The Jane Austen-style ballEsmé Kenney with permission for Varsity

Picture this: it was a cold January night at Medwards and my friends and I were at the Burns Night Formal. After drinking a lot of wine and eating large quantities of vegetarian haggis, we joined in with the post-formal activity: a Ceilidh dance, organised by the English Country Dance Club. 

Almost 2 months later, my friend and I were running along Jesus Lane dressed in full regency gowns, trying not to be late for the annual Jane Austen Ball. 

How did we get to this point? Most people are capable of going to one Ceilidh event without becoming regular members of the Cambridge folk dancing community. And yet, after that fateful Burn’s Night formal, my friends and I have been going to the English Country Dance Club almost every week. 

One of the big selling points of English Country Dancing is how much fun you can have without a great deal of skill or talent. For every dance, the caller (the person who stands at the front and talks to you) tells you exactly what steps to do. The other dancers are always happy to help, and no-one gets annoyed at you if you get things wrong (which is inevitable when you first start!). I don’t go as often as my friends do, and even though they have a lot more knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of folk dancing, I can make a reasonable attempt at the dances, and more importantly, have a good time! You can be as involved or as casual as you like.

The club also allows us to bridge the gap between town and gown. The club is open to students and locals, and most of the committee members, (as well as the live band who come every other week) aren’t students. Pretty much all the dances are done with a partner, and the general expectation is that you’ll change partners at every dance, so naturally you end up getting to know lots of people who you may not have come into contact with otherwise. Sometimes we join the locals on their post-folk dancing pub trips. Being able to break out of the academic bubble and interact with the local community, even for a couple of hours a week, was something we all appreciated, especially when university life gets difficult.

It was exactly the kind of esoteric, one-of-a-kind activity that I imagined myself doing at Cambridge

Esmé Kenney

For me, the highlight of the English Country Dancing experience was definitely the annual Jane Austen Ball at the end of Lent. Like the weekly sessions at the Round, the caller told us what to do, only this time we were in a much bigger hall, doing the same dances that Jane Austen would have taken part in. There was a live band and traditional regency-era cakes, and everyone was dressed in regency attire - I managed to get a surprisingly cheap regency dress from Amazon. It wasn’t compulsory to dress up, but when else would I have an excuse to dress like Elizabeth Bennett? It was exactly the kind of esoteric, one-of-a-kind activity that I imagined myself doing at Cambridge.



Mountain View

Photographing the humans of Cambridge: Mark Box on connection, chow mein, and Cambridge clubs

So, what started off as a fun formal activity has culminated into a weekly visit to Wesley Church Hall, two end of term balls, and my college wife becoming the publicity officer. One of her main initiatives is to establish an official TikTok account, so keep an eye out. Whether you’re a fresher wanting to try something completely random, or a finalist looking to round off your Cambridge experience with a regency ball, English Country Dancing could be for you!