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Gallini, Giovanni-Andrea / A Treatise on the Art of Dancing
Produced by Louise Hope, David Starner, Chuck Greif and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
(This file was produced from images
generously made available by the Library of Congress)






[Transcriber's Note:
Spelling and punctuation are unchanged. Exceptions are noted
at the end of the text.]


[Illustration]



A

TREATISE

on the

ART

of

DANCING.


By _Giovanni-Andrea Gallini_.


_LONDON_:

Printed for the AUTHOR;
And Sold by R. DODSLEY, in _Pall-Mall_;
T. BECKET and P. A. DE HONDT, in the _Strand_;
J. DIXWELL, in _St. Martin's-Lane_,
near _Charing-Cross_;
and
At Mr. BREMNER's Music Shop, opposite
_Somerset-House_, in the _Strand_.

MDCCLXXII.




The TABLE

of CONTENTS.


_Of the Antient Dance_ p. 17

_Of Dancing in General_ 49

_Of sundry Requisites for the Perfection
of the Art of Dancing_ 89

_Some Thoughts on the Utility of Learning to Dance,
and especially upon the Minuet_ 139

_Summary Account of various Kinds of Dances
in different Parts of the World_ 181

_Of Pantomimes_ 227




ADVERTISEMENT.


What I have here to say is rather in the nature of an apology
than of a preface or advertisement. The very title of a Treatise
upon the art of dancing by a dancing-master, implicitly
threatens so much either of the exageration of the profession,
or of the recommendation of himself, and most probably of both,
that it cannot be improper for me to bespeak the reader's
favorable precaution against so natural a prejudice. My
principal motive for hazarding this production is, indisputably,
gratitude. The approbation with which my endeavours to please in
the dances of my composition have been honored, inspired me with
no sentiment so strongly as that of desiring to prove to the
public, that sensibility of its favor; which, in an artist, is
more than a duty. It is even one of the means of obtaining its
favor, by its inspiring that aim at perfection, in order to the
deserving it, which is unknown to a merely mercenary spirit.
Under the influence of that sentiment, it occurred to me, that
it might not be unpleasing to the public to have a fair state of
the pretentions of this art to its encouragement, and even to
its esteem, laid before it, by a practitioner of this art. In
stating these pretentions, there is nothing I shall more avoid
than the enthusiasm arising from that vanity or self-conceit,
which leads people into the ridicule of over-rating the merit
or importance of their profession. I shall not, for example,
presume to recommend dancing as a virtue; but I may, without
presumption, represent it as one of the principal graces, and,
in the just light, of being employed in adorning and making
Virtue amiable, who is far from rejecting such assistence. In
the view of a genteel exercise, it strengthens the body; in the
view of a liberal accomplishment, it visibly diffuses a graceful
agility through it; in the view of a private or public
entertainment, it is not only a general instinct of nature,
expressing health and joy by nothing so strongly as by dancing;
but is susceptible withall of the most elegant collateral
embellishments of taste, from poetry, music, painting, and
machinery.

One of the greatest and most admired institutors of youth, whose
fine taste has been allowed clear from the least tincture of
pedantry, Quintilian recommends especially the talent of
dancing, as conducive to the formation of orators; not, as he
very justly observes, that an orator should retain any thing
of the air of a dancing-master, in his motion or gesture; but
that the impression from the graces of that art should have
insensibly stoln into his manner, and fashioned it to please.

Even that austere critic, Scaliger, made the principles of it
so far his concern, that he was able personally to satisfy an
Emperor's curiosity, as to the nature and meaning of the Pirrhic
dance, by executing it before him.

All this I mention purely to obviate the prepossession of the
art being so frivolous, so unworthy of the attention of the
manly and grave, as it is vulgarly, or on a superficial view,
imagined. It is not high notions of it that I am so weak as to
aim at impressing; all that I wish is to give just ones: it
being perhaps as little eligible, for want of consideration, to
see less in this art than it really deserves, than, from a fond
partiality for it, to see more than there is in it.




A

TREATISE

on the

ART of DANCING.




_Of the ANTIENT Dance._


In most of the nations among the antients, dancing was not only
much practised, but constituted not even an inconsiderable part
of their religious rites and ceremonies. The accounts we have of
the sacred dances, of the Jews especially, as well as of other
nations, evidently attest it.

The Greeks, who probably took their first ideas of this art,
as they did of most others, from Egypt, where it was in great
esteem and practice, carried it up to a very high pitch. They
were in general, in their bodies, extremely well conformed, and
disposed for this exercise. Many of them piqued themselves on
rivalling, in excellence of execution, the most celebrated
masters of the art. That majestic air, so natural to them, while
they preserved their liberty, the delicacy of their taste, and
the cultivated agility of their limbs, all qualified them for
making an agreeable figure in this kind of entertainment.
Nothing could be more graceful than the motion of their arms.
They did not so much regard the nimbleness and capering with
the legs and feet, on which we lay so great a stress. Attitude,
grace, expression, were their principal object. They executed
scarce any thing in dancing, without special regard to that
expression which may be termed the life and soul of it.

Their steps and motions were all distinct, clear, and neat;
proceeding from a strength so suppled, as to give their joints
all the requisite flexibility and obedience to command.

They did not so much affect the moderately comic, or half
serious, as they did the great, the pompous, or heroic stile of
dance. They spared for no pains nor cost, towards the perfection
of their dances. The figures were exquisite. The least number of
the figurers were forty or fifty. Their dresses were magnificent
and in taste. Their decorations were sublime. A competent skill
in the theatrical, or actor's art, and a great one in that of
dancing, was necessary for being admitted into the number of
figurers. In short, every thing was in the highest order, and
very fit to prove the mistake of those who imagine that the
dances are, in operas for example, no more than a kind of
necessary expletive of the intervals of the acts, for the repose
of the singers.

The Greeks considered dancing in another point of light; all
their festivals and games, which were in greater number than
in other countries, were intermixed and heightened with dances
peculiarly composed in honor of their deities. From before
their altars, and from their places of worship, they were soon
introduced upon their theatres, to which they were undoubtedly
a prior invention. The strophe, antistrophe, and epode, were
nothing but certain measures performed by a chorus of dancers,
in harmony with the voice; certain movements in dancing
correspondent to the subject, which were all along considered
as a constitutive part of the performance. The dancing even
governed the measure of the stanzas; as the signification of the
words strophe and antistrophe, plainly imports, they might be
properly called danced himns. The truth is, that tragedy and
comedy, made also originally to be sung, but which, in process
of time, upon truer principles of nature, came to be acted and
declaimed, were but super-inductions to the choruses, of which,
in tragedy especially, the tragic-writers, could not well get
rid, as being part of the religious ceremony.

This solves, in a great measure, the seeming absurdity of their
interference with the subject of the drama: being deemed so
indispensable a part of the performance, that the scene itself
was hardly more so: consequently, there was no secret supposed
to be more violated by speaking before them, than before the
inanimate scene itself. But what was at least excusable, on this
footing, in the antients, would be an unpardonable absurdity in
the moderns.

Athenæus, who has left us an account of many of the antient
dances, as the _Mactrismus_, a dance entirely for the female
sex, the _Molossic_, the Persian _Sicinnis_, &c. observes, that
in the earliest ages of antiquity, dancing was esteemed an
exercise, not only not inconsistent with decency and gravity,
but practised by persons of the greatest worth and honor.
Socrates himself, learnt the art, when he was already advanced
in years.

Cautious as I am of using a false argument, I should say, that
the making dances a part of their religious ceremonies, was a
mark of their attributing even a degree of sanctity to them; but
that I am aware there were many things that found a place in
their festivals and games, which, among those heathens, were so
far from having any thing of sacred in them, that they did not
even show a respect for common decency or morality.

But as to dancing, it may be presumed, that that exercise was
considered as having nothing intrinsically in it, contrary to
purity of manners or chastity, since it made a considerable part
of the worship paid to the presiding goddess of that virtue,
Diana, in the festivals consecrated to her. Her altar was held
in the highest veneration by the antients. Temples of the
greatest magnificence were erected in honor of this goddess. Who
does not know the great Diana of Ephesus? The assemblies in her
temples were solemn, and at stated periods. None were admitted
but virgins of the most spotless character. They executed dances
before the altar, in honor of the deity, with a most graceful
decency; invoking her continual inspiration of pure thoughts,
and her protection of their chastity. Those of them, who
distinguished themselves above the rest, by superior graces of
performance, received rewards not only from the priestess of
Diana, but from their own parents. Nor were the young men but
curiously inquisitive, as to who particularly excelled on these
occasions. Distinction in these dances was a great incentive to
love, and produced many happy unions.

Such of these virgins as married, retained, in quality of wives,
such a veneration for this sort of worship, that they formed an
assembly of matrons, who on set days, performed much the same
devotion, imploring, in concert, of the goddess, a continuance
of her gifts, and of that spirit of purity, the fittest to make
them edifying examples of conjugal love and maternal tenderness.

Innocent amusements having been ever reputed allowable, and even
necessary expedients for relaxing both mind and body from the
fatigue of serious or robust occupations, Diana had her temples,
especially in countries proper for hunting, where the parents
used to resort with their children, and encouraged them to
partake of the diversions in which dancing had a principal
share.

The antients have left us an unaccountable description of the
Bacchanalians, whose deportment forms a striking contrast to
the decent regularity observed in the worship of Diana. The
Bacchanalians strolled the country, and, in the course of that
vagabond scheme, erected temporary huts, their residence being
always short wherever they came. In their intoxication they
seemed to defy all decency and order; affecting noise, and
a kind of tumultuous, boisterous joy, in which there could
never be any true pleasure or harmony. They were, in the
licentiousness of their manners, a nuisance to society; which
they scandalized and disturbed by their riots, their mad
frolics, and even by their quarrels. Their heads and waists were
bound with ivy, and in their hands they brandished a thirsus, or
kind of lance, garnished with vine-leaves. When by any foulness
of weather they were driven into their huts, they passed their
time in a kind of noisy merriment, of shoutings and dithirambic
catches, accompanied by timpanums, by cymbals, by sistrums, and
other instruments, in which noise was more consulted than music,
and corresponded to the sort of time they kept to them, in the
frantic agitations of their Bacchic enthusiasm. The Corybantes
were called so from their disorderly dancing as they went along.

The Pirrhic dance differs not much from Plato's military dance.
The invention of it is most generally attributed to Pirrhus, son
of Achilles; at least this opinion is countenanced by Lucian, in
his treatise upon dancing; though it is most probably derived
from the Memphitic dance of Egypt. The manner of it was to dance
armed to the sound of instruments. Xenophon takes notice of
these dances in armour, especially among the Thracians, who were
so warlike a people. In their dance to music, they exhibited the
imitation of a battle. They executed various evolutions; they
seemed to wound each other mortally, some falling down as if
they had received their death-wound; while those who had given
the blow sung to the song of triumph, called _Sitalia_, and
then withdrew, leaving the rest to take up their seeming dead
comrade, and to make preparations for his mock-funeral, in the
pantomime stile of dance. He has also described the dance of the
Magnesians, in which they represented their tilling the ground,
in an attitude, and in readiness for defence, against expected
moroders. They put themselves in a posture of protecting their
plough, with other motions expressive of their resolution and
courage, all adapted to the sound of the flute. The moroders
arrive, prevail, and bind the husbandmen to their plough, and
this terminates the dance. Sometimes the dance varies, and the
husbandmen prevailing, bind the moroders.

The same author mentions also the Mysians who danced in armour,
and used a particular sort of _peltæ_ or targets, on which they
received the blows. In short, these armed dances had different
names bestowed upon them, according to the countries in which
they were used.

The Egyptians and Greeks were extravagantly expensive in their
public festivals, of which, dancing always constituted a
considerable part.

The Romans, among whom the more coarse and licentious dances
derived from the Hetruscans, had at first prevailed, came at
length to adopt the improvements of taste, and consequently of
decency and regularity; the festivals, of which dancing was to
compose the principal entertainment, were adapted to the season
of the year.

Every autumn, for example, it was a constant custom, for those
who could afford the expence, to build a magnificent saloon in
the midst of a delightful garden. This ball-room was decorated
in the most brilliant manner: At one end of the ball-room stood
a statue of Pomona, surrounded with a great number of baskets
made in the neatest manner, and full of all the finest fruits
that the season produced. These, with the statue, were placed
under a canopy hung round with clusters of real grapes and
vine-leaves, so artfully disposed as to appear of the natural
growth. These served to refresh both the eye and mouth. The
performers of the ball went up to this part of the saloon, in
couples, processionally, to avoid confusion. Each youth took
care to help his partner to what she liked best, and then
returned, in the same regular manner, to the other end of
the room, when they served what remained to the rest of the
spectators. After which the ball immediately began.

I was shown, by an Italian painter, a curious picture in his
possession, of the antients celebrating one of this kind of
festivals. The attitudes into which the figures were put, and
which appeared to have been drawn for the conclusion of the
ball, were beautiful beyond imagination.

In winter there were balls in the city of Rome; for which
the appropriated apartments were commodious; and where the
illuminations were so great, that notwithstanding the usual
rigor of that season, the room was sufficiently warm.

Round the room there were tables and stands, on which was placed
the desert; and there were generally twelve persons chosen to
distribute the refreshments, and do the honors of the ball. The
whole was conducted with the utmost decency and regularity,
while Rome preserved her respect for virtue and innocence of
manners.

By the best accounts procurable, their serious dances were
properly interspersed and inlivened with comic movements. Their
first steps were solemn and majestic, and, by couples they
turned under each other's arms; and when the whole thus turned
together, they could not but afford a pleasing sight. After
which they resumed the serious again, and so proceeded
alternately till they concluded the dance.

In the spring, the country became naturally the scene of their
dances. The best companies resorted, especially to such villages
as were noted for the most pure and salubrious springs of water.
If the weather was mild, they danced upon an open green; if not,
they formed a large covered pavilion, in the middle of which
they placed the statue of Flora, ornamented with flowers, round
which they performed their dances. First the youth, then those
of riper years; and lastly, those of a more advanced age. After
each of these divisions had danced separately, they all joined
and formed one great circle. The most distinguished for
excellence in the performing these dances, had for reward the
privilege of taking a flower, with great solemnity, from the
statue of the goddess. This was esteemed so high an honor, that
it is scarce imaginable how great an emulation this inspired; as
this privilege was to be obtained by the impartial determination
of the best judges.

Summer was however the season in which the pleasure of dancing
was carried to the highest pitch. For the scene of it, they
chose a shady and delightful part of a wood, where the sunshine
could not incommode them, and where care was taken to clear the
ground underfoot, for their performance. A young lady of the
most eminence for rank and beauty was chosen to personate the
goddess Ceres. Her dress was of an exquisite taste, ornamented
with tufts of gold, in imitation of wheat-sheaves: while her
head was decked with a kind of crown composed of spangles,
representing the ears of ripe corn, and perhaps, for the greater
simplicity, of the natural grain itself. Those who danced round
her, all wore wreaths of the choicest flowers, and were dressed
in white, with their hair flowing loose, in the stile of
wood-nimphs. On this occasion, there was always a great croud
of spectators; and the joy that appeared in each parent's eye,
when their daughters were applauded, made no small part of the
entertainment. As garlands, and wreaths of flowers composed the
principal ornament of the persons who performed in this dance,
such a respect was had for it by the people in general, that
they abstained from gathering any flowers, till after this
festival was over.

I have myself seen a drawing of this rural dance, in which I
counted no less than sixty performers.

The celebrated Pilades is mentioned to have been the great
improver of this dance. He excluded from it all jumping or
capering, for fear of violating or of disfiguring the graceful
regularity of the whole, which he considered as the most
essential towards preserving a pleasing effect.

Not less than two months were the usual time of preparation for
this dance, to which there was always a confluence of persons
from all the neighbouring parts. But none were allowed the
liberty of dancing, except persons of the first rank and
distinction in the country; the whole being regulated by some
person acting in quality of _choragus_, or director of the
dance.

The reign of Augustus Cæsar was undoubtedly the epoch, of the
establishment in Rome, of the art of dancing in its greatest
splendor. Cahusac, an ingenious French author, in his historical
treatise of this art, assigns to that emperor a deep political
design in giving it so great an encouragement as he undoubtedly
did; that of diverting the Romans from serious thoughts on the
loss of their liberty; especially in fomenting a dissention
among them, about so frivolous an object as the competition
between those two celebrated dancers, Pilades and Bathillus.
That something of this sort might be the design of that emperor,
is not to be doubted; but Cahusac, over-heated, perhaps, by his
subject, exagerates the importance of it beyond the bounds of
cool reason. So much however is true, that those two dancers
were extremely eminent in their art, and may be esteemed the
founders of that theatrical dancing, or pantomime execution, for
which it is not sufficient to be only a good dancer, but there
is also required the being a good actor; in both which lights,
these two artists were allowed to excel, Pilades in the serious
or tragic dance, Bathillus in the comic.

These also founded a kind of academies of dancing, which
produced several eminent artists, but none that ever equalled
themselves in performance or reputation. What history records
of them, and of their powers, as well as of that theatrical
pantomime dance, of which they were the introductors, in Rome,
would exceed belief, if it was not attested by such a number of
authors as leave no room to think it an imposition.

But as to dancing itself, either considered in a religious,
or in only an amusive light, it may be pronounced to have been
among the Romans, as old as Rome itself, and like that rude in
its beginnings, but to have received gradual improvement, as
fast as the other arts and sciences gained ground.

Processional dances were also much in vogue among that people.
They had especially an anniversary ceremony or procession,
called, from its pre-eminence, singly, POMPA, or the Pomp.

It was celebrated, in commemoration of a victory obtained over
the Latians, the news of which was said to have been brought by
Castor and Pollux, in person. This festival, was, at first,
consecrated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. But it was afterwards
made more general, and celebrated in honor of all the Gods. This
procession was in the month of September. It began at the temple
of _Jupiter Capitolinus_, proceeded to the _Forum Romanum_, from
thence to the _Velabrum_, and afterwards to the _Grand Circus_.
You have in Onuphrius Panvinius, the order of this procession at
large, of which the directors were the chief magistrates of the
city: the sons of the nobility leading the van. Those of the
Equestrian order, whose fathers were worth a hundred and fifty
thousand sesterces, followed on horseback. It would be here
foreign from my purpose to give the whole description of this
procession, and of those who composed it. It is sufficient to
observe, that processional dancing constituted a considerable
part of it. The Pirrhic dance, executed to a martial air, called
the _Proceleumaticus_, employed the men of arms. These were
followed by persons who danced and leaped, in the manner of
Satirs, some of them in the dress ascribed to _Silenus_,
attended by performers on instruments adapted to that character
of dance. These made the comic part of the procession, and the
persons representing Satirs, took care to divert the people by
leaps, by a display of agility, and by odd uncouth attitudes,
such as were in the character they had assumed. There were also
in another part of the procession twelve _Salii_, or priests of
Mars, so called from their making sacred dances in honor of that
God, the most considerable part of their worship; these were
headed by their master or _Præsul_, the leader of the dance,
a term afterwards assumed by the Christian Prelates. There were
also the _Salian_ virgins, besides another division of the
_Salii_ called _Agonenses_ or _Collini_.

Nor is the processional dancing any thing surprizing; concerning
that among the heathens, and even among the Hebrews, they were
greatly in use. Who does not know that David's dancing before
the arch was but in consequence of its being one of the
religious ceremonies on that occasion?

The heathens used especially to form dances before their altars,
and round the statues of their gods. The _Salii_, or priests of
Mars, whose dances were so framed as to give an idea of military
exercise and activity, threw into their performance steps so
expressive and majestic, as not only to defend their motions and
gestures from any idea of levity and burlesque, which it is so
natural for the moderns to associate with that of dancing, but
even to inspire the beholders with respect and a religious awe.
The priests chosen for this function, were always persons of the
noblest aspect, suitable to the dignity of the sacerdotal
ministry. And so little needs that dignity of the heathen
ministry be thought to be wounded or violated by the act of
dancing, in religious worship, that dances were actually in use
among the primitive Christians, in their religious assemblies.
There was a place in their churches, especially allotted for
these consecrated dances, upon solemn festivals, which even
gave the name of _choir_ to those parts of the church now only
appropriated to the reading of the divine service, and to
singing. In Spain, it long remained an established custom for
Christians to assemble in the church-porches, where, in honor of
God, they sang sacred himns, and to the tunes of them, performed
dances, that were extremely pleasing, for the decent and
beautiful simplicity of the execution. All which I mention
purely to salve that inconsistence, of the levity of dancing
with the gravity of divine worship. An inconsistence of which
the antients had no idea; since, on that occasion, they almost
constantly joined dancing to singing.

They are both natural expressions of joy and festivity; and
as such they thought neither of them improper in an address of
gratulation to the deity, whom they supposed rather pleased at
such innocent oblations of the heart, exulting in his manifold
bounties and blessings.

From before the altar, among the heathens, the admission of
dances upon the theatre, was rather an extension of their power
to entertain, than a total change of their destination; since
the theatres themselves were dedicated to the worship _of the
heathen deities_, of which their making a part was one of the
principal objections of the primitive Christians to the theatres
themselves. However, it was from the theatres that dancing
received its great and capital improvement.

As an exercise, the virtue of dancing was well known to the
antients, for its keeping up the strength and agility of the
human body. There is a remark which I submit to the
consideration of the reader, that it is not impossible but
that the antient Romans, who were, generally speaking, low in
stature, and yet were eminently strong, owed that advantage to
their cultivation of bodily exercise. This kept their limbs
supple, and rendered their constitution stout and hardy. Now,
very laborious exercises would rather wear out the machine than
they would invigorate it, if there was not a due relaxation,
which should not, however, be too abrupt a transition from the
most fatiguing exercises to a state of absolute rest. Whereas
that dancing, of which they were so fond, afforded them, not
only a pleasing employ of vacant hours, but, withall, in its
keeping up the pliability of their limbs, made them find more
ease in the application of themselves to more athletic, or to
more violent exercises, either of war or of the chace: while all
together bred that firmness of their muscles, that robust
compactness and vigor of body, which enabled them to atchieve
that military valor, to which they owed all their conquests and
their glory.

Certain it is then, that among the Romans, even in the most
martial days of that republic, the art of dancing was taught, as
one of the points of accomplishment necessary to the education
of youth; and was even practised among the exercises of the
Circus. I need not observe, that there were also various abuses
of dancing, which they very justly accounted dishonorable to
those who practised them, whether in public or private. These,
in the degenerate days of Rome, grew to an enormous excess. But
I presume no one will judge of an art by the abuse that may be
made of it.




Of

DANCING

In General.


This is one of the arts, in which, as in all the rest, the study
of nature is especially to be recommended. She is an unerring
guide. She gives that harmony, that power of pleasing to the
productions of those who consult her, which such as neglect her
must never expect. They will furnish nothing but monsters and
discordances; or, at the best, but sometimes lucky hits, without
meaning or connexion.

All the imitative arts acknowledge this principle.

In Poetry, a happy choice of the most proper words for
expressing the sentiments and images drawn from the observation
of nature, constitutes the principal object of the poet.

In Painting, the disposition of the subject, the resemblance
of the coloring to that of the original, in short the greatest
possible adherence to nature, is the merit of that art.

In Music, that expression of the passions which should raise the
same in the hearer, whether of joy, affliction, tenderness, or
pity, can never have its effect without marking and adopting the
respective sounds of each passion as they are furnished by
nature.

In Dancing, the attitudes, gestures, and motions derive also
their principle from nature, whether they caracterise joy, rage,
or affection, in the bodily expression respectively appropriated
to the different affections of the soul. A consideration this,
which clearly proves the mistake of those, who imagine the art
of dancing solely confined to the legs, or even arms; whereas
the expression of it should be pantomimically diffused through
the whole body, the face especially included.

Monsieur Cahusac, in his ingenious treatise on this art, has
very justly observed, that both singing and dancing must have
existed from the primeval times; that is to say, from the first
of the existence of human-kind itself.

"Observe, says he, the tender children, from their entry
into the world, to the moment in which their reason unfolds
itself, and you will see that it is primitive nature
herself, that manifests herself in the sound of their,
voice in the features of their face, in their looks, in
all their motions. Mark their sudden paleness, their quick
contortions, their piercing cries, when their soul is
affected by a sensation of pain. Observe again, their
engaging smile, their sparkling eyes, their rapid motions,
when it is moved by a sentiment of pleasure. You will then
be clearly persuaded of the principles of music and dancing
proceeding from the beginning of the world down to us."

Certain it is, that even in children, the motions and gesture,
strongly paint nature; and their infantine graces are not
unworthy the remarks of an artist, who will be sure to find
excellence in no way more obtainable than by a rational study
of her, where she is the purest.

The cultivation of the natural graces, and a particular care
to shun all affectation, all caricature, unless in comic or
grotesque dances, cannot be too much recommended to those who
wish to make any figure in this art. It is doing a great
injustice to it, to place its excellence in capers, in brilliant
motions of the legs, or in the execution of difficult steps,
without meaning or significance, which require little more than
strength and agility.

I have already observed, that the Greeks, who were so famous for
this art, as indeed for most others, which is no wonder, since
all the arts have so acknowledged an affinity with each other,
studied especially grace and dignity in the execution of their
dances. That levity of capering, that nimbleness of the legs,
which we so much admire, held no rank in their opinion. They
were inconsistent with that clearness of expression, and
neatness of motion, of which they principally made a point. The
great beauty of movements, or steps, is, for every one of them
to be distinct; not huddled and running into one another, so as
that one should begin before the precedent one is finished. This
so necessary avoidance of puzzled or ambiguous motion, can only
be compassed by an attention to significance and justness of
action. This simplicity will arise from sensibility, from being
actuated by feelings. No one has more than one predominant
actual feeling at a time; when that is expressed clearly, the
effect is as sure as it is instantaneous. The movement it gives,
neither interferes with the immediately precedent, nor the
immediately following one, though it is prepared or introduced
by the one, and prepares or introduces the other.

This the Greeks could the better effectuate, from their
preference of the sublime, or serious stile; which, having so
much less of quickness or rapidity of execution, than the comic
dance, admits of more attention to the neat expressiveness of
every motion, gesture, attitude, or step.

As to the great nicety of the Greeks, in the ordering and
disposing their dances, I refer to what I have before said, for
its being to be observed, how much at present this art is fallen
short of their perfection in it, and how difficult it must be
for a composer of dances to produce them in that masterly manner
they were used to be performed among the antients. Let his
talent for invention or composition be never so rich or fertile,
it will be impossible for him to do it justice in the display,
unless he is seconded by performers well versed in the art, and
especially expert in giving the expression of their part in the
dance; not to mention the collateral aids of music, machinery,
and decoration, which it is so requisite to adapt to the
subject.

But where all these points so necessary are duly supplied, and
dancing is executed in all its brilliancy, it would be no longer
looked upon, especially at the Opera, as merely an expletive
between the acts, just to afford the singers a little breathing
time. The dances might recover their former lustre, and give the
public the same pleasure as to the Greeks and Romans, who made
of them one of their most favorite entertainments, and carried
them up to the highest pitch of taste and excellence.

The Romans seem to have followed the Greeks, in this passion
for dancing; and the theatrical dances, upon the pantomime plan,
were in Rome pushed to such a degree of perfection as is even
hard to conceive. Whole tragedies plaid, act by act, scene by
scene, in pantomime expression, give an idea of this art, very
different from that which is at present commonly received.

Every step in dancing has its name and value. But not one should
be employed in a vague unmeaning manner. All the movements
should be conformable to the expression required, and in harmony
with one another. The steps regular, and properly varied, with a
graceful suppleness in the limbs, a certain strength, address,
and agility; just positions exhibited with ease, delicacy, and
above all, with propriety, caracterise the masterly dancer, and
in their union, give to his execution its due beauty. The least
negligence, in any of these points, is immediately felt, and
detracts from the merit of the performance. Every step or motion
that is not natural, or has any thing of stiffness, constraint,
or affectation, is instinctively perceived by the spectator. The
body must constantly preserve its proper position, without the
least contortion, well adjusted to the steps; while the motion
of the arms, must be agreeable to that of the legs, and the head
to be in concert with the whole.

But in this observation I pretend to no more than just
furnishing a general idea of the requisites towards the
execution: the particulars, it is impossible, to give in verbal
description, or even by choregraphy or dances in score.

Many who pretend to understand the art of dancing, confound
motions of strength, with those of agility, mistaking strength
for slight, or slight for strength; tho' so different in their
nature. It is the spring of the body, in harmony with sense,
that gives the great power to please and surprize. The same it
is with the management of the arms; but all this requires both
the theory of the art, and the practice of it. One will hardly
suffice without the other; which makes excellence in it so rare.

The motion of the arms is as essential, at least, as that of
the legs, for an expressive attitude: and both receive their
justness from the nature of the passions they are meant to
express. The passions are the springs which must actuate the
machine, while a close observation of nature furnishes the art
of giving to those motions the grace of ease and expertness.
Any thing that, on the stage especially, has the air of being
forced, or improper, cannot fail of having a bad effect.
A frivolous, affected turn of the wrist, is surely no grace.

One of the most nice and difficult points of the art of dancing
is, certainly, the management and display of the arms; the
adapting their motion to the character of the dance. In this
many are too arbitrary in forming rules to themselves, without
consulting nature, which would not fail of suggesting to them
the justest movements. For want of this appropriation of
gesture and attitude, the movements fit for one character are
indistinctly employed in the representation of another. And into
this error those will be sure to fall, who deviate from the
unerring principles of nature; which has for every character an
appropriate strain of motion and gesture.

Nothing then has a worse effect, than any impropriety in the
management of the arms: it gives to the eye, the same pain that
discordance in music does to the ear.

There are some who move their arms with a tolerably natural
grace, without knowing the true rules rising out of nature into
art: but where the advantage of theory gives yet a greater
security, consequently a greater ease and a nobler freedom to
the motions of the performer; the performance cannot but meet
with fuller approbation. And yet it may be as bad to show too
much art, as to have too little. The point is to employ no more
of art than just what serves to grace nature, but never to hide
or obscure her.

Great is the difference between the antient and the modern
dances. The antient ones were full of sublime simplicity.
But that simplicity was far from excluding the delicate, the
graceful, and even the brilliant. The moderns are so accustomed
to those dances from which nature is banished, and false
refinements substituted in her room, that it is to be questioned
whether they would relish the returning in practice to the purer
principles of the art. Myself knowing better, and sensible that
the principles of nature are the only true ones, have been
sometimes forced to yield to the torrent of fashion, and to
adopt in practice those florishings of art, which in theory
I despised; and justly, for surely the plainest imitation of
nature must be the grounds from which alone the performance can
be carried up to any degree of excellence. It is with our art,
as in architecture, if the foundation is not right, the
superstructure will be wrong.

This primitive source then must be studied, known, and well
attended to; or we only follow the art blindly, and without
certainty. Thence the common indifference of so many performers,
who mind nothing more than a rote of the art, without tracing it
to its origin, nature.

To succeed, we must abandon the false taste, and embrace the
true; which is not only the best guide to perfection; but
when rendered familiar, by much the most easy and the most
delightful.



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