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Host, hostess, men and maids, rush'd in,
While many more prepared to follow
Unlawful spirits, where they please;
A partnership in this world form,
A good man's fortune may be out at heels.
WERE a book to be written upon the discordant opinions held by different nations, or by the same people at different periods, upon any given subject, none would present a more contradictory estimate, than the harmless recreation of dancing. For some
thousand of years, in the early stages of the world, it was exclusively a religious ceremony. The dance of the Jews, established by the Levitical law to be exhibited at their solemn feasts, is, perhaps, the most ancient upon record. The dancing of David is also frequently quoted; and many commentators have thought, that every Psalm was accompanied by a distinct dance. In several of the temples, a stage was specially erected for these exercises; but, in process of time, they seem to have been practised by secular, as well as spiritual, performers. The daughters of Shiloh were thus recreating themselves in the vineyards, when they were caught by the young men of the tribe of Benjamin, who presently danced into their good graces, and carried them off for wives-a process which is frequently imitated, even in these degenerate days. The heathens, also, could " sport a toe" in the very earliest ages. Pindar calls Apollo "the dancer;" Homer, in one of his hymns, tells us that this deity capered to the music of his own harp; and from Callimachus we learn that the Nereides were proficients in this elegant accomplishment, at the early age of nine years*. For several centuries, it was confined to military movements, when a battle was a grand Ballet of Action, opposing armies became partners in the dance of death, and cut throats and capers with equal assiduity. Since those truculent and operatic days, it has been limited to festive and joyous occasions; but how various the estimation in
* See the Vestriad, a mock Epic Poem.
which it has been held by inconsistent mortals! Socrates, a wise Grecian, took lessons in this art from Aspasia. Cicero, an enlightened Roman, urges the practice of dancing against Galbinius, as a grave and heinous offence. Of the moderns, many hold it an utter abomination to dance upon a Sunday; while others signalize the Sabbath by an increased hilarity of heel. In Germany, a band of enthusiastic damsels formerly testified their devotion to St. Vitus, by dancing round his shrine, until they contracted a malady which still bears his name: the modern Herrnhuters, of the same district, would suffer martyrdom, rather than heathenize their legs by any similar profanation.
Our own country, at the present moment, possesses a sect of Jumpers, who, seeming to imagine that he who leaps highest must be nearest to Heaven, solemnize their meetings by jumping like kangaroos, and justify themselves very conclusively from Scripture, because-David danced before the Ark-the daughter of Shiloh danced in the yearly festival of the Lordand the child John, the son of Elizabeth, leapt before it was born! The Methodists, on the other hand, maintain, in its full latitude, the doctrine of the ancient Waldenses and Albigenses, that as many paces as a man makes in dancing, so many leaps he makes towards Hell. Even the amiable Cowper, the poet, suffered his fine mind to be so darkened by bigotry, as to believe that a great proportion of the ladies and gentlemen, whom he saw amusing themselves with dancing at Brighthelmstone, must necessarily be
damned*; and in a religious publication, now before me, I find it stated, that a sudden judgment overtook a person for indulging in this enormity: a large lump started up in his thigh while dancing; but upon his solemn promise not to repeat the offence, the Lord heard his prayer, and removed his complaint†. A writer in the same work, after denouncing those who admit "dancing and other vain amusements into their schools," concludes with an alarming belief, "that this dancing propensity has, in some places, nearly danced the Bible out of the school!" In conformity with these enlightened views, and in defiance of the sacred writer, who expressly declares that there is a time to dance, the Methodists exclude from their communion all those who practise dancing, or teach it to children, while their ministers refuse to administer the Sacrament to all persons guilty of frequenting balls. Let us hope that the increasing good sense of these well-meaning, but misguided ascetics, will speedily get the better of such monkish austerities; that the time may come, when they may feel persuaded that our Heavenly Father can contemplate this innocent recreation of his creatures with as much benignity as a parent beholds the gambols of his children; and that the now gloomy inmates of the Tabernacle may justify the change, by adopting the beautiful sentiment of Addison-" Cheerfulness is the best Hymn to the Deity." I do not despair of seeing a whole
* Hayley's Life, p. 100.
+ Evangelical Magazine, Aug. 1812.
Ibid. June 1808.
brotherhood and sisterhood standing up in pairs for a country-dance, all anxious to make amends for lost time; while he, who is to lead off, claps his yellow gloves in ecstasy, and calls aloud to the band to play up Wesley's Fancy, or the Whitfield Reel.
I abhor that atrocious and impious doctrine, that France and England are natural enemies, as if God Almighty had made us only to cut one another's throats; and yet I must say that I hate the French, and hate them too for one of their most elegant accomplishments-their inexhaustible genius for dancing. With the fertility of their ballet-masters, I have no quarrel: let them attitudinize till they have twisted the human form into as many contortions as Fuseli; let them vary figures and combinations ad infinitum, like the kaleidoscope; let them even appropriate distinct movements to each class of the human and superhuman performers. I admit the propriety of their celebrated pas called the Gargouillade, which, as a French author informs us, is devoted to the entrée of winds, dæmons, and elementary spirits, and of whose mode of execution he gravely proceeds to give an elaborate and scientific description. But why must their vagaries quit their proper arena, the Opera stage, and invade our ball-rooms and assemblies ? They have kicked me out of dancing society full twenty years before my time. The first innovation that condemned me to be a spectator, where I used to be a not undistinguished performer, was the sickening and rotatory Waltz; of which I never saw the object, unless its votaries meant to form a contrast, to