By Jennifer Abella
Every year, Jane Austen Summer Program attendees learn to navigate what to some consider alien territory: the ballroom. And there are few more experienced guides than Jack Maus, who’s been teaching and leading JASP dancers since the program’s inception in 2013. We caught up with Maus to find out more about his passion for dancing.
Can you tell us a little about your background: What you do when you’re not teaching/dancing?
I grew up in northern New Jersey. I attended high school in New York City, college in St. Louis, and law school in Williamsburg. I have been a practicing lawyer since 1973 and just recently retired at the ripe old age of 67. I was on active duty with the Air Force and worked for the Treasury Department. The last 30 years of my practice have been spent in a solo private practice where I focused on criminal defense law. In 2015, I was the president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and was honored by our statewide professional weekly newspaper, the Virginia Lawyers Weekly, as a member of its 2015 class of “Leaders in the Law.”
I have three daughters and three granddaughters spread across the country. I have plenty of plans for my retirement, including playing more music, leading more dances and traveling.
How did you become interested in dancing?
When I arrived in Louisa, Va., in 1986 to open my private practice, our presiding circuit judge had been involved in English country dancing [ECD] for the prior 10 years, his wife having been tasked to put on a colonial ball for the 1976 national bicentennial. All new lawyers appearing before him were invited to participate in ECD. Most didn’t, but I did.
How and when did you come to teach dancing and lead balls?
I have played piano since my youth. I started playing music for ECD around 2000 and probably started to teach the dances about a year or two later. In addition to leading ECD dances, I also lead contra dances and have played in a contra dance band since 2001.
What’s your favorite dance to perform? What’s your favorite dance to teach?
That’s a tough one because, over the years, I have come to love SO many of the dances. Some of the ones that I most enjoy dancing include “Barbarini’s Tambourine,” the “Bonny Cuckoo,” and “The Duke of Kent’s Waltz.” Similarly, I don’t have one favorite to teach. “Solider’s Joy” is a longways dance that is easy and fun for the dancers, “Newcastle” is an entertaining square, and the “Physical Snob” is an easy and fun three-couple dance.
Do you ever get nervous about calling dances?
Never. The key is plenty of preparation. When I am planning the program, I spend hours developing a program that starts with easy dances and moves on to more difficult ones. In the past, I have not been involved in developing the program for JASP, so I basically spend extra time studying the dances (some of which are unfamiliar to me) and putting them in a progressive order.
How do you keep all the dances straight in your head?
Because I have been doing this for so long, many of the dances are burned into my memory. The rest I learn and learn well. It’s like making friends. Some you know and others you get to know.
What’s the best way to convince a reluctant dancer to try it out?
Starting off with simple dances that are fun. Once a reluctant dancer sees that the dances are really not hard to do, (s)he is interested in learning more.
What are three key things first-time dancers should know when they step on the ballroom floor?
First, know your left from your right. Second, be able to count to 8. Third, listen to your dance master.