Teaching the people to dance in Victorian England
The socio-economic and cultural status of dancing teachers in 19th-century England reflected that of their principal clientele. Those teachers such as the Degville-Michau dynasty and Mrs Wordsworth who served the leisured classes enjoyed regular and financially rewarding employment. For those much further down the social and pedagogic scale, the trade of teaching dance was often supplemented by income derived from being, for example, a lithographer or blacksmith. Whereas the working conditions, professional backgrounds, and repertoire of well-to-do Victorian dancing teachers have received some scholarly consideration (see Woodcock 1989, Buckland 2003, 2007, 2011) less is known of dancing teachers who taught the working population in their own localities.
The question must be asked, however, whether working-class people had recourse to dancing teachers or was their acquisition of social dancing limited to instruction from kin, friends or, perhaps, imitation of other dancers on the dance floor? This paper will examine sources available for identifying modes of dance instruction and of dance teachers in principally working-class milieux, the related social dance repertoire and stylistic traits, and the politics of popular dance transmission in urban Victorian England.
Theresa Buckland is Professor of Dance History and Ethnography and Director of the Centre for Dance Research at the University of Roehampton, London. She is the editor of two international collections Dance in the Field: Theory, Methods and Issues in Dance Ethnography (Macmillan, 1999), Dancing from Past to Present: Nation, Culture, Identities (University of Wisconsin Press, 2006) and author of Society Dancing. Fashionable Bodies in England 1870-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). She is currently completing an article on the English waltz of the 1920s and undertaking research for a monograph on popular dancing in Victorian England.