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Collection An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490 to 1920

Writing of Dance History

Fascination with the roots of dance has long interested writers, and this online collection begins with M. Burette's 1746 short essay published in Venice. Originally printed in 1736, Prima, e seconda memoria per servire all istoria del ballo degli was primarily concerned with ancient Greek and Roman dance. One of the earliest and more exhaustive attempts at writing a dance history was Louis de Cahusac's 1754 La danse ancienne et moderne. In three volumes Cahusac emphasized the importance of the study of theories of all the arts and the origins of dance, covering Greek, Roman, Turkish, and Egyptian dance, as well as the genesis of French court and theatrical dance. Cahusac's work quoted extensively from the works of Philippe Quinault. As with earlier manuals, and most others written through the turn of the twentieth century, liberal borrowings from other authors was an established practice.

Giovanni-Andrea Gallini's A treatise on the art of dancing, originally published in London in 1762, drew from the writings of the English philosopher John Locke, the Italian dramatist Carlo Goldini, and the English dancing master and theoretician John Weaver. However, Gallini's works were so influential they formed the foundation for methods of writing dance history for many future generations. Gallini wrote about Greek and Roman dance and discussed the importance of learning to dance. Unique for his time, Gallini wrote extensively about dance in other parts of the world, and his sections on non-European dance shed important light on the cultural biases of his time. Included were discussions of dance in Britain, Spain, Naples, and by the peasants of Tirol, as well as dance in China, Africa, Mexico, and Peru. (This online collection contains Gallini's 1772 edition.)

Sections of Mme. Élise Voiart's 1823 Essai sur la danse antique found their way into numerous writings throughout the nineteenth century. As was typical, much of Mme. Voiart's work is based heavily on previously published materials, including travelogues. The first part was devoted to Greek and Roman dancing; the second covered the history of French court dances; and the third focused on dance throughout Europe and other parts of the world, ranging from dance in Norway to the practices of the Sioux of Missouri. This "formula" of discussion on Greek and Roman, followed by a history of Western theatrical dance, and concluding with an overview of dances in many lands was used by many writers in the years that followed. Included in that genre were F. Fertiault's 1854 Histoire anecdotique et pittoresque; Albert Czerwinski's 1862 Geschichte der tanzkunst bei den cultivirten; and Lilly Grove Frazer's 1895 Dancing, by Mrs. Lilly Grove (this online collection contains a 1907 edition).

Published in London in 1854, Francis Mason's A treatise on the use and peculiar advantages of dancing and exercises was one of many manuals published during the second half of the nineteenth century that distinguished between the dance of civilized and uncivilized peoples. In a similar vein, Thomas Reginald Saint Johnston's 1906 A history of dancing contained a chapter titled "Quaint Dances in Civilized Countries."

La danse. Raoul Charbonnel Published 1899.
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Raoul Charbonnel included line drawings and musical examples to illustrate his 1899 La danse. A Western cultural view was imposed on all the illustrations for, no matter the country or culture, all the figures were physically shaped to look like late nineteenth-century Western men and women. Often the illustrations disregarded appropriate costumes as was evident in Charbonnel's illustration of the sixteenth-century pavan figure dressed in seventeenth-century clothes. Also, the musical examples from non-Western cultures had been rearranged into late nineteenth-century compositional style.

Some writers deviated from the popular formula for writing about history. James P. Cassidy's 1810 A Treatise on the theory and practice of dancing discussed history and theory in the first part of his treatise and devoted the second part to a theoretical discussion on contemporary music, deportment, and dance steps. Auguste Baron's Lettres a Sophie and P. E. Alerme's 1830 De la danse based their writings on letters to students or friends. M. L. E. Moreau de Saint-Méry's 1801 De la danse was one of the first devoted to a single subject of non-western dance. In this case, the manual discussed the dances of the African population in the Caribbean, albeit from a Western point of view.

Many books that were primarly written as instructional, contained significant chapters on the history of dance, including Francis Peacock's 1805 Sketches; Carlo Blasis's 1830 Code of terpsichore; Edward Ferrero's 1859 The art of dancing; and E. B. Reilley's 1870 The amateur's vademecum.

The perfect art of modern dancing. [Witherspoon, Edna]. Published 1894.
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Early attempts at historical reconstruction. As urban societies began to change and the roles of men and women in them altered, dance styles also began to change dramatically. Dancing masters at the end of the nineteenth century continually lamented the "new" dances, such as the Dip Waltz and the two-step--dances that were viewed as inelegant. In noting that the dances of the "ancients" were always more civilized, efforts were made to revive interest in Renaissance and Baroque social dances such as the pavan and minuet. Allen Dodworth, in his 1885 Dancing and its relations to education and social life (this online collection contains Dodworth's 1900 edition), provided a minuet choreography for one couple as well as a version for eight dancers called "Minuet as a Quadrille." Other dance instructors attempted to incorporate their interpretations into contemporary social dances. Eugène Giraudet's 1870s Traité de la danse presented instructions for the minuet, gavotte, pavanne, and bourée alongside instructions for quadrilles, the polka and the waltz. Similarly G. Desrat's c.1900 Traité de la danse discussed the Boston waltz, cakewalk, and Washington Post two-step as well as the pavane, the gavotte, and the branle. Translated from a French text, the 1900 The dance, ancient and modern, described the Boston, the mazurka, and the cotillon; it also contained a chapter, "Revival of Popular Old Dances," with descriptions of the pavane, gavot, rigodon, and minuet.

How to dance the revived ancient dances. Ardern Holt. Published 1907.
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Other dance masters attempted to combine contemporary dance forms with the historical. Giraudet's 1885 La danse contained directions for dances called gavotte-polka; gavotte-valse; and pavan-valse. M.B. Gilbert in his 1890 Round dancing included instructions for a waltz minuet. (See Video Clip 71).

Virtually all of this large body of historical literature is, by today's scholarly standards, seriously flawed; unfortunately, it formulated mistaken ideas about Renaissance and Baroque dances that maintained a firm hold well into the second half of the twentieth century. Edmond Bourgeois's 1909 Traité pratique et théorique contained directions for many Renaissance dances, and, although the author quoted extensively from Thoinot Arbeau's 1588 Orchesographie, the directions for the dances were strictly nineteenth-century interpretations. Historical dances also became popular as fancy dances, choreographed for dance recitals or special events. The photographs contained in works such as the 1894 The perfect art of modern dancing and A few sketches of the interior, as well as Ardern Holt's 1907 How to dance the revived ancient dances, showed that historical accuracy was not always the goal.