Airy Delights:Ballet, Balloonmania and Celebrity in Late Eighteenth-Century London

In the early 1780s, a string of distinguished dancers appeared at London’s opera house, generating unprecedented interest in ballet and its patronage by the fashionable world. In 1780-81, Auguste and Gaetan Vestris generated controversy and  profuse  displays  of admiration that contemporaries pathologised as ‘Vestrimania’. The following season, Jean- George Noverre was toasted by audiences, while Marie-Madeleine  Theodore  received invitations to supper tables of the city’s erudite elite.

Shortly afterwards, in 1784, popular demonstrations of hot  air  balloons  succeeded ballet as the principal cause célèbre of fashionable London. As cultural phenomena, the two ‘manias’—ballet and ballooning—shared much in common, and links were forged between the two, both by dancers themselves and the print media. Perhaps most memorably, the daughters of Adelaide and Louis Simonet, one of the King’s Theatre’s most admired dancing couples, ascended into the skies with French aeronaut Jean-Pierre Blanchard.

This  paper  will  explore  the  parallels  between  ballet  and  ballooning,  their  cultural significance for late eighteenth-century spectators and the forms of ‘celebrity’ they engendered. The paper will use the links between ballet and ballooning to explore the concept of celebrity, particularly as it applies to our understanding of dancers’ popularity during this period

Caitlyn Lehmann is an independent scholar specialising in eighteenth-century cultural studies. She also maintains a broad interest in the history of ballet and its reception at a social-cultural level. Caitlyn completed her PhD, titled ‘Fashionable Society, Ballet and the King’s Theatre, 1770-1800’, at the University of Melbourne, and previously undertook her Masters thesis on the status of medieval women entertainers. A regular writer for The Australian Ballet and occasional contributor to the Dancing Times, Caitlyn is also the director of Vintage Pointe. Due to launch in May 2014, Vintage Pointe is an online enterprise devoted to all aspects of the history of ballet. Vintage Pointe aims to provide a forum for specialist researchers to share their work with the wider dance community, as well as producing educational materials for schools and families.


Caitlyn Lehmann
Author affiliation
Independent Scholar