The English Virtuoso Male Dancer, Fact or Fantasy?
In the early 18th century virtuosic dancing was closely associated with French male professional dancers. Many choreographies recorded in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation attest to the skills of these men in jumps, beats and pirouettes. Claude Ballon and Anthony L’Abbé were among the French virtuosi who danced in London and set the standards by which others would be judged. They were equalled by dancers such as Charles Delagarde, Louis Dupré and George Desnoyer, all of whom were probably either French or of French extraction. Yet, there were some successful English male dancers on the London stage at this period. None of their dances were notated, but there is much surviving information about the repertoire they performed which might provide clues to the nature and extent of their skills. This paper will explore the dancing lives of some of these English male professional dancers, focusing particularly on John Shaw and Michael Lally. It will look at their family backgrounds, their training, their dance partnerships and their stage repertoire in an attempt to discover whether they were, or were not, equal in virtuosity to their French counterparts.