The Mechanistic Dancer in Early Eighteenth-Century Dance Theory

With regard to John Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures Upon Dancing (1721), Richard Ralph says: “Weaver was the first dancing master systematically and publicly to apply to his art the important Renaissance principle that beauty is best understood as the harmony of shape and function…By applying anatomical and mechanical analysis to the best current teaching methods of dancing, Weaver was breaking untrodden ground.” Without in any way diminishing the uniqueness and significance of Weaver’s achievement, it should be pointed out that his theory of motion was not unprecedented. Unbeknownst probably to him, the essential ideas of the Lectures—Pythagorian proportions, the Vitruvian man, the place of dance in the arts and sciences, human anatomy, the physics of motion—had been introduced and debated by German writers on dance between 1703 and 1717. The Lectures, taken together with the German sources, present in effect a collaborative theory of the dancing human body in the early eighteenth century.

Tilden Russell
Symposium Title: 
Living, dancing, travelling, dying... 2013
Author affiliation: 
Southern Connecticut State University