“Every savage can dance,” replies Mr. Darcy sardonically in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, mocking Sir William Lucas’s innocent pronouncement that dancing is “one of the first refinements of polished societies.”
And Mr. Darcy has a point! But of course Sir William is not referring to just ‘any old dancing’ – he is referring to the kind of dance that is current in his particular set in society; and above all, to the ‘refined’ style of performing these dances, a style that confers admission into ‘polite society’, a style that has become a ‘cultural’ identifier, and more particularly in this case, a ‘class’ identifier’ for the beau monde of the period.
Dance as a class identifier is not a new idea, and is certainly implied in Sir William Lucas’s comment. But I’d like to explore the ways in which this has influenced dance styles through the centuries.