April 21, 2013

The trans-Atlantic legacy of Playford

PLATTSBURGH — “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” is a smoking dance scene between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy in the 1995 BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Jane Austen’s most beloved heroine glowers fetchingly at the aloof and brooding aristocrat. Despite the fireworks and wicked repartee between the gentleman and gentleman’s daughter, they dance divinely together at the Netherfield Ball.

You, too, can learn to execute back-to-backs, castoffs and pousettes with Adirondack English Country Dancers. And, you don’t need to be attired in formal threads like Lizzy and Darcy to do it.

Comfortable clothing and clean shoes are good enough for English country dancing.


Locally, Bruce Kokernot and Wendy Gilchrist are English country dancing “royalty” and introduced the 17th-century dance craze to the North Country in collaboration with J. Kellum Smith and Angela Brown of Hill and Hollow Music.

The summer they met Kellum and Angela, they learned about the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration’s Macomb Ball.

“They had this fancy ball,” Bruce said. “People paid $30 or $40 to have a dinner, and there was an orchestra. Angela brought it up that, ‘Why don’t we do a period dance?’ This kind of dance they would have been doing in 1812 and 1814.”

Bruce and Wendy’s nascent-calling skills, Angela’s organizational skills and the Waickman family’s musical skills gelled and increased attendance at the Macomb Ball.

“We get 120 people showing up,” Bruce said. “It’s almost become something that the re-enactors decide to come to Plattsburgh for because there is a fancy ball involved.”


When Hill and Hollow went on hiatus, Bruce, Wendy and John and Sharon Schenkel and other members of Step Lively! formed Adirondack English Country Dancers.

The social-folk dance has Renaissance roots. Its popularity waned in the early 19th century. Each figure, a specific series of movements, is performed by sets comprised of two, three or four couples as they progressively dance along two long lines, executing a figure while dancing with new couples along the way.

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