Monday, 23 November 2015

Medical Endorsement for Dancing

In the preface to his book "An Analysis of Country Dancing," published in 1808, the London dancing master Thomas Wilson as part of his panegyric on the merits of dancing says " We have too in modern times the authority of the great Buchan, who particularly recommends Dancing and Riding as highly conducive to preserve a healthy constitution."

The Buchan Wilson refers to was the Scottish physician William Buchan. Since 1769 he had been publishing regular editions of his book "Domestic Medicine," an early example of a medical self-help book. It was a huge best seller and a new edition had been published two years before in 1806.

Buchan placed a great emphasis on exercise as a way of preventing disease.

Wilson somewhat exaggerates Buchan's endorsement of dancing as a means of achieving this. Buchan is clear that he favours exercise taken in the open air and particularly riding which he suggests should be done for three hours a day or a similar amount of walking. He even gives a plug to golf and cricket.

However, Buchan does say that if outdoor exercise is not available then "various methods may be contrived for exercising the body within doors, as the dumbbell, dancing, fencing, &c"

The popularity of Buchan's books and his regime may have had another impact on the crowded assembly rooms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Buchan saw cleanliness and frequent change of clothing as necessary for good health. As he says "The want of cleanliness is a fault which admits of no excuse."

William Buchan (1729 - 1805)

Thursday, 19 November 2015

People watching in the rooms in the 1770's

Philip Thickness the writer, traveller and fortune hunter in his book "The New Prose Bath Guide: for the year 1778" gives a characteristically sharp account of dancing in the rooms.

Philip Thickness in 1757
Speaking of the then relatively new Upper Rooms he says:

"on a Ball-Night, in a full Season, when all the Benches are filled with Ladies in full Dress, the Rooms magnificently lighted by wax, the Splendour of the Lustres, Girondoles,"

The lighting of the rooms was one of the things which contributed to their reputation for magnificence because of the wonderful cut glass chandeliers (lustres) and many branched candle sticks (girondoles) all of which contained very expensive wax candles rather than the much more common cheaper alternatives such as tallow.

"and the superlative Charms of so many lovely Women, whose natural Beauties being awakened by the Variety of Amusements which, on all Sides, surround them—renders it one of the most pleasing Sights that the Imagination of Man can conceive ; and what, we are convinced, no other Part of Europe can boast of; yet, in spite of all these Advantages, we much doubt, whether it be true that the Upper Rooms shew Female Beauty so advantageously as the Lower. There is a certain Degree of Light to fee Nature, as well as Art, to Advantage; and we know that the Painters give us only a small Proportion, not all the Light they could throw upon their Works. We have examined too, with a Degree of particular Attention, some of the most admired Beauties of the last and present Season, at both the Rooms, and, as far as we could determine, they were either best pleased, or most beautiful, under the lower than the higher Lights."

Robe a l'Anglaise - 1770-75

The Lower Rooms being some 18 feet lower than the Upper Rooms must, on this theory, have shown ladies off to considerable advantage.

"It is always remarked by Foreigners, that the English Nation, of both Sexes, look as grave when they are dancing, as if they were attending the Solemnity of a Funeral. This Charge is in general true ; and as a Minuet, danced gracefully, is the Light, of all others, in which a fine Woman can shew herself to most Advantage, we strongly recommend it to the Ladies to remove this national Charge, and to consider, that the Features and Countenance ought to be in Unison, and as perfectly in Tune with the Body, as the Instruments are which direct its Motions. And that that Sort of bewitching Look, bordering on the Smile, which always accompanies cheerful Conversation, should never be omitted in the Dance. As to the Gentleman, we agree with Mr. Hogarth, that it is more his Business to attend to a proper Manner of conducting the Lady in the Dance, than of shewing himself; but neither one, or the other, should dance in so public an Assembly as Bath, unless they are quite sure they dance with some Degree of Grace and Ease ; and as few People can be Judges of their own Excellence in any Respect, and particularly in Dancing, every Body should consult some faithful, not flattering Friend, on this Business, before they let themselves off in a Minuet. Beside which, we are confident, that there are many Ladies and Gentlemen who can dance very well in private, but who often fail in public. The Truth is, there is a certain Degree of necessary and confidential Boldness, without which, no Person can dance perfectly well. How many fine Women do we see totter with Fear, when they are taken out to dance? And is it possible, that such who cannot walk firmly should be able to dance gracefully?

We are aware that the Ladies think Gravity of Countenance a necessary Attendant on Modesty and Sentiment; but, till they can prove that a cheerful pleasing Smile is incompatible with Virtue, Prudence, or Discretion, we must beg Leave (while we allow them all imaginable Praise, for such ill-placed Precaution) to assure them, that they cannot bestow, on mortal Man, a more pleasing nor a more innocent Mark of their Public Favour, than by shewing their Features, under the Advantage of a Smile. Even Venus herself, were we to paint her surprised going into her Bath, it should be, withdrawing herself from the Eyes of the Beholders with a bashful Smile. Let it be remembered, though, that the loud Laugh, and the giggling Titter, should be always avoided, being neither consistent with good Breeding, nor good Policy."

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Jacob Harbour

Jacob Harbour was a London musical instrument seller and professional violinist of the late eighteenth century. He was active from around 1760 to 1790 and was mainly know as a source of cheaper instruments. He operated from his premises at 25 Duke Street, Lincoln Inn Field and from 1786 from premises in Southampton Buildings, Holborn.

Like many instrument sellers, he also sold and published music and in this role he issued occasional collections of country dances.

The example below is a cotillion from his:

"By subscription, The Second Book for the Year 1784. Eighteen Favorite Cotillions, Allemands, Country Dances, and a Much Admired minuet."

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Mrs De Rossi a Bath teacher of Dance

Lucy Michel was born in 1771 the daughter of Pierre Bernard Michel who was described by no less a figure than the great Italian dancer, dance theoretician and choreographer, Gennaro Magri as "the best Ballerino grotesco that France ever produced". Grotesque dances, as opposed to noble dances, were comic or lighthearted and created for buffoons and commedia dell'arte characters.

Lucy was probably born in Dublin where her father was known to be dancing in the early 1770s. The Michel family seem to have settled in Bath about 1772 and it may well be then that he started to teach dance.

Lucy seems to have appeared on stage dancing alongside her brother at the Haymarket Theatre and in Brighton in 1785.

Lucy and her brother danced at the Bath Theatre Royal on several occasions between 1786 and 1789. They also appear on bills in Bristol between 1778 and 1790.

In 1787, Lucy's father launched a dancing school in Kingsmead Square where he taught both boys and girls, travelling as far afield as Wells, increasingly aided by his daughter. Together they put on a ball for the children of two Wells schools in 1790.

On the 5th December 1790 at Bath Abbey, Lucy married Philip de Rossi a language teacher. A few month after her marriage she started her own dance school in  Margaret Buildings. This seems to have led to a breach with her father.

On 21st July 1791 she placed the following advertisement in the Chronicle:

Her advert appeared just above her father's advert:

The Devonshire Minuet, to which they both refer, had been composed, by Gaetan Vestris in honour of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and first performed by Adelaide Simonet and Gaetan Vestris at the King’s Theatre in London on 22 March 1781. Gaetan Vestris and his son Auguste Vestris were two towering figures of European dance both as performers, choreographers and teachers. At this time they were both living and performing in London having been driven out of France by the revolution.

Gaetan Vestris
Michel's advert appeared again in the next edition of the paper but with a bitter little addition "N.B. Mr Michel is conscious that a liberal publick [sic] will judge candidly".

By 1791, Lucy had moved her school to 17 Milsom Street but by 1792 although she is listed as a dance teacher in the Bath directory she seems to have abandoned teaching in Bath and resumed her stage career using the name Signora Marchesini at Saddlers Wells where it was said that she had last performed on stage at the age of eight. Lucy abandoned her assumed identity in the autumn of 1792 when she appeared at Covent Garden as Mme Rossi.

She continued to have a successful career forming a professional partnership with the dancer James Bryn. However, this collaboration came to a bitter end following the 1793 - 1794 season when Bryn dismissed her from the company. Mr Rossi threatened Bryn with legal action but there is no evidence that he followed this up and Lucy was back at Covent Garden for the next season.

She seems to have taken a break from performance in the autumn and winter of 1795 probably caused by the birth of her son Oscar whose father was James Bryn. On the 11th April 1796, the Oracle alluded to "Mrs Rossi having left her husband to live with Bryn." She was 25 and he was 40 and had been previously married.

By the winter of 1796 Lucy and Bryn were dancing together in America where they remain until 1799 when the returned to Europe via Jamaica. For the remainder of the year and the early month of 1800 the three Bryns were performing in Dublin. However, by April the family were back in London performing at the Royal Circus  and Covent Garden.

By 1801, the Bryn's relationship seems to have taken a dip with Lucy starring at Drury Lane while her husband continued to work at the Royal Circus. She retired from the stage in 1803 he seems to have continued until 1805.

Some time between her retirement and her death in 1845 their relationship may have collapsed altogether as in her will she describes her husband as deceased but professional registers suggested he did not die until some months after her.

In her will, she leaves her very considerable estate mainly to her six children.

Friday, 13 November 2015

How to give hand in the 1820s

"In giving the hand, the lady places her hand upon that of the gentleman, who receives it. These movements should be performed slowly, and corresponding to the music, observing always to turn the head and shoulders towards the same side to which the arm is carried; the head held properly
back, and the looks reciprocally directed towards each other.

In giving both hands, the head and shoulders are held directly to face the person opposite."

From the Elements of the Art of Dancing with a Description of the Principal Figures in the Quadrille by Alexander Strathy - Teacher of Dance 1822