'They'll run you down," said Carol Slentz of Jones County about the man and woman holding hands and shuffling down the middle of two rows of dancers.
The dance they are doing is the "Virginia Reel" which, according to dance master Gary Chamberlain, originally was called "Sir Roger de Coverly" and was one of President George Washington's favorite dances. The dance isn't very strenuous, but it is long by modern standards. So long, in fact, that everyone is a little out of breath by the time the music ends.
Every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., a group of dance and history enthusiasts meets in a side room at North Macon Park Community Center to learn the dances from the Civil War era.
The Macon 1800s Club has been in existence since 1986 when it was founded as a way to keep tour groups entertained at night. The club is now a nonprofit with 18 members who perform for tour groups, in nursing homes and at private events. Members of the club were featured dancers in the now-hard-to-find 1990 Christopher Reeve film "The Rose and the Jackal."
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Thirty-three-year-old operating room technician Austin Mannheim has been a member of the Macon 1800s Club for about a year. Mannheim is a Civil War re-enactor with the 10th Georgia, so the club was an easy fit for him. He said that although he offers to wear his Union uniform when the club performs, they prefer him to wear his Confederate greys.
"It's kind of like re-enactment for me," said Mannheim about the club. "You know, I learn (the dances) and then it's like I can identify more with my research. So it's just sort of more immersion I guess than anything else. Plus, to me, it's pretty cool."
Before each dance, Chamberlain announces the history of that particular dance. But they don't limit themselves to just learning about the dance; they also explore the way life was lived in that period.
"There are entire books of historical dance and not only do they include the dances, but they include dance etiquette and proper behavior. So, it's fascinating. There was one time when I was bringing one of those books in and I would read every week, you know, a couple of paragraphs out of it in terms of social etiquette for the period."
Chamberlain, who lives in Warner Robins and works at Robins Air Force Base, was attracted to the club through his love of other kinds of dancing.
"I also square dance, and several people in our group are square dancers and I had a couple of the people in the group who had asked me to come do this dance as well. So, I finally came," Chamberlain said. "I am what they call the dance master, which basically means I'm responsible for choreography."
Chamberlain's deftness with choreography is evident when he calls out to the group that they will be doing a quadrille called "Mona's Trip." The group executes the complicated dance to perfection. The group joins and parts in the shapes of squares and diamonds. Individual members break off, march and turn to rejoin the group with precision timing. Chamberlain says it took a year for "Mona's Trip" to be at performance level and that if you looked at dancers from above they would look like kaleidoscope pieces falling in and out of place.
Club president Avery Harrington and his wife, Donna, have been longtime members of the club. The couple makes the 45-minute drive from Bonaire once a week. Avery Harrington works at Robins as a contractor, and Donna Harrington is a seamstress who has created most of the club members' dresses.
Although some historical dancing groups are stringent about dress code, the Macon 1800's Club compromises on the accuracy of the clothing. At their performances, the men will wear tuxedos with tails, ascots and vests, and the women will wear as close an approximation to a Civil War ball gown as they can find or create.
"We have about five (dances) that we perform at one time, but we may change them. We have about 15-20 dances (in our repertoire)," Avery Harrington said.
That's a big jump from the four dances the club had when they began 30 years ago.
Donna Harrington says they have had members range in age from 11 to 89 years old. The club members' occupations range from contractor and engineer to bookkeeper, college student and retired prison warden.
"So, we're diverse," Avery Harrington said.
Macon 1800s Club
To learn more, visit www.macondance.com/Dances/macon-1800s-club. People interested in joining the club may attend rehearsals held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the North Macon Park Community Center, 815 N. Macon Park Drive.