‘Borrowed Grandeur and Affected Grace’: perceptions of the Dancing-Master in Eighteenth-Century England

Dancing-masters occupied an ambivalent position in English society during the eighteenth century. Those born or trained overseas before settling in London had to adapt their work to English taste; while they were culturally indispensable to polite society, they were also the butt of much criticism aimed at their way of life and foppish manners or, as one satirical poem expressed it in 1722, their ‘borrowed grandeur and affected grace’. Some dancing-masters however aspired to a more meaningful image for themselves and their work, represented in the choreographic wit and beauty of their dances for the theatre and ballroom, and the skills with which those dances were written down and marketed. In the first three decades of the century Kellom Tomlinson, John Essex and others published dance manuals, and John Weaver penned erudite treatises on the history and nature of various forms of dance. Their immediate aim may have been simply to make money, but there is also a discernible commitment to preserve the standards and aesthetics of dance as an art form, and thereby to influence future audiences and patrons, even the art form itself. This paper looks at such image-building from the dancing-master’s point of view.

Jennifer Thorp
Symposium Title: 
Dance and Image – 2009
Author affiliation: 
New College, University of Oxford