McCormack, M. (2010) Dance and drill: polite accomplishments and military masculinities in Georgian Britain. Paper presented to: British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Annual Conference, St Hugh's College, University of Oxford, 05-07 January 2010.
Many commentators have noted the similarities between dance and military drill. For William MacNeill, the sensation of ‘keeping together in time’ plays a crucial role in human evolutionary biology; for Norbert Elias, corporeal cultivation is part of the civilizing process; for Michel Foucault, dance and drill are techniques of modern disciplinary power. Their aesthetics, techniques and prescriptive literatures bear particularly striking similarities in the eighteenth century. In the age of the minuet and the manual exercise, however, the connections between dance and drill went further than mere analogy. In this paper I will argue that dance was held in high esteem by military thinkers, trainers and soldiers alike. As well as having a prominent place in the social and ceremonial life of the military, dance was regarded as a means to foster the boldily health, graceful deportment, supple agility and synchronicity of movement that was so prided on the battlefield. Aspiring officers were instructed by dancing masters in military academies and on the grand tour, and arguably even the rank and file had access to physical techniques that gave them the bearing of the polite gentleman. Dance and drill therefore had complex implications for social statuses and gender identities, at a time when the masculinity of the soldier was precariously balanced between luxurious effeminacy and martial manliness