the group pieces.

Can you explain the difference between Baroque and Colonial?

Baroque dance, in court, had its heyday during the reign of Louis the XIV.  He was an excellent dancer and required that all of his courtiers become experts as well.  Dancing well at court meant that you could move up the social ladder and dancing poorly could get you excused until your dancing skills had improved.  When the king got older, he established the first ballet school in 1661.  Notation from that time period tells us how these dances were performed.  By the middle of the 18th century, most of the complicated Baroque dances were out of fashion.  Colonials would still dance a Bourr'ee, Minuet or Gavottes but the country dances were the most popular.  After the Revolutionary War, people were even less interested in formal style dance.  

Can you explain the main differences of style between court dances and country dances and give several examples of the most popular types of each.

Whereas court dancing followed strict rules, country dancing was much more relaxed.  Servants danced country dances that were easy so that when they had a opportunity to go to a dance, they could just jump right in.  This kind of dancing looked like great fun to the nobles but they didn't want to dance the same dances as their servants.  They had their dancing masters create complicated dances that would show off their dancing abilities and would require practice before being danced.  Examples of these types of dances would be Portsmouth, Juice of Barley and Sun Assemble.  

What is your favorite dance and why?

My favorite dance is a court dance called La Forlana, 1700.  I like it because it's sprightly like a jig with lots of turns and tomb'es.  Tomb'e literally means to fall.  I love the way I feel and look when I'm dancing that step.  The dance is the perfect marriage of graceful movements and quick steps.  

What is the most unexpected/unique dance of the period in your opinion and why?

A lot of Baroque ballets have mythology themes.  I think one of the most unique ballets would have to be The Ballet of the Night, where Louis the XIV portrays himself as Apollo, the sun god.  

Please share a brief description of the expected etiquette and mannerisms of a Colonial-era ball.

A typical colonial ball would begin with the Minuet, usually danced by the host or honored guest of the evening.  After the couple dances, the country dances would begin.  Couples would line up in a row down the length of the ballroom, with the head couple nearest the musicians.  The first two couples of rank would begin the dance.  As the first couple progresses down the row, each couple would join the dance as they pass.

What would the typical musical instrumentation be for a period ball? Would this differ court ball to country ball?

The typical instruments played for a court ball, during the Baroque time period, would consist of violin, cello and a harpsichord or piano depending on the year.  A country ball would usually have a violin or fiddle to accompany the dancers, more musicians if the budget allowed.

Please share a few comments on costuming for balls.

A lady’s dress for a ball was dictated by her clothing allowance.  If she wasn't able to afford a whole new gown, she could possibly afford material for a petticoat and stomacher.  My personal pet peeve is seeing ladies wear straw hats to balls.     

Thank you so much, Kat! What a pleasure to interview you on this subject. We appreciate the knowledge, elegance and beauty you and historical dancers reconstruct and preserve! Please be sure to visit the sites listed below for Kat’s company. And if you have a question on historical dance 1600-1800 perhaps the dance directress can pop back by with the answer. J Many thanks from Denise Weimer.



  1. Really enjoyed your post and learning the difference in the dances. I love to watch the beautiful gowned and handsome men dancing at a ball in the movies, like Gone With the Wind and others.

  2. Fun post! Okay, no straw hats, so what type of head covering - if any - did they wear?

    1. Pegg,

      Hi, I'm back. What to wear instead of a straw hat to a ball? Well, hairstyle and accessories differed depending on your social status, location and time period. France set the fashion for the majority of the 18 th century so if you lived close by you would have access to the latest styles. If you lived in the American Colonies, you would have been behind the times. Typical hair decorations were powder, flowers, feathers, jeweled combs, ribbon, fabric and sculptures. I have read about the ship being placed in the hair, as decoration, also horses and a carriage and even a house! If I were to write about a certain decade, I'd look at paintings from the time period to get an accurate account of the accessories.
      Kat Nagar


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