60 Pages

John Weaver, An Essay Towards an History of Dancing

John Weaver (1673-1760) was a famous dancer, choreographer and author of dance pantomimes and anatomical treatises on the body in performance. An Essay was published in 1712, when he took a decade-long leave from the London stage to preside over a dancing school in his native Shrewsbury. Weaver’s discussion of dancers’ quali cations engages the question that is central to many eighteenth-century authors of treatises on the art of acting: what kind of education, if any, is necessary for a successful career on stage? Weaver argues that the dancer must be familiar with music, arithmetic, geography, rhetoric, philosophy, painting and sculpture, and ancient history and mythology.1 Weaver’s exhaustive list of ancient ‘fables’ that the dancer must be in expert in, ‘to be able to produce them into Action on Occasion’2 is clearly an endeavour to gain respect for the erudition and intellectual versatility of professional dancers. Moreover, Weaver’s extravagant praise of the ancient pantomime as capable of translating between even those cultures that share no common language and hence cannot come to a political understanding should be read in the context of his own favourite project of introducing the pantomime onto the English stage.3 (His rst pantomime, e Tavern Bilkers, was performed at Drury Lane in 1703.) An Essay also features one of the rst English uses of the word choreography, although here spelled as ‘orchesography’, a er Weaver’s treatise Orchesography (1706), his translation of Raoul Auger Feuillet’s Chorégraphie, ou l’art de d’écrire la danse (1700). (Charles Burney’s History of Music (1789) contains the rst English use of the word choreography in its modern spelling.) Weaver was an early adapter and popularizer of the system of dance notation – or, as he calls it here, the ‘art

of writing down dances in characters’4 – which ‘had a signi cant in uence on the development and status of dance in England’.5