The Early Dance Lecture 2007

Agent of the Enlightenment

The significance of the Dancing Master

in creating a civilised society in the18th century.

by Dr. Anne Bloomfield

 ‘….the Dutchesse willed the Lady Margaret and the Ladie Constance Fregosa, to show them a daunce.

Wherefore Barletta immediately, a very pleasant musition, and an excellent dauncer, who continually kept all the Court in mirth and joy, began to play upon his Instruments, and they, hand on hand shewed them a daunce or two with a very good grace and great pleasure to the lookers on.’[i]

Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (1523) provides the foundation for the discussion of the role of the dancing master as agent of the Enlightenment. This seminal work inspired the political ideology for the ensuing two hundred years as the vision of a civilised society developed and culminated in the eighteen century. Castiglione’s text influenced intellectual, writers and political worthies including Lord Chesterfield, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick. Educated in the humanist school at the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan, Castiglione was sent to Spain as ambassador in 1525 and impressed Emperor Charles V who regarded him as a perfect gentleman. The Book of the Courtier, based on a discussion of what constitutes the ideal courtier, is conveyed through the conversation of a group of his friends, who express their own ideas about the qualities of graceful behaviour. Castiglione inculcates the important trait of sprezzatura, meaning the effortless aspects of self-conduct and social interaction in the use of language, truthfulness, honourable love, sense of humour, discreet modesty, physical fitness –  and classic idealism.  The overriding virtue was that of Grace, brought about through the art of dance. This appraisal of the dancing master embraces patronage, aesthetic sensibility and style, as he oscillated between social and theatrical locations.

            Dance as theatrical and social engagement during the eighteenth century  bestowed benefits on participants providing them with artistic expression  and critical skills of evaluation.   The dancing master, as agent of the Enlightenment, empowered human dignity with new principles linked with the resurgence of dance in England. Eighteenth century sources indicate a changing ambiance for the arts and references to architectural design, musical form and social events reveal an inextricable link with dance. Through metaphor and symbol, dance reflected on and integrated with ideas of theology, philosophy, politics and social morality.

            The tension that lies at the heart of early dance enquiry is that of understanding the reason and meaning of the creation of dance within a specific period of history and to envisage its developmental growth. The stimulation of the historical imagination is nurtured through the ability to interpret and understand figurative representation.  There is a nexus between the nature of dance experience and the virtuous qualities it gives society to make it civilised – the manner of enlightening, refining, and educating.

            Phenomenologically, dance has its own history and to assert that the dancing master had an important role in creating a civilised society is to imply that participation in dance, was of itself a civilised act.

Dance as embodiment of virtuous experience

             The Boke Named the Governor, (1531)[ii] Sir Thomas Elyot’s fundamental, and influential  work on the neo-Platonic aspects of dance provides insight into the education for ‘gentil men’.  Elyot promotes dance exercise as a means of acquiring health, strength and agility. He extols the virtues of the fashionable dances of the day[iii], especially the beauty of the couple dance, in which the complementary qualities of men and women were highlighted as they danced in unison ‘ both observinge one number and tyme in their meuynges’.[iv] He regarded dance as an aspect of courtship and marriage, and identified its masculine and  feminine qualities – the man ‘in his natural perfection is fiers, hardy, stronge in opinion, couaitous of glorie, desirous of knowledge,’  and assertive.[v] Whereas the good woman is ‘milde, timerouse, tractable, benigne, of sure remembrance, and shamfast’. Elyot shared the consciousness of his age and  adhered to the spirit of chivalry through sexual contrast and movement harmony. ‘And in this wise, FIERSENESSE ioyned with MILDENESSE maketh MAGNANIMITIE;’ a virtue developed by John Hobbes, who included constance, benignitie, sapience and continence. These qualities, in this wise beinge knitte to gether, and signified in the personages of man and woman daunsinge, do express or sette out the figure of very nobilitie; whiche is the  higher astate it is contained, the more excellent is the vertue in estimation.

            [vi] Elyot had a powerful influence on John Locke whose two major publications, Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690) and On Politics and Education (1693) heralded the freedom of neo-classicism that characterized the social, educational and artistic environment of the eighteenth century.  Locke aspired to create a civilised society and fermented ideas of previous thinkers, especially Castiglioni (1478-1529) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), tutor to the Cavendish family.[vii]

The  vision of a civilised society

            Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), tutor, classical scholar, historian, mathematician and philosopher simultaneously responded to and instigated change.  His personal perspectives are both rational and radical in the presentation of his vision of an ideal  society in its modern form, stirred from the  feudal and aristocratic roots of Castiglioni and Elyot and transformed into a bourgeois-capitalist state as depicted in his work Leviathan (1651).  Living through the period of tumultuous change in terms of human aspiration, he witnessed the strife and conflict epitomised in the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration of the monarchy.[viii] He possessed the ability to conjoin the intrinsic factors of antithetical forces – puritism and aristocracy, humanism and scholasticism in the quest to determine the right of life and the right order of society.  This materialised in a new ethic of individual and collective responsibility – the social contract between the ruler and the people, individual liberty and obligation.[ix] Influenced by scientific invention and convinced that all things could be explained by motion, Hobbes proffered an ordered view of the universe and his determinist theory saw the commonality of humankind as the unifying and controlling force.

            Leviathan provides insight into psychological theories and expounds upon the use of the senses, the role of the imagination, memory, experience and dreams.  He describes the manner in which the train of the imagination and thoughts occur.  He attributes motion to be the living force within the body, and suggests that feelings and knowledge provide the power, worth, dignity, honour and worthiness of humankind.[x]  Hobbes’s thoughts on art lie in his role of developing and establishing aesthetic understanding by  presenting a new rational and interpretive response to the painted image reasoning that paintings were products of the artist’s individual fantasy and the artifact the product of the artistic imagination.      

             His moral philosophy became the foundation for eighteenth century rationalism.  He gravitated towards the eminent scientists on the continent before publishing his political theories which challenged the divine right of kings.  His new perception of what he termed, Commonwealth, in which the members would ‘conferre all their power and strength upon one man or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, into one Will…..This done, the multitude so united in one Person, is called a Commonwealth, in Latine Civitas.’ [xi] Hobbes’s achievement was of outstanding political importance in terms of conjoining hitherto disparate forces- the bourgeois-capitalist and the socialist movement which he expounded … ‘with a depth, clarity and sincerity never rivalled before or since.’[xii]  Hobbes, influenced by Elyot, regarded magnanimity as the origin of all virtue and looked to the past to comprehend the future. ‘It is by the doubt of the transcendent eternal order by which man’s reason was assumed to be guided and hence by the conviction of the importance of reason, that first of all the turning of philosophy to history is caused, and then the process of ‘historicising’ philosophy’ itself.[xiii]

            Hobbes inspired philosophers through ideas that were seminal and fundamental to those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803). His new morality of behaviour followed a moral code that supported those who were prepared to ‘owe their good fortune exclusively to their own achievement and their serious labour’.[xiv] Aristotelian virtue as perceived by Castiglione and bourgeous virtue as heralded by Hobbes coalesced to become the  recognisable attributes of  the new  society.[xv]

            Political idealism becomes political reality through the pragmatic following of others. John Locke undertook this role by popularizing Hobbes’s belief in emphasising sound health achieved through sensible diet and exercise.  Interested in the artistic qualities of dance, Locke believed that the ‘jigging part and the figures’ [xvi] were helpful in perfecting posture and body carriage. Graceful movements, manliness and confidence could be acquired through dance. ‘Dancing being that which gives graceful motions all the life, and above all things in manliness…..’[xvii]  Locke advises good tuition by a master who ‘knows, and can teach, what is graceful and becoming, and what gives a freedom and easiness to all the motions of the body.’[xviii]

Neo-classicism – the spirit of the age

            Dance bestowed benefits of the new civilised century on all sectors of society, not merely as personal discipline but through the acquisition of the graces, the refinement of expression and qualities of a civilised society.  The dancing master taught critical skills of evaluation and the ability to read a dance and musical score. Style assumed a new confident dimension as Rousseau’s ideas of limbs, senses and organs were perceived as instruments of intelligence and the concept of thinking in terms of movement grew in importance. The healthy, robust body maintained stamina encouraging choreographic advancement through steps exhibiting lightness and control. In Emile (1762)[xix]  Rousseau applauded the Greek festivals where dancing girls chanting songs, provided a charming spectacle.  He advocated wearing a tunic allowing free, natural movements and graceful development of male and female form, as idealised in the classical sculptures. Rousseau  was the voice of the Enlightenment that heralded the dawn of neo-classicism as  manifested in written works, architectural forms, and the performing arts. Maria Medina danced in ballets created by Salvatore Vigano (1769-1821) wearing Grecian-style costume.         

            The technical development of dance, with analysis of steps and figures for the purpose of notational record, stimulated an interest in the anatomical and physiological significance of movement, and accordingly its health-giving attributes.  John Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures on Dancing (1712) analyses the correct way to stand, walk, and spring.  Weaver relates anatomy to dance through the codification of specific movements, for example, bending, stretching, jumping and turning, he emphasised the instrumental and organic elements of the body and the manner in which it obeyed physical laws of balance and alignment – the body’s relationship to spatial orientation and gravitational pull. Weaver created the first classical ballet d’action, called The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717) which dispensed with words and used mime, pas d’action and variations to specially composed music. 

            The poet, Soame Jenyns, in The Art of Dancing (1729), presented an argument in defence of both French court and English country dancing.  Jenyns mentions the bourèe, courant, Britagne and minuet as being noble, perfect dances, highly suitable for masqued balls.[xx] He pays tribute to Raoul Feuillet (c 1695-c1730) for devising his notational system, thereby bringing accuracy to the steps. Dancing could now claim a right to universal fame, since Mr. Isaac’s rigadoon would now last as long as Raphael’s painting or Virgil’s song.  Jenyns concludes that aspiring to the politer arts was a way of personal enhancement.

The dance and music must so nicely meet,

Each note must seem an echo to your feet.’[xxi]

The  iconography of dance

            A meta n-language for dance refers to a notational symbol system that has an accurate representation of the performed dance. The dancing master was the first to make any serious syntactical analysis of dance and to devise a code within an iconographical system in order to achieve accuracy.  The symbol system was an organ of discovery and a recording system.  Notational systems require to match the development of dance movements in order to progress. The knowing about dance, the professional knowledge  accrued by the dancing master was a valuable asset in conveying the meaning, style, and content of dance. The score defines the dance work because it is a written presentation of a performance of that work, rather than the performance of any other work which it does not represent. ‘Scores and performances must be so related that in every chain where each step is either from score to compliant performance or from performance to covering score, or from one copy of it, all performances belong to the same work and all copies of scores define the same class of performance.’[xxii] This suggests a duality of purpose and corresponding accuracy, for the score determines what the performance will be, and the performance reflects what the score should be.  Pierre Beauchamp (1636-1705), as ballet master at L’Academie Royal de Musique, is considered to have established the five positions of the feet, when, as choreographer at the French Court, he found a need for recording works.  Raoul Feuillet (c1675-1730) developed Beauchamp’s basic ideas to produce a comprehensive system suited to the needs of the time.  The original French text appeared in 1701 under the title Choreographie, ou l’art d’ecrire la danse.

            Feuillet’s system represented the ‘presence’ of the body in terms of its spatial orientation in relation to the performing area.  The vertical division of the track indicated the rhythmic cadence.  The symbol for steps could indicate certain directions and styles according to the convention or vocabulary of movement of the period.

Patronage of and publications by the dancing master.

            The effective use of Feuillet’s notational system was an early attempt to introduce dance literacy in society.  It was claimed to be an ‘eafie method adapted to the Meanft Capacity’[xxiii] and, although it successfully notated popular steps, it failed to describe accurately the movements of the trunk or body.  Kellom Tomlinson sought to remedy this inadequacy by placing the notation within an illustrative plate which depicted dancers in the act of performance.  He published his system The Art of Dancing (1735), claiming that his work was of general use to all who had learned or were learning to dance.  He  placed Feuillet’s system within an illustrative plate which also depicted the musical score, the dance notation along the floor of a room and visual representations of the dancers, ‘……the words describing the manner in which the steps are to be taken; and the Figures representing  Persons as actually taking them; both which together will make the learning more pleafant to the one, and serve as a continual Remembrancer to the other.’[xxiv]

            Tomlinson wrote that teaching to play by Ear and to Dance without Book are equally wrong & ought to be discontinued.’[xxv] The dancing master supplemented his income by selling the notated score of his dances. Tomlinson published six dances (1715-20) – the Passepied, The Shepherdess, The Prince Eugene, The Address, The Gavotte, one of which was performed by two French children, monsieur and mademoiselle Sallé at the theatre in Lincoln-Inn-Fields in 1715.   Marie Sallé was then seven years old and in adulthood became a dance reformer, introducing neo-classical style costume into the ballet and favouring natural unaffected movements.

            Tomlinson gained support from the nobility, gentry, dancing masters and operatic dancers.  The recipients of the dance tuition were often the patrons of the opera.  The illustrative plates, are each dedicated to contributors and scholars.  One plate, showing two gentlemen dancing a sarabande is inscribed…. ‘to my ever respected Scholars, Nathanial Curzon and Asheton Curzon  Esqurs, Sons to Sir Nathanial Curzon of Kedleston in the county of Derby’. [xxvi]

            During the summer season, Tomlinson worked in Derby at the Assembly Rooms in Full Street.  Advertisements in The Derby Mercury suggest that he was well established in the locality between 1734 and 1740.  Wealthy patrons were taught in their own homes and it is likely that Tomlinson visited Kedleston Hall but records there, prior to 1758, are scarce.  It is known that his subscriber was Mary Asheton, mother of Nathanial and Asheton Curzon (who later became the 1st Lord Scarsdale and the 1st Viscount Curzon).  In 1747, when Nathanial celebrated his 21st birthday, a splendid ball was held in the Queen Anne style house.  After 1758, when Nathanial inherited, there are references to three subsequent dancing masters:[xxvii]  Louis Ansermet (1762-68), Artières, also spelt Artears, (1767-71) and Slingsby (1768-70). Slingsby was a dancer at the King’s Theatre, London, the opera house supported by the aristocracy. [xxviii]  In 1770, the new house designed by Brettingham and Paine was completed by Robert Adam. The classical symmetry which was evident in domestic and public architecture can be identified in the  choreography of the dances.  Similarities exist between the architectural ground plan of Kedleston Hall and the figure of the minuet. The complex floor pattern also relates to the entrances and exits of the house, the North Front requiring angular turns, as people advance towards or retreat away from each other, while the South Front permits gentle sweeps characterising curves and scroll designs.  These are reflected in the style of the minuet when partners exhibited balanced opposition as they circumambulated each  other.  The figure for the rigadoon bears a resemblance to the florid capitals of the Corinthian column.  Total unification of dance occurred through the measured time and cadence of the steps and gesture, and the deportment and carriage of the body, encased in stylistic costume. 

            Tomlinson describes how to dance the minuet. Originally, the floor pattern had been a figure 8, gradually evolving into the letter S until Louis Pécour (1655-1729) reformed the track into a Z shape. It remained in the repertoire of the ballroom for one hundred and fifty years, but, at the close of the eighteenth century, it had degenerated into a dance of pseudo-refinement.  Other popular dances were the gavotte, sarabande, rigadoon, bourée, passepied, gigue, hornpipe, reel, and the numerous country dances which had become the favourite diversion of all ranks of people.  Later in the century, the allemande, contredanse and cotillon were popular.[xxix]

            Dance and music co-existed in creative harmony, and, in the same manner that social dance was developing into a theatrical art form, so too the simple musical accompaniment, originally based on popular dance tunes, matured into the musical suite.

            The process of bifurcation into the spectacular and the social was taking place and the dancing master who worked in the theatre also taught privately and created dances for the ball-room. John Weaver claimed that England enjoyed performers and masters of greater excellence than any other part of Europe whose work exhibited the full glory and perfection of the art of dance. He refers to Mr. Isaacs who composed ball dances, and Mr. L’Abbé who created ballets.  The minuet was a dance that was performed on stage as well as in the ball room and ‘when elegantly danced, affords the greatest pleasure to the spectators, whether in private or public assemblies, or on the stage.’[xxx]

Social  convention

            Dance burgeoned into a highly fashionable social pastime for all classes of Georgian society who enjoyed both performing and visiting the London theatres. Drury Lane and Lincolns-Inn-Fields were the two important theatres where dance was struggling to acquire its own sense of intelligibility and artistic form.  It was reliant on French stylised movements with a codification that was dominated by ornate poses, turned out positions of the feet, grouped fingers and arm positions. The technical display of the steps, management of body carriage and manner of executing the figures of the dances, responding and mirroring the music, became increasingly more challenging to perform.  Patrons wishing to excel underwent rigorous teaching and zealous practice. Socially the rigadoon, bourrée, and passepied were danced with the minuet as part of a programme, the latter requiring at least three months practice in order to be mastered and performed with ease of grace. 

            Culturally and socially, the dancing master and the musician assumed an importance which neither previously nor since has been equalled.  Aristocrats, urban élites, and gentry, eager to become refined and graceful, attended balls and hired a  dancing master in the  assembly rooms of new resorts and spa towns. Prosperous trading and the accrual of wealth witnessed a proliferation of houses in both town and country, accommodating small gatherings or resplendent balls, where society engaged in polite conversation, musical concerts, card and sandwich parties.

            Assembly rooms in the fashionable areas of London were Carlisle House, the Pantheon, the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall, Argyle House and Almacks, the latter gaining a reputation for its superiority. At the spa town of Bath, social barriers were transcended as men and women from various sectors of society intermingled in the public rooms.  Smollet wrote, ‘another entertainment, peculiar to Bath, arises from the general mixture of all degrees assembled in our public rooms, without distinction of rank or fortune.’ [xxxi]

            The Assembly Rooms at Bath were erected in 1708, three years after the arrival of ‘Beau Nash’ who became the Master of Ceremonies.  Nash drew up a contingency programme of curative and social events. Dancing took place in the evening, along with concerts, gaming, or visits to the theatre.  Smollet claimed how Bath to him was a new world.  ‘All is gaiety, good-humour, and diversion.’[xxxii]          Nash provided a framework for amicable social interchange, although he found it necessary to formulate a social code which the higher echelons of society would adhere to.[xxxiii]   Nash’s Rules of Conduct, issued in 1742, succeeded in imposing a social discipline ‘within a velvet glove’[xxxiv] creating a precedent for behaviour in other English Spas. 

            The social decorum by which the ballroom floor was set apart for one couple to dance at a time, while the remainder looked on, highlights the pleasure gained from the spectacle of dance within a social setting.  Individuals were issued with tickets and dance set numbers, partners having been arranged with either the Master of Ceremonies, or, as in local assemblies, a directress.[xxxv] There remained a close relationship between social and theatrical dance as the dancing master plied between the two areas, and members of the nobility became the wealthy patrons of the opera.

Operatic convention

            A convention had developed at the opera for the interspersion of dances between operatic and dramatic scenes.  Dancers, wearing masks, performed passepieds, musettes, chaconnes, and occasionally the minuet. Jean Georges Noverre (1712-1810) in Lettres sur la danse et les ballets [xxxvi]inveighed against this.  He was aware that if the dance was to develop as an art, it would be necessary to break away and sought to infuse the ballet with naturalistic ideals and organise it according to artistic principles.  The impetus for his philosophy emanated from the Encyclopedists, who believed that each art ought to follow its own internal logic. Noverre was invited to London in 1755 by David Garrick as dancing master but political strife shortened his stay.  In 1780-81, 1781-2 and 1787, he became the maitre de ballet at the King’s Theatre.  For his ballets he sought subjects from mythology, history, and his own imagination believing that ‘a step, a gesture, a movement and an attitude expresses what no words convey’. [xxxvii]  The final stage was selecting the music.  He dared to fashion the art of devising ballets with action re-inventing action with dancing according it expression and purpose.  Discarding the mask, he united gesture with feeling.

            Noverre acknowledged the high technical standards which some dancers had achieved, but knew that, for dance to be accorded the same artistic status as painting or poetry, reforms would be necessary.  He believed that new methods could be found so that balletic plot and character portrayal could be developed, avoiding notes or spoken word.  Mime was the vehicle through which this objective could be achieved and to do so would mean discarding the mask, which remained a symbol of what had become stilted convention.[xxxviii] ‘Ballets, being representations, should unite the various parts of the drama.’ 

            The realisation of Noverre’s ideals, were expressed by the dancer Gaetano Vestris (1729-1808) and his son Auguste (1760-1842) both of whom were gifted dancers inspired by Noverre’s ballet d’action, and each strengthened the spectacular aspects of dance as an art and drew it further away from its social roots.   Madeleine Guimard (1743-1842) was a notable dancer who also accepted Noverre’s advice and developed a noble and artistic style of dance performance. In London, she was befriended by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a notable artistocratic patron of the dance.[xxxix]  Gaetano and Auguste Vestris and Madeleine Guimard were the only notable dancers to appear in London since Marie Sallé in 1741. G. Yates in The Ball, or a Glance at Almacks (1829) observed the impact of their appearance at the Opera House which caused a considerable sensation – ‘an extraordinary occasion for the display of their powers was soon after afforded by a ridotto, conducted upon a very rare and splendid scale of magnificence.’[xl] The company enjoyed many new dances composed for the occasion.  ‘The senior on this night introduced a minuet which he entitled the Devonshire Minuet, in compliment to the celebrated Duchess of Devonshire at that time the most distinguished star in our fashionable hemisphere, and…… his declared patroness.’[xli]

            Links between the professional theatre and the social ball serve to highlight not only the technical expectations and accuracy of the social dance but also the artistic expression and aesthetic sensibility.  G. Yates [xlii] describes how the company at the opera was dressed ‘a la carnival’, focussing on the self-styled manner by which eighteenth century socialites infused a theatrical element into their own lives. Masquerades, or balls where guests appeared in disguise, and where part of the intrigue was in the identification of the participants, had been a popular form of entertainment in London for half a century.  A Jubilee Ball or Venetian Masquerade was held at Ranelagh Gardens in 1749.[xliii]  Vauxhall Gardens were highly popular, as was The Pantheon (1771-2), a fashionable place for public balls and masquerades prior to its conversion into a theatre for opera and ballet. Three hundred persons assembled at Welbeck Abbey in 1768 to celebrate the birth of the heir to the 3rd Duke of Portland.[xliv] Traditional characters of the Venetian Masquerade formed the inspiration for a number of the costumes, but experiences gained from the grand tour, when the wealthy viewed paintings, sculptures and architecture of Europe were evident.[xlv]

The grand  tour

            The Earl of Chesterfield: Letters to His Son – On the Fine Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman provides an interesting perspective of the Earl of Chesterfield through letters to his son, Philip Stanhope (1732-1758) while undertaking the grand tour, indeed, a metaphor of life’s own journey.  Chesterfield provides insights into how Stanhope might acquire politeness of heart, not merely by the acquisition of grace, but ‘the graces, the graces, the graces’. The first letter was written from Bath in 1746, to Philip Stanhope at Schaffhausen, and concluded upon Stanhope’s death in 1768.  ‘Custom has made dancing sometimes necessary for a young man; therefore mind it while you learn it that you may learn to do it well….’ states Chesterfield, who also expounds knowing Greek, Latin, laws of nations and the rights of people as individuals.  He promotes the experience of pleasure and accomplishment, personal hygiene,  avoidance of excess in the manner of eating and drinking wine.  Between the ages of 16 and 18 years was a time to acquire the foundation of knowledge and to ‘take particular care of your manner and addresses when you present yourself in company’.[xlvi] Throughout the correspondence, Chesterfield is constantly reminding his son of the virtues of dance.  He writes that the ‘exercise of riding, fencing and dancing will civilize and fashion your body and your limbs and give you, if you will but take it, “l’air d’un honnete homme.”’[xlvii]  Chesterfield dispatched a copy of John Locke’s book on education to Stanhope; ‘in which you will find the stress that he lays upon the Graces, which Locke calls good breeding.’[xlviii] Stanhope visited Switzerland, Italy, France, Austria, the  Germanic states, and specifically London, Munich. Vienna, Leipzig, Berlin, (where he found the best dancing master), Hanover, Dresden, Turin, (where he attended the Academy and learned about the orders of architecture, especially Palladian. These experiences were ways of forming good taste by knowing about the best ancient and modern artists) and Rome. Paris of the 1750s was distinctly the seat of the graces with social life of opera and theatre.  Stanhope studied with M. Marcel who was of the greatest importance to him, since in order to sit, stand, and walk well it was necessary to dance.  His previous teacher had been Professor Mascow, now he is advised not to leave off M. Marcel for one minute.  ‘Though you dance well, do not think that you dance well enough, and consequently not endeavour to dance still better.’[xlix]

The apotheosis of the dance

            Dance attained its zenith during the eighteenth century, largely through the auspices of the dancing master and his legacy as agent of the Enlightenment. The intriguing and demanding nature of steps and figures – albeit in circle formations, long-ways set dances, square formations or partner dances, provided the workable structures for the dancers who, in experiencing rhythmical and social harmony, communicated with others in a dignified, interactive way. The decline of aristocratic power witnessed the emergence of a ‘folk culture’ and the role of dance as a proletarian art.[l]  The ethical and social structure, created by Hobbes gathered a new impetus as his ideas were interpreted by Immanuel Kant (1712-1804) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803).  Kant’s theories of the individual and society, viz. the state was as much a part of nature as the individual – influenced Herder and his belief in the human body as a manifestation of life, vigour and beauty.  Movement was ‘the sensuous annunciation of life, and life the annunciation of the soul’.[li]  In this way and in this way only the soul speaks through the body. From the folk rhythms of harmonised dances, the modern symphony developed, firstly through Haydn and Mozart, culminating in the musical storm and stress of Beethoven’s Symphony in A-major, described by  Richard Wagner (1813-1883) as the ‘Apotheosis of the Dance’.[lii] 

A taxonomy of the dancing master in the 18th century

Raoul Auger Feuillet 1675-1730 – developed and published his system of dance notation, L’art Décrire la Danse (1701), possibly invented by Pierre Beauchamps dancing master to Louis XIV 1636-1706.  Contributed towards notating directions – the épaulements of steps, port de bras used for raising the hat, bowing, and moving sword.  Steps included glissades, pas de bourées, cabrioles, chassés, coupés, contretemps, échappés, entrechats, jetés, pirouettes, pliés, sauts, sissonnes, and various movements sur le cou de pied. Produced one of the outstanding works on dance technique of the seventeenth century.


John Weaver 1673-17600 – worked as a choreographer and was the author of four works, namely; A Small Treatise of Time and Cadence in Dancing (1706), Essay Towards a History (1712), The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures on Dancing (1723), A History of Mimes and Pantomimes (1728).   The first English translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie, entitled Orchesograhy (1706).  Weaver related anatomy to dance movements and advocated the laws of opposition, balance, the use of pliés and the important relationship between dance and music and the expressive use of the body.


Pierre Rameau, who published The Dancing Master (1725), was dancing master to Elizabeth Farnese, second wife of Philip V of Spain, providing an important source for eighteenth century dance technique.  It influenced both theatrical and social dance by rules for dance and the use of engravings.  Strongly advocated the five positions of the feet. Believed that dance gave grace and helped alleviate bodily defects.


Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810) was a Swiss-French dancing master to Marie Antoinette in Vienna, who, as a  choreographer and dancing master, promoted dramatic ballets, as expounded in his book Lettres  sur la Danse et sur les Ballets, 1760.  He reformed costume and stage settings, aiming at theatrical unity and asserting a role for dance on the same hierarchy as music, drama and visual art.  He put his ideas into practice at the Wurttemberg Ducal Theatre where he worked as ballet master.  He became ballet master at the Paris Opera in 1776 but subsequently returned to England at the time of the French Revolution in 1789,  and presented some of his ballets at the King’s Theatre. Noverre was influenced by Diderot and the Encyclopedists.


Gaetano Vestris (1729-1808) Italian dancer and teacher who studied at the French Royal Academy in 1748.  He worked as a dancer, choreographer and was also dancing master to Louis XVI of France.  Collaborated with Noverre.  His son, Auguste Vestris(1760- 1842) was also a dancer  spending almost thirty-six years at the Paris Opera and  working as ballet master at the King’s Theatre, London.


Charles Didelot (1761-1836) was a French dancer, teacher and choreographer, student of Auguste Vestris.  He became ballet master and choreographer at the Imperial Ballet, St. Petersburg during the early years of the nineteenth century.


Fillipo Taglioni (1778-1871) renowned teacher and choreographer who shaped the introduction of the Romantic Ballet, using dance technique as performed by his daughter Marie Taglioni to create worlds of illusion and beauty.



Copyright Anne Bloomfield



[i]   Baldassare Castiglione   The Book of the Courtier, translated by Sir Thomas Hoby, 1561 London: Dent & Sons Ltd., 1974) 85.

[ii]       Elyot, Sir, T.    The Boke named Governor fp1531)

[iii]      Elyot, Sir, T.    The Boke named Governor fp1531) 72.

[iv]      Ibid, 93.

[v]       Ibid, 93.

[vi]      These included Il Ballarino,by Fabritio Caroso,(1581); Orchesography, Thoinet Arbeau,(1589), and Orchestra, a poem about dance by Sir John Davies,(1594).

[vii] A.Bloomfield, The Clifton Dynasty Bloomington: AuthorHouse,2005)17-18

[viii]     Rising from his puritanical background, Hobbes obtained his degree from Magdalen Hall, Oxford, was much addicted to music and played the bass-viol. Secretary to Francis Bacon, he progressed to courtly tutor and embarked on a continental tour, meeting Gallileo in Florence.

[ix]      T. Hobbes Leviathan (London: Everyman,1651) xx.

[x]       See Leviathan Part I – Of Man

[xi]      Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651.

[xii]     Ibid.

[xiii]  Leo Straus, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, (Chicago University Press, 1952, 1963)107.

[xiv]     Ibid.

[xv]         Aristotle offered rational explanations, Plato, supernatural explanations for creative invention.

[xvi]         J.Locke, On Politics and Education 1693 (New York & London: D. Van Nastrand Comp. 1947) 375.

[xvii]   Ibid., 375.

[xviii]   Ibid., 375.

[xix]         Rousseau, J-J., Emile ou de L’education translated by Bloom, New York: Basic Books 1979) P.366.

[xx]    S. Jenyns, The Art of Dancing 1729 (London: Dance Books, 1978) 30.

[xxi]   Ibid., 45.

[xxii]   Goodman, N., Languages of Art (New York, Bobbs-Merrill Co. Inc.1968) 129.

[xxiii]   Weaver, J., Orchesography 1706, preface

[xxiv]   K. Tomlinson, The Art of Dancing (London: 1735) Preface. (Gregg International, 1970.)

[xxv]   Ibid. plate O

[xxvi]   K. Tomlinson, The Art of Dancing (London: 1735) Page VI

[xxvii]   L. Harris, archivist to Lord Scarsdale.  Correspondence 22.10.83. There is no reference to Tomlinson’s book in the library catalogue of 1735.  It is likely that the book was in the family wing of the house and so not recorded.

[xxviii] I. Guest, The Romantic Ballet in England (London: Pitman, 1954) 15.

[xxix]   M. Wood, Historical Dances (London: I.S.T. D. 19640 121-122.

[xxx]   G. Yates The Ball (London: H. Colburn, 1829) 68.

[xxxi]   T. Smollet, Humphrey Clinker, (London: Nelson & Sons, 1771) 58.

[xxxii]   Ibid., 45.

[xxxiii] P. J. Neville-Havins, The Spas of England (London: Robert Hale, 1975) 78.

[xxxiv] Ibid.,  151.

[xxxv]   G. S. Emmerson, A Social History of Scottish Dance (London & Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1972) 10.

[xxxvi]   J.G. Noverre, Lettres sur la danse et les Ballets (Stuttgart, 1760)

[xxxvii]       Ibid. 4.

[xxxviii]   S. J. Cohen, (ed) Dance as a Theatre Art (London Dance Books, 1974) 57-70.

[xxxix]   M. Perugine, A Pageant of the Dance and Ballet, (London: Jarrolds, 1946) 158.

[xl]     G. Yates, The Ball or a Glance at Almacks (London: H. Colburn, 1829)67.

[xli]    Ibid., 67.

[xlii]           Op. Cit.

[xliii]    Parr, Engraving The Jubilee Ball or the Venetian Manner of Masquerade at Ranelagh Gardens.  26th April, 1749 (British Museum, Dept. Prints & Drawings).

[xliv]    Welbeck Masquerade in Nottinghamshire Guardian.  Nottingham Local Studies Library, no date. DDXV L N&O Vol 5, 63.

[xlv]    D. Marshall, English People in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, 1956) 121.

[xlvi]          The Earl of Chesterfield: Letters to His Son, (New York, Tudor Publishing Co.) 41

[xlvii]         Ibid. 95.

[xlviii]       Ibid. 138.

[xlix]    Op. Cit., Vol 2, 2.

[l]     Wagner,R Wagner on Music and Drama (London: Gollancz Ltd., 1970)  425.

[li]     Sorell, W. The Dancer’s Image (Columbia University Press, 1971)352

[lii]            Ibid., 158.