Observations on dance in the Harris papers
The papers of James Harris of Salisbury(1709-1780) and his son, another James, who became 1st Earl of Malmesbury, contain fascinating material about music and drama which is shortly to appear in an edition to be published by Oxford University Press. In addition to music and drama these papers contain much about dance, some of which will be included in the forthcoming edition.
Three main types of information will be considered in this talk. The first relates to dance performances, frequently integral in performances of operas or plays. The Harrises and their correspondents often referred to such performances, naming and describing dancers who were new to the London stage: in the 1740s Violette, who married Garrick; in the 1760s the Irish dancer ‘or jumper’ Slingsby; in the 1770s the French dancers Anne Heinel and Fierville - when they danced together Harris wrote: ‘I can hardly think the noble art of dancing can go higher’. Secondly, and overlapping with this, will be references to dancing masters and mistresses, both in London and Salisbury, some teaching individuals and some schools; there are also accounts of the special displays put on by the schools to attract more pupils. Thirdly there are many references to ‘social dancing’ - often quite incidental, but in some cases with quite substantial information about dancers, especially where they led to dispute, as in the case of the introduction of cotillion balls in Salisbury. Country dances were exchanged and James Harris jr wrote from Spain, Germany, and Russia, where he was pursuing his diplomatic career, describing dances there and asking for details of English dances to be sent to him. The question of who to dance with also figures as an issue, with suitable male partners often in short supply.