The popularity of country-dances, which were easier to describe verbally than the complex baroque dances of the early eighteenth century, stimulated publication of collections and manuals for eager dancers who wished to stay apprised of the latest choreographies for the next assembly. An early example of such a dance collection was John Playford’s The English Dancing Master, published between 1650 and 1728, with each edition varying the dance repertory.
Many later publications followed Playford’s example, illustrating each dance with an image showing the dancers’ spatial placements, the music notation, and verbal description of steps and figures.
Americans eagerly bought European publications, but they also produced their own. Dancing master John Griffiths published A Collection of the newest Cotillions and Country Dances in 1794. The American Ladies Pocket Book for MDCCXCVII while Mr. Francis, with Alexander Reinagle of the New Theatre on Chestnut St., published several editions of Francis’ Ballroom Assistant.
In the early nineteenth century, Pierre Landrin Duport (1807), and Alexander Dupouy (1810) were among those adding to the dance bibliography. Most works described dance figures and some offered advice on deportment. For example, Griffiths’ Gentleman & Lady’s Companion (1798) gave “Instances of Ill Manners, to be carefully avoided by youth of both sexes,” such as:
– Omitting to pay proper respect to company, on entering or leaving a room; or paying it only to one person, when more are present.
– Whispering, or pointing in company, and standing between the light and any person wanting it….
– Contempt in looks, words, or actions, for a partner in dancing, or other persons….
– Lolling on a chair when speaking or when spoken to ….
– A constant smile or settled frown on the countenance.
Although John Durang did not publish a dancing manual or set of new dances, his son, Charles, would become author of several important dance texts in the mid-nineteenth century:
- The Ball-Room Bijou, and Art of Dancing: Containing the Figures of the Polkas, Mazurkas, and other Popular New Dances, with Rules for Polite Behavior (Philadelphia: Fisher, 1850),
- The Dancer’s Own Book, and Ball-Room Companion (New York: Turner & Fisher, 1854),
- Durang’s Terpsichore, or, Ball Room Guide: Being a Compendium of the Theory, Practice, and Etiquette of Dancing (Philadelphia: Fisher, 1847), and
- The Fashionable Dancer’s Casket, or, the Ball-Room Instructor: A New and Splendid Work on Dancing, Etiquette, Deportment, and the Toilet (Philadelphia: Fisher & Bro., 1856).