‘A noble and distinguishing air’ and port of the person: deportment in dance education England after 1750

Although dancing-masters had long stressed the benefits of dance in improving carriage and manners, English dance manuals of the latter part of the eighteenth century particularly focused on deportment as the essential part of dance education.

In this paper I will seek to explain this shift in the dancing-masters discourse by analysing a number of reasons related to the social and cultural history of the period. Most particularly among these, I will look at the contingencies of upper-class society, especially of London society, which dictated increasing demands of exclusivity that masters responded to if they were to be successful among pupils. Changes in the profession of dance-master had an impact on the discourse about dance education. The overall success of dance as part of genteel education created an increasing divide between a ‘first class’ of teachers and others that brought about the need for masters to dissociate themselves from ‘impostors’. Deportment was one means dancing-masters used to establish and maintain their reputation. Also, the definition of a national English identity, prompted by long years of war with France, had an impact on the reception of French dances and French manners in England that lead to the rejection of French elements in manners and thus causing changes in dance education. Finally the increasing gap and difference between stage and social dance may also have contributed to explain the shift.

Audrée-Isabelle Tardif
Symposium Title: 
Dancing Exploded - 2002
Author affiliation: 
Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge