Thomas Jefferson and Dance

Posted in: Jefferson Today, Research, Thomas Jefferson

Music in the Parlor, detail from illustration by Gail McIntosh

Dancing, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “is a healthy exercise, elegant and very attractive for young people.”

Dance is an aspect of Jefferson's legacy that we honestly had not considered in detail before.  The recent events involving the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC provided an opportunity for the Washington Post's dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, to reflect on how Thomas Jefferson--especially through the Louisiana Purchase--contributed to the history of American dance.

Read Kaufman's piece in the Washington Post »

 

 

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says

...the Rotunda shall be used for....Dancing

1825 September 1. (Jefferson to Louis Xaupe) "An application from young gentlemen of the University for the appropriation of a room wherein they might receive instruction in the use of the small sword having led me to the consideration of that subject previously to the receipt of your letter of yesterday, I inclose you my answer to them, which I pray you to receive as equally an answer to yourself. The other part of your request, for the use of a room for instructing them in the art of dancing, stands on more favorable ground. It's object is the embellishment, and not the destruction, of the lives of our young citizens, and the Visitors seem to have provided for it in the statute which enacts that one of the elliptical rooms on the middle floor of the Rotunda shall be used for 'schools of instruction in drawing, music, or any other of the innocent and ornamental accomplishments of life.' Dancing is generally, and justly I think, considered among innocent accomplishments; while we cannot so consider the art of stabbing and pistolling our friends, or dexterity in the practice of an instrument exclusively used for killing our fellow-citizens only and never against the public enemy."[19]
Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mtj/mtj1/055/0500/0503.jpg.

says

That last sentence is so great. :)

says

Cool article! Thinking of New Orleans of course made me think of jazz, and blues dancing -- being one of my favorite activities right now -- immediately came to mind. I never considered that European ballroom dances and ballet were danced and performed there a century earlier!

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