2 April 2012
From medieval dances of courtship and celebration to Strictly Come Dancing and hip hop, this richly illustrated book encompasses 700 years of social dance.
A knees-up at a country fair, a pair of dancing ogres, children round a maypole, ballroom champions, decadent masquerade, and celebrations at Piccadilly Circus on VE day all feature in this enchanting survey of dance illustration through the centuries. What do these vibrant, often elegant and sometimes irreverent images reveal to us about the history of social dancing and changing attitudes towards the dance floor?
Jeremy Barlow shows how over the centuries, artists and illustrators have represented dance in a stylized and often humorous manner, with curved, flowing lines for the gracious dancer and angular postures for the uncouth, rustic, or exhibitionistic performer. He also reveals how artists have responded in imaginative ways to the challenge of how to convey a sense of the dancer's movement through a frozen moment in print.
A central theme is the age-old tension between decorum and licence on the dance floor, a tension that culminated in the advent of jive and untutored vitality of rock'n' roll. Not ‘strictly ballroom’, Victor Silvester’s first-hand account of the jitterbug craze in the 1940s concluded that, ‘All lifts, throws and other exaggerated movements should be entirely eliminated. These movements are acrobatics, which is not dancing, and quite unsuitable for the ballroom.’
The book draws on a wide range of materials in the Bodleian Library, including fourteenth-century manuscripts, satirical prints, dance cards, and invitations to balls. Each image is carefully analysed for what it can reveal to us about behavioural codes and satirical intent, providing an unusual insight into the social history and imagery of dance.