Dance Instruction Manuals


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Five Manuals

In 1700, a system of dance notation was published by French dancing master, Raoul-Auger Feuillet (Chorégraphie, Paris). Many dancing masters left the teaching of manners to others and devoted their energies to producing dances in Feuillet's notation for sale to the upper classes and nobility. Published each season, the most fashionable dances were widely circulated through the courts of Europe. Noted for his prolific theoretical writings about the state of early eighteenth-century dance and his experimental dance entertainment's in the English theater, dancing master John Weaver (1693-1760) published numerous collections of dances written in Feuillet notation. In 1706, with the assistance of his friend and patron Mister Isaac, the queen's dancing master, Weaver published A collection of ball-dances perform'd at court. This work is a collection of dances originally composed by Mister Isaac in Feuillet notation and is considered a wonderful chronicle of social dance in the late Stuart court.

By the end of the eighteenth century, a growing middle class was exerting influence on dancing and ballroom manners. All activities regarding dancing and balls including dress, conversation, table manners, choosing of partners, and introductions were strictly monitored. Explicit written rules and regulations seemed to dominate the age.

Beginning in the 1830's dance and etiquette manuals began to distinguish between an upper class where one was supposedly born with good breeding and a middle class-those for whom good manners, possessions, and position were objects to be purchased. However much wealth a person might have acquired or how high a position one might have in government, it was still not possible to rise to the top of "society" as was plainly expressed in The Laws of Etiquette, published in Philadelphia in 1836. Even the title, "laws," was meant to reinforce the authority of its contents. Written By a Gentleman, this manual covered all aspects of daily etiquette, appropriate dress, polite table manners, and ballroom demeanor. The author gives specific instructions for all aspects of giving a ball and even encourages the master of ceremonies to "press into service...young men who are hanging around the room like fossils." (pp.113-114)

As if contradicting the anti-dance sentiments of the early 1850's, English writer Mrs. Alfred Webster published Dancing as a Means of Physical Education: With Remarks on Deformities, and Their Prevention and Cure (1851). Mrs. Webster was an enthusiastic dancer and her book argues the importance of dance to female physical education. It is important to note, however, Mrs. Webster did not wish her young ladies to consider the practice of anything but social dancing-as is evident in her critical chapter called "The Distinction Between Room Dancing and Stage Dancing." Similar to other writers of the period, Mrs. Webster rails against the use of corsets (necessary for all nineteenth-century women's fashions) calling them an "insidious aid to physical deformity." (p. 37-38)

Dance manuals were often published to improve upon information already available. Cartier and Baron's practical illustrated waltz instructor (New York, 1879) complained that many books on dance were lacking in "the want of simple explanations, suitable to those who are beginning the practice of dancing." The author (actually two-P. Valleau Cartier and Samuel Baron), assures the reader that while there "is nothing original" in the manual, the reader could improve upon what he already learned and noted "everyone who goes to balls and hops needs this book."

During the early nineteenth century, quadrille figures were not called; ladies and gentlemen were required to remember the sequence of the figures. By the late 1840's, however, the figures were announced by a caller, usually a member of the orchestra or the master of ceremonies. The titles for manuals to assist callers were usually similar: Prompter's Pocket Instruction Book (Prof. L. H. Elmwell, Boston, 1892) or The Prompter's Handbook (Boston, 1893) are good examples. As well as providing information on various dances-waltz, polka, schottische, these manuals also provide instructions for calling quadrille figures (including stern reminders to call in time with the music). Unique Dancing Call Book, published in 1893 by Charles Link in Rochester, New York is, in fact, quite unique. It is truly a notebook to be used by a quadrille caller. It is small enough to fit in the hand and the figures of each quadrille are written, in very large letters, one page per figure.

Elizabeth Aldrich (9/11/97)

The Proper Way How to Dance Extrememly Vulgar

Five Manuals: Table of Contents

Cartier, [P Valleau]
Cartier and Baron's practical illustrated waltz intructor, ball room guide, and call book.
New York, C. T. De Witt, c1879.
GV1751 .32 1879
Link, Charles pub.
Unique dancing call book
Rochester, N.Y., C. Link, c1893
GV1767 .L75
Weaver, John
A collection of ball-dances perform'd at court
London, Printed for the author, and sold by J. Vaillant, 1706.
MT950.A2. I7
Webster, Alfred Mrs.
Dancing, as a means of physical education; with remarks on deformities, and their prevention and cure.
London, D. Bogue; [etc.,etc.] 1851.
GV1599 .W5
The laws of etiquette
Philadelpia, Carey, Lea, and Blanchard, 1836.
GV1852 .L28 (Office)
Rare Book Collection

Dance Instruction Manuals