2012 – “A brilliant appearance of genteel company” – Dance and Society in eighteenth-century Yorkshire

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In Hanoverian London, public assembly rooms such as Almacks and the Pantheon became very fashionable and were soon copied by many of the northern towns, the provincial gentry not wanting to be outdone by their London cousins.

Royal birthdays and the anniversaries of royal marriages or coronations were always celebrated with an assembly. Race meetings were a popular sport in many towns of the three ridings, lasting between three and five days, and assemblies would be held each evening. In York where the assize courts were held, there would be assemblies each evening during the course of the assize.

This means that a young lady living in York for example, would have the opportunity to attend at least twenty six balls per year, made up of nine royal anniversaries, three race meetings, three assize courts, ten subscription balls and her own dancing master’s student ball. This did not, of course, include private gatherings and parties.

All this activity required dancing masters to teach, not only the latest dances from Paris and London, but the etiquette required of a young gentleman or lady in order to grace the assembly rooms.

In the smaller towns assemblies would be held in the long room of the largest inn, while the larger towns had a purpose built room, the most magnificent of these being, of course, the York assembly room designed by Lord Burlington. The cost of maintaining these was often covered by offering patrons subscription tickets to attend a ball once a month on a day nearest the full moon, such subscription series running for a period of ten months.

It appears, therefore, that there was a clear chain of succession from the formality of the French court, through the slightly less formal London social scene to the more relaxed atmosphere of the northern counties of England. The movement could be said to be two ways. The minuet was a direct and immutable link with London while local country dances could filter back and forth via the visiting gentry and dancing masters.

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Madeleine Inglehearn