The Manners-making Crew
In 1722 an anonymous, satirical poem poked fun at ‘The Dancing master’, as part of a ‘wretched worthless crew’. It pictures the breed as arising from the ‘low runnings of the ungodly stage’, arriving from such inauspicious places as France or an Irish bog. It warns genteel society that these ‘Dregs and Scum of all the Earth’ will corrupt their sons, introducing them to lewdness and whores; and worse than this, cautioning that similarly their daughters will be lost to ‘honour, innocence, and shame’. However, the dancing master was indispensable if a young person was to learn the manners and graceful deportment necessary for a successful entry into society. How to walk, to remove your hat, the complexities of the formal bow, all these were taught by the dancing master; alongside the intricate step sequences required in formal dances such as the minuet or gavotte. As a literate and educated professional he trod an ambivalent path; more than a servant, but still not considered a gentleman. This paper will examine the anonymous poem in the context of its time, alongside other tracts and pronouncements on how women should behave; and consider whether it reflects a more general anxiety amongst commentators as to the state of contemporary society.
Joanna Jarvis is a designer and maker of period costume for live performance, and a senior lecturer on the Design for Theatre, Performance & Events course at Birmingham City University. Her interest in historical dress as a signifier of personal identity developed through her work with the Young National Trust Theatre (a theatre in education company), and further work creating costumes for the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Joanna’s most recent costume designs have been for researchers and re-creators of Baroque dance, and this has developed into a doctoral thesis connecting her study of historical dress with the movement and choreography visible in the dance of the period. She is exploring the relationship between the costumes seen on the dance stage in the late eighteenth-century, and how, for the women in the audience, this affected their experience of their bodies, related to their sense of self, and translated into fashionable dress.