Re-Enactors: Amity Colonial Dancers
Dancing at the Daniel Boone Homestead
Historical re-enacting draws many participants because it satisfies diverse yearnings. One is the desire to understand and experience part of the lifestyle of forebears from another time or place. Closely related, re-enacting provides a way to honor and keep an historical period “alive.” Furthermore, participating in a re-enactment is a socially acceptable escape from the everyday life and a productive outlet for emergent actors and actresses.
The Amity referenced in the name is a township in eastern Berks County, southeastern Pennsylvania. The Amity Colonial Dancers rehearse near Douglassville in a restored Colonial era tavern, The White Horse Inn. Built in1762, it is part of Old Morlatton Village which is maintained by the Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County. Talk about an inspiring setting for Colonial dancing! This location gives dancers in the Reading area a convenient alternate to travelling to the Philadelphia suburbs to the Germantown Country Dances, and other English Country Dances.
The current Dance Mistress duties are capably performed by Shelley Brower. This busy woman has a great deal of training in piano performance and dance. Additionally, this modest mainstay of the troupe is a mother, and works part-time. Somehow she crowbars in time to research the dances in the few original source authentic printed materials, plus investigate what current troupes around the world are performing. Shelly is an excellent teacher.
Another excellent teacher is accompanist Dr. Helen May. This former professor of music now serves as harpsichord and keyboard player for the troupe.
The Amity Colonial Dancers were founded around 2005 by employees and volunteers at historic sites in Berks County. The dancers perform at the Berks County Heritage Center, Daniel Boone Homestead, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Old Morlatton Village, and the Beidler House at Allegheny Aqueduct Park. An upcoming performance is scheduled at The Seventh Annual Thomas R. Brendle Folklife Symposium, "Music and Dance in the Goschenhoppen Region" on November 5, 2011 in Green Lane, PA.
Sign outside the rehearsal space
The Amity Colonial Dancers wear authentic period garb. It is annoyingly authentic for not only their designated time period of about 1740 through 1840, but also by the location of their home base in Douglassville. Because the ethnic composition of colonial immigrants there is primarily Swedish, Scottish, Irish, British, and German, the colonial dress of, for example, French settlers is not permitted in the troupe. Furthermore, since the area was a farming community, costumes focus on work clothing rather than ballroom dress which might have been more commonplace in Philadelphia. Clothing styles changed over the course of this hundred-year span, so the interpretive period of each site at which they perform determines whether they wear 18th century or early 19th century dress.
Each English Country and Colonial dance takes its name from the song. Every melody has its own unique dance. Although some steps are common to many dances, the number and order of these differ for every song. The 2011 season of the Amity Colonial Dancers includes: Knole Park, Chelmsford Assembly, Flowers of Edinburgh, Indian Queen, Hunt the Squirrel, Haste to the Wedding, Fandango, Gathering Peasquods, and School for Scandal. Prior seasons have included "Sweet Richard," and Comical Fellow."
Courting the old-fashioned way
These dances came from the British Isles and were enjoyed by the settlers of eastern Pennsylvania. They played a big part in the social life events of young people who had few opportunities to mingle. Nonetheless, the extent of touching permitted during the dance was much less than what is acceptable in the 20th and 21st centuries. In colonial dances, the lady will rest the fingers of her hand on the gentleman’s upturned palm and occasionally they will hold hands briefly. Compensating for this limitation, colonial dancers did lots of flirting with their eyes. It is very romantic.
If any of this description sounds like something you would like to be doing, search in your area for a folk dance or English Country Dance group.
October 2011 post script:
Until recently, rounding out the musical accompaniment was Dan Riegel on fiddle. He did a superb job of injecting liveliness into the atmosphere with his ornamentation and energetic accompaniments. Now he has moved on to dancing in Heaven. The Amity Dancers are ever so glad they had a chance to know him.
Copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan