Dance Quotes from Various Genres

This page last updated on 06/27/07


Historical Quotes of unknown origin

A Complaint - Dancing now seems to be a mania in America and has become a minor industry. A recent influx of dancing masters, many of them aristocratic refugees from revolutionary France, have set up shop as merchants of the minuet.

The Marquis de Chastellus has complained that we Americans have taken the dance and made it into a ritual of politics and marriage. By custom now, Americans are supposed to stay with the same partner all evening. Even more disturbing is the practise of changing names of such dances as "The Royal George" and "Lady Bucklet's Wim" to "The Defeat of Burgoyne" and "Clinton's Retreat."

News Item - An evening ball was held at Mrs. Cowley's Assembly Rooms on March 16 last. These rooms are frequently used for entertainment by many American and French officers. Washington opened the ball with Miss Champlin, noted for her beauty and charm, who selected the popular dance, "A Successful Campaign." It is said that the French officers spontaneously grabbed the musical instruments from the musicians and played for the General and his beautiful partner.

It is announced that Theobald Hackett will be engaged in teaching all sorts of fashionable dances after the newest and politest manner practised in London, Dublin, and Paris. This will give the young ladies, gentlemen and children the most graceful of carriage and genteel behaviour in dancing.

Historical Quotes with references

The lines, which a number of people together form, in country dancing, make a delightful play upon the eye, especially when the whole figure is to be seen at one view as at the playhouse from a gallery. The beauty of this kind of "mystic dancing," as the poets term it, depends upon moving in a composed variety of lines, chiefly serpentine, governed by the principals of intricacy. The dances of barbarians are often represented without these movements, being only composed of wild skipping, jumping, and turning around or running backward and forward with convulsive shrugs and distorted gestures. One of the most pleasing movements in country dancing which answers to all the principles of varying at once, is what they call the "hey."
Analysis of Beauty, William Hogarth

Dancing, is, for the most part, attended with many amorous smiles, wanton compliments, unchaste kisses, scurrilous songs and sonnets, effeminate music, lust provoking attire, ridiculous love pranks, all which savor only of sensuality, of raging fleshly lusts. Therefore, it is wholly to be abandoned of all good Christians.

Dancing serves no necessary use, no profitable, laudable, or pious end at all. It is only from the imbred pravity, vanity, wantonness, incontenency, pride, profaneness, or madness of man's depraved nature. Therefore, it must needs be unlawful unto Christians.

The way to heaven is too steep, too narrow for men to dance in and keep revel rout. No way is large or smooth enough for capering rousters, for jumping, skipping, dancing dames but that broad, beaten, pleasant road that leads to HELL. The gate of heaven is too narrow for whole rounds, whole troops of dancers to march in together.

Histriomastix (1632), Puritan William Prynne
Go here for the full text of this period tirade. Thanks to Stewart Dean.

Twas a very dark afternoon, and by the end of the sermon all you could see of the inside of the church were the parson's two candles alongside of him in the pulpit, and his spaking face behind 'em. The sermon being ended at last, the parson asked for the Evening Hymn. But there was no sounding up of the tune, and people began to turn their heads to learn the reason why, and then, a boy who sat in the gallery, nudged Timothy and Nicholas, and said, "Begin! Begin!"

"Hey what?" says Nicholas, starting up, and the church being so dark and his head muddled, he thought he was at the party they had played at the night before, and away he went, bow and fiddle, at "The Devil among the Tailors," the favourite jig of our neighbourhood. The rest of the band, being in the same state of mind, followed their leader with all their strength, according to custom. They poured out the tune till the bass notes made the cobwebs in the roof shiver like ghosts. Then Nicholas, seeing nobody moved, shouted out as he scraped, "Top couples cross hands! And when I make the fiddle squeak at the end, every man kiss his pardner under the mistletoe!"

Then the unfortunate chuch band came to their senses, and remembered where they were. Twas a sight to see Nicholas and Timothy Thomas creep down the gallery stairs with their fiddles under their arms, with the rest of the band, all looking as little ninepins, and out they went. The parson might have forgiven them when he learned the truth but the squire would not. That very week he sent for a barrel organ that would play twenty new psalm-tunes so exact that however sinfully inclinded you were, you could play nothing but psalm-tunes, and the old players played no more.

from Absent Mindedness in a Parish Choir, by Thomas Hardy

The grandest and most numerously-frequented booth in the whole fair, however, is `The Crown and Anchor` - a temporary ball-room we forget how many hundred feet long, the price of admission to which is one shilling. Immediately on your right hand as you enter, after paying your money, is a refreshment place, at which cold beef, roast and boiled, French rolls, stout, wine, tongue, ham, even fowls, if we recollect right, are displayed in tempting array. There is a raised orchestra, and the place is boarded all the way down, in patches, just wide enough for a country dance.

There is no master of the ceremonies in this artificial Eden - all is primitive, unreserved, and unstudied. The dust is blinding, the heat insupportable, the company somewhat noisy, and in the highest spirits possible: the ladies, in the height of their innocent animation, dancing in the gentlemen`s hats, and the gentlemen promenading `the gay and festive scene` in the ladies` bonnets, or with the more expensive ornaments of false noses, and low-crowned, tinder-box-looking hats: playing children`s drums, and accompanied by ladies on the penny trumpet.

The noise of these various instruments, the orchestra, the shouting, the `scratchers,` and the dancing, is perfectly bewildering. The dancing, itself, beggars description - every figure lasts about an hour, and the ladies bounce up and down the middle, with a degree of spirit which is quite indescribable. As to the gentlemen, they stamp their feet against the ground, every time `hands four round` begins, go down the middle and up again, with cigars in their mouths, and silk handkerchiefs in their hands, and whirl their partners round, nothing loth, scrambling and falling, and embracing, and knocking up against the other couples, until they are fairly tired out, and can move no longer. The same scene is repeated again and again (slightly varied by an occasional `row`) until a late hour at night: and a great many clerks and `prentices find themselves next morning with aching heads, empty pockets, damaged hats, and a very imperfect recollection of how it was they did NOT get home.

from Sketches By Boz, Chapter XII - Greenwich Fair By Charles Dickens

But, I should like to have acquired skill in dancing during the hours between my serious studies -- an accomplishment which would have rendered my company welcome to all.
That will be an easy thing by reading French books in order to sharpen your wit and by learning fencing, dancing, and tennis that you will be an agreeable companion alike to all ladies and gentlemen.
I much enjoyed fencing and tennis. And this placed me upon friendly terms with young men. But without a knowledge of dancing I could not please the ladies, upon whom it seems to me, the entire reputation of an eligible yound man depends.
You are quite right. As naturally the male and female seek one another, and nothing does more to stimulate a man to acts of courtesy, honor, and generosity, than love. And, if you desire to marry, you must realize that a mistress is won by good temper and grace displayed while dancing. For ladies do not like to be present at fencing or tennis lest a splintered sword or blow from a tennis ball should cause them injury. And there is more to it than this. For dancing is practised to reveal whether lovers are in good health and sound of limb after which they are permitted to kiss their mistresses in order that they may touch and savor one another, thus, to ascertain if they are shapely or emit an unpleasant odor as of bad meat. Therefore, from this standpoint, quite apart from the many other advantages to be derived from dancing, it becomes an essential in a well ordered society.
Orchesographie by T. Arbeau

We consider that any man who can fiddle all through one of those Virginia Reels without losing his grip, may be depended upon in any kind of musical emergency.
Mark Twain

When someone blunders, we say that he makes a misstep. Is it then not clear that All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill our history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill in dancing.
Moliere, 1622

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind;
Jane Austen (Emma)

"To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love."
Pride and Prejudice
Said of Mr. Bingley. But remember that Mr. Darcy dislikes dancing:

"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! -- There is nothing like dancing after all. -- I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies."

"Certainly, Sir; -- and it has the advantage of also being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. -- Every savage can dance."

Darcy changes his mind about dancing, however, after he falls in love with Elizabeth.

"Country run the gaunlet thro' a string of amorous palming puppies! -- to shew paces like a managed filly!...If there be but one vicious mind in the set 'twill spread like a contagion -- the action of their pulse beats to the lascivious movements of the jig -- their quivering, warm breasted signs impregnate the very air -- the atmosphere becomes electrical to love, and each amorous spark darts thro' every link of chain."
The Rivals, by Sheridan, 1775, Act II, Scene 1

[In waltzing] he presses [his partner] close to his breast and they glide over the floor together as if the two were but one.

When she raises her eyes, timidly at first, to that handsome but deceitful face, now so close to her own, the look that is in his eyes as they meet hers, seems to burn into her very soul. A strange, sweet thrill shakes her very being and leaves her weak and powerless and obliged to depend for support upon the arm which is pressing her to himself in such a suggestive manner, but the sensation is a pleasant one and grows to be the very essence of her life.

She grows more bold, and from being able to return shy glances at first, is soon able to meet more daring ones until, with heart beating against heart, hand clasped in hand, and eyes looking burning words which lips dare not speak, the waltz becomes one long, sweet and purely sensual pleasure.

But, let us turn our attention again to the dancers, at two o-clock the next morning. This is the favorite waltz, and the last and most furious of the night, as well as the most disgusting. Let us notice as an example, our fair friend once more.

She is now in the vile embrace of the Apollo of the evening. Her head rests upon his shoulder, her face is upturned to his, her bare arm is almost around his neck, her partly nude swelling breast heaves tumultuously against his, face to face they whirl on, his limbs interwoven with hers, his strong right arm around her yielding form, he presses her to him until every curve in the contour of her body thrills with the amorous contact. Her eyes look into his, but she sees nothing; the soft music fills the room, but she hears it not; he bends her body to and fro, but she knows it not; his hot breath, tainted with strong drink, is on her hair and cheek, his lips almost fierce, intolerable lust, gloat over her, yet she does not quail. She is filled with the rapture of sin in its intensity; her spirit is inflamed with passion and lust is gratified in thought. With the last low wail the music ceases, and the dance for the night is ended, but not the evil work of the night.

From the Ballroom to Hell, T. A. Faulkner, 1892

Away they all went, twenty couple at once, hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them."
From A Christmas Carol (Mr. Fezziwig's party) --Charles Dickens.

Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.
-- Voltaire

Dancing is, in itself, a very trifling and silly thing: but it is one of those established follies to which people of sense are sometimes obliged to conform; and then they should be able to do it well. And though I would not have you a dancer, yet, when you do dance, I would have you dance well, as I would have you do everything you do well.

. . .

Do you mind your dancing while your dancing master is with you? As you will be often under the necessity of dancing a minuet, I would have you dance it very well. Remember that the graceful motion of the arms, the giving of your hand, and the putting off and putting on of your hat genteelly, are the material parts of a gentleman's dancing. But the greatest advantage of dancing well is, stand , and walk genteelly; all of which are of real importance to a man of fashion.

-- Lord Chesterfield, in his letters to his son (year unknown) As quoted in Decorum, A Practical Treatise on Etiquette & Dress of the Best American Society, by Richard A. Wells, A.M., 1889

If you cannot afford to give a ball in good style, you had better not attempt it at all.
Decorum, A Practical Treatise on Etiquette & Dress of the Best American Society, by Richard A. Wells, A.M., 1889

The following hints on ballroom etiquette may be of use to persons unacquainted with dancing, or who have not been accustomed to attending balls with ladies
Thomas Hillgrove's A Complete Practical Guide to the Art of Dancing, Dick & Fitzgerald, New York, 1864

Miscellaneous Dance Quotes:

While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. That is why I dance.

- Hans Bos

If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.
Emma Goldman

You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk-dancing.
Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), (English composer) quoting a `sympathetic Scotsman' in Farewell, My Youth (1943) p. 17

For the good are always the merry
Save by an evil chance
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance.
The Fiddler of Dooney -- William Butler Yeats

God Respects Us When We Work, but He Loves Us When We Dance.
Title of a documentary film by Les Blanc about a 1960's love-in in Los Angeles.

Swing your partner, dosey-do, now clap your hands... uh-oh, that's all the square dance moves I know... I'll bluff the rest. Slap your partner in the face, Write bad checks all over the place, Flirt with strangers, annoy your spouse, Get a divorce and lose your house, ...uh... dosey-do.
--Scott Adams, writing as Dogbert

A tune just complicates things.
attributed to Keith Murphy

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
-- Anon

Any problem in the world can be solved by dancing.
-- James Brown

Dance is a little insanity that does us all a lot of good.
-- Edward Demby

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.
-- Agnes De Mille

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
-- Mary Smich, Chicago Tribune, 1997

If you dance with a grizzly bear, you had better let him lead.

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