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Recreating a Bygone Era


The Victorian Dance Ensemble has performed at the Smithsonian Institution’s
Museum of American History and the American Art Museum.

The years 1861 to 1865 were not all blood and mud, death and destruction. On the home front there was grace and elegance, candlelight . . . and dancing!

Dancing was enjoyed by almost everyone in America during the Civil War - young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural, North and South. During the 1860s, a ball was one way to forget, at least for an evening, the “fiery trial” of the Civil War.

Unlike modern dancing that is couple oriented, dancing in the mid-Victorian era was much more “social”. Almost all dances were done in formations of circles, squares or lines, with the couples interacting with other couples. It was considered ill-mannered to dance with the same partner all evening. Everyone at a ball had a social duty to mingle and to ensure that everyone else had a pleasant time.

Although there were strict rules of behavior, they tended to add an agreeable degree of formality and decorum that has been lost in today’s world. The Victorian Dance Ensemble is dedicated to recreating the grace and beauty of this bygone era.

The Victorian Dance Ensemble demonstrates and teaches dances of the mid-19th century. Many of the members belong to Union, Confederate or civilian Civil War reenactment units, while others are interested in the Victorian era or vintage dancing. Most of the members of the VDE reside in Pennsylvania but we also have dancers from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey. New York, and Virginia.

The group began after Dr. Thomas Foster (right with wife Jean), retired Deputy Superintendent of Baltimore Schools and a Civil War reenactor, taught Civil War Dance at various community colleges. Students from those classes demonstrated dancing at the first Harrisburg Civil War Exposition in March 1995. Almost immediately after that first demonstration, the group was asked to give other dance programs and the Victorian Dance Ensemble was born.

The Victorian Dance Ensemble has since grown to over forty dancers and its schedule includes more than three dozen demonstrations and balls each year in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.

The Victorian Dance Ensemble has presented programs at the Smithsonian Institution, Gettysburg National Military Park, Harpers Ferry National Park, Arlington House, National Civil War Museum, Pennsylvania State Museum, Maryland Historical Society and Pamplin Park. It also conducts vintage balls, including the Civil War Preservation Ball in the Rotunda of the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg and the Sons of Union Veterans’ Remembrance Day Ball in Gettysburg.

In 2008, the group reorganized as the Civil War Dance Foundation and expanded its programs.

Email: Info@CivilWarDance.org
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