Dancing—one of the first things that comes to mind when imagining the Regency era. Ballrooms, white gloves, dashing men and beautiful women, weaving in invisible patterns on a marble floor, surrounded by fragrant flowers and glowing candelabras. But where do these heroes and heroines learn that beautiful and necessary skill? The answer: Dancing masters – the men who mixed with those in the highest circles, but were not their social equals. This group of men has been in the shadows of Regency fiction…until now, in Julie Klassen’s latest novel, The Dancing Master. In this romantic novel, the focus shifts from the dancers on the dance floor to the teacher behind the dance.
Alec Valcourt finds himself suddenly in a new town: his future drastically different from what he had planned. Gone is the exciting life as a dancing master for his father’s academy in London—now he must support his mother and sister on his own, all while protecting them from shameful secrets from the past. Alec seeks to restart his career as a dancing master, but soon discovers that dancing has been mysteriously prohibited from the town of Beaworthy for twenty years. The imperious Lady Amelia Midwinter has banned all dances and, as Alec quickly finds out, despises dancing masters—especially if they go too near her beautiful but willful daughter, Julia.
Julia Midwinter hates her stifling life. Her mother is controlling and her future is bleak—marriage to a man she does not love and the prospect of never leaving her small town. Julia feels caged in a life she does not want, only feeling free when riding her horse or flirting with men, especially ones who will take her far away from her home. She finds no reason to stay in Beaworthy–until she meets Alec Valcourt. He represents all that she doesn’t have but desires—a loving family and a life lived in a place other than Beaworthy, as well as what is most forbidden: dancing. But Alec proves to be irritatingly self-possessed, ignoring all of her advances and flirtations. When Julia unearths a life-changing secret from her own past, can she get help from the only man she can trust, who is quickly becoming more than a means to an end? And can Alec bring dancing back into the hearts and lives of the people of Beaworthy?
The Dancing Master is a novel that focuses on the “backstage” of the Regency world, something that is very rarely seen in Regency fiction. It was a delight to read about small town Regency life as well as the particulars of the occupation of dancing master. Getting to read about the Allen family, Mrs. Tickle (the baker), Mr. Desmond (the mysterious smith), and the different customs of a small village was a refreshing change from the usual Regency focus of grand manor homes and the Ton of Regency society.
Another highlight of The Dancing Master is the dancing master himself. I never took the time to think about how all the heroes and heroines of Regency novels learned how to dance—somehow I thought it was a skill that all the Regency upper class was born with. But no! The graceful elegance and the effortless abilities that enabled Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy to converse on the dance floor—had to be taught. And by who? The dancing master, of course! The trials and career of the dancing master (without giving away spoilers) were unique, and created interesting problems and benefits that I had never even considered. The dancing master was able to move amongst the upper circles, but only as a “trial” hero—he existed only to teach and to be practiced on by girls who would never marry so low on the social ladder. Julie Klassen chose a very interesting career for her hero, and one that will never let me read about or watch Regency dances in the same way.
I confess: Because of the initial slow pacing, it took me about halfway through The Dancing Master to like Alec, Julia, Lady Amelia, the inhabitants of Beaworthy, or even the plot itself. But for those of you who might start this novel and find the pacing a little slow, or the main characters a little hard to like—fear not! Exciting events happen, romance blossoms, and past mysteries are discovered. By the end of The Dancing Master I found myself engrossed in the story and in love with the characters. Alec’s back story came to light and he became a more developed character, Lady Amelia Midwinter became more sympathetic, and Julia grew as a character through the revelation of her own secrets—changing her from a thoughtless flirt to a kind and mature young woman.
Julie Klassen has created a story filled with suspense, romance, and adventure that made The Dancing Master not just an exciting and intriguing read, but one that taught the important lesson of the value of family and friendship. This book wasn’t just focused on a romance (which was altogether sweet) or a mystery (which kept me guessing to the end) but it also focused on the all-too human main characters—their flaws, past mistakes, and ultimately their decisions to forgive and move on from the past. The Dancing Master was well worth the read, and I look forward to reading any future Regency novels by Julie Klassen.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Dancing Master, by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2014)
Trade paperback (432)
Cover courtesy Bethany House Publisher © 2014; text Katie Patchell © 2014, Austenprose.com