Few and far between: female dancing teachers in eighteenth-century Britain
The most cursory look at eighteenth-century newspapers for London and the provinces reveals a large number of schools offering dancing as an extra taught by ‘proper masters’, ‘able masters’, ‘eminent masters’ and, by the end of the period, ‘professors of dancing’. These masters also ran dancing schools in larger towns, visited small towns on a set day each week and attended wealthy pupils in their own homes. On the London stage young dancers frequently appeared in entr’actes as the scholars or apprentices of their teachers.
It might by thought that principals of schools for young ladies would have employed female dance teachers, that fathers might have seen male dance teachers as a threat to the virtue of their daughters and that, in the theatre, the leading female dancers would have been frequently acknowledged as the teachers of potential female stars. None of this seems to have been the case. This paper will consider why almost every eighteenth-century dance teacher was a man, will look at the limited number of female dancers who are known to have introduced pupils on the London stage and investigate the lives of women who managed to make a life for themselves running dancing schools.