IN classing this elegant accomplishment with the fine arts, we adopt the distinction made by the in genious author of a work entitled The Fine Arts reduced to a Principle. He divides the arts in general into three kinds, with a view to their different ends. The first, he observes, have for their object the necessities of man, whom Mature seems to leave to himself as soon as she has performed the office of ushering him Into the world. Exposed as he is to cold, hunger, and a numberless train of ills, the remedies and preservatives of which he stands in need, seem ordained to be the price of his own labor and industry. This gave rise to the Mechanical Arts.
The next have pleasure for their object. These sprung wholly from the bosom of joy, and owe their existence to sentiments produced by ease and affluence. They are called, by way of eminence, the Fine Arts such as Poetry, Painting, Sculpture, Music, and Dancing.
The third kind are those which are subservient to both usefulness and pleasure: Architecture, for example, and Eloquence. Necessity first produced them, and taste has given them the stamp of perfection. They hold a sort of middle rank between the two other kinds, and may be said to share their utility and delight.
Dancing is, of all the fine arts, that which seems peculiarly devoted to cheerfulness and joy. It is the lively expression of these emotions by gestures and attitudes. It seems to have nothing but pleasure in view, yet, like music, its sweet accompaniment, it tends to refine the manners; and to give health, activity, and vigor, as well as graceful ease and elegance to the human frame. People are too apt to look upon Dancing as merely a pleasant recreation, and seldom think of any important end which it can answer. A few lines, therefore, may not be misemployed in illustrating this point.
Few persons are ignorant of the good effects of exercise in preserving or restoring health. But of all active exercises, dancing is undoubtedly to be preferred. The best medical writers seem only afraid of recommending it with too much earnestness, lest the pleasure it affords may often lead to excess. When kept within the bounds of moderation, it gives salutary play to the organs of life: every muscle is in motion; the lungs are expanded; the stomach is strengthened; obstructions are prevented or resolved; the circulation of the blood and the performance of all the necessary secretions are most desirably facilitated.
Let us next consider its happy influence on the mind. The usual cheerfulness of well-bred company, the sprightly dispositions which draw young people together on festive occasions, and the charms of music, give a spring to the spirits, and dispel vapors, melancholy, and every sickness of the heart. Thus we find that this agreeable amusement contributes as much to health, both of mind and body, as to outward grace, well-bred demeanor, and to a becoming, yet modest assurance, not only in public assemblies, but in the circles of private intercourse.
The lovers of dancing, like those of music, are ever fond of variety; and, indeed, to give a true zest and to keep up the interest created by each, variety is and ever will be essential.
As authors generally are disposed to entertain a very elevated opinion of the subject on which they discourse, our readers should not be surprised that we regard the art of Dancing not only as an agreeable and elegant pastime, but as one of the most efficient as well as delightful means of civilization. So long as dancing is cultivated, civilization progresses ; but no sooner is the interdict issued against this elegant accomplishment and social amusement, than the people who had been refined and polished by its Inspiration, relapse into barbarism, or give place to others more spirited than themselves.
In every period of life, the art of dancing facilitates the acquisition of ease and elegance in personal deportment, but especially when acquired in early life. They who have learned to dance in childhood are ever distinguishable in manner from those who have not learned. They enter a room and retire therefrom, or pace an apartment, with ease and dignity of carriage. Graceful movement has become a second nature by early training and continued practice.
Nature alone will not teach good manners. Art is Nature's younger sister, and comes in to finish what Nature begins. Each has her beauties, each her imperfections; and they correct each other. Guided solely by Nature, we are awkward by Art, we become formal, cold, and deceitful.
Books alone are not sufficient to teach our art. Personal instruction and discipline are indispensable. A few lessons sometimes suffice for those gifted with a delicate sensibility and quickness of apprehension. But a living model, a severe and friendly criticism are necessary to render books of etiquette available even to those who are naturally elegant.
Dancing, says a recent author, has been employed by all nations in all ages, to exhilarate the mind, and to give expression to the consciousness of abounding health, which there is no doubt it contributes to maintain. It has the advantage over most other exercises, in being social. Being accompanied by music, both the mental and muscular powers of all those engaged in it are united in executing the same movements, which are consequently effected without much exertion of the will; so that it secures a large amount of exercise with but trifling fatigue. It harmonizes with the general plan of the organic movements of the body; and should be cultivated in every family as an antidote to the effects of toil and weariness.
We need not enter into a defence of dancing. This the wisest and best men have done, who, discriminating between its use and abuse have delivered it from its isolated position as the only one of the liberal arts which had been discountenanced, because, for sooth, it was sometimes carried to excess. Solomon, the wise man, says that there are times for all good things, and adds, that there is a time also to dance.
The benefits of dancing are manifest, and as numerous as they are indisputable. Movements in measured time and graceful evolutions to the sound of music are as natural as music itself; and are a part, in fact, of the nature implanted by the All-wise and Beneficent Architect of the universe.A Complete Practical Guide To The Art Of Dancing, by Thomas Hillgrove, 1863. [As written]
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