Bringing Back the Virginia Reel

Four steps forward…four steps back…join hands…turn in a circle.

Victorian dances, such as the Virginia Reel, may seem a thing of the past, but a group of teenagers and young adults in Guthrie are reviving its history by performing dance demonstrations at events. Emma Bowers Montgomery brought the group to life because of her own childhood exposure to 19th century history in Guthrie’s historical district.

“My dad and grandparents were both cavalry riders in Civil War movies, and my grandmother worked at the Territorial Museum,” Emma said. “My father even owned a carriage-ride business for a time, and I gave tours between the ages of seven and thirteen years old.”

Because of her constant access to the Victorian era, she began sewing period costumes and modeling them at fashion shows. Then, in 2017, Emma got a group of eight girls together to perform a dance at the Victorian Walk in Guthrie. Only a teenager herself, she admitted that they were mostly “goofing off,” but that dancing in a storefront window at Christmas time was enormously fun. She was approached by Nathan and Micah Montgomery, brothers who were interested in joining in on the fun, too. Soon, she and Nathan were a dating couple, and later married.

“After that, we attended a Civil War reenactment and enjoyed the dancing so much that we decided to officially form a group with some of our other friends to give historic dance demonstrations,” Emma said.

Emma began researching historical documents and looking through diaries and etiquette books in order to be historically accurate. She discovered how integral dancing was to social life during the 1800s for both men and women.

“Today’s dance style is mostly done singularly, so it’s hard for people to become comfortable or develop their own style by themselves, but group dancing with partners makes it easier to cover up mistakes,” Emma said. “Every single guy in the group, except my husband, initially said they didn’t like dancing—until they tried it.”

The group’s name, Cimarron Reenactors Guild of Guthrie, was selected to honor Emma’s grandmother, who ran a Civil War reenactment group named the Cimarron Settlers. Instead of focusing on the military side of things, however, Emma and Nathan decided to specialize in civilian life. Besides dancing at the annual Victorian Walk, they also participate in the Battle of Honey Springs, which is a choreographed military demonstration for the public.

“We reenact the non-military side of things,” Emma said, “so we are educating people about daily life, which might include a soldier’s wife, or a laundress, or a refugee following the army. It’s fun, but we take our roles seriously.”

Guild members, who currently range in ages from 14 to 25, meet monthly to practice. New members are required to commit to buying or making a time-period costume within a year, although Emma loans costumes to new members who are still developing their dancing and character-acting roles.

“We love bringing in new young people, and their parents appreciate the wholesome activities that promote etiquette and friendship,” Emma said. “We are reviving the Civil War experience that was becoming a dying hobby, and every time we perform, people want to participate and learn more. Honestly, what I hear most is, ‘I didn’t know this was a thing!’”

Visit Cimarron Reenactors Guild on Facebook to learn more.

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