Eighteenth – century dance notations

I am an historian based in Corvallis, Oregon, and Ellensburg, Washington. My research examines the intersections of natural history, culture, and the body in eighteenth century France and its expanding global connections. I’m especially interested in dance notations of the period – how they were read, they positioned people socially, and how they traveled. These diagrammatic representations functioned not only as instructions for particular choreographies but also reflected changes in the structure of society over time. For example, in the seventeenth century, notations were oriented toward the king. In later dances, notations show dancers facing each other–living embodiments of a turn toward ideals of equality articulated by Enlightenment philosophers. I’m also curious about how dances traveled over the Atlantic and what kinds of thinking about status and difference might be reflected in how and where these notations were turned into dances.

I dance therefore I am

The Fair at Bezons, ca. 1733

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater (1695–1736)
The Fair at Bezons, ca. 1733

Dance and Nature–these two themes have run throughout my research and they are brought together in this galante scene by a student of Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). In this painting and in many of Watteau’s landscapes, dancers are central. At this time, dance defined nobility in a way that we in the 21st century find hard to grasp. The focus of Rene Descartes’ (1596-1650) famous dictum “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) is on the mind, but I would like to suggest that then, as now, the mind is embodied.