Shall We Dance?
Three Centuries of Dance in America
Dancing has long formed a vital and dynamic part of American culture. From the processional dances of the 1700s, to the romantic ones of the 1800s, to the freedom expressed in dances of the 1900s, dancing has continually changed to reflect evolving attitudes and behaviors. Additionally, dance has always encompassed a diversity of styles with steps endlessly combined in new combinations. Endless, too, are the reasons for dancing – to show proper comportment and accomplishment, to celebrate cultural traditions and pride, to express joy, and to romance partners, to name a few. By bringing people together to socialize and celebrate, dance will always remain part of our lives.
Exact origins of many dances are difficult to identify as they quickly spread and were refined. In the 1700s, French and English settlers brought their traditional dances to the American colonies. The same was true in the 1800s and 1900s, when immigrants from throughout the world arrived with their own native dances. As America has grown, so, too, has our country’s contribution to the world of dance through the creation of original forms and styles. Today, dance is constantly invigorated by exposure to diverse cultures and music.
Based on an exhibition originally on display in the Winterthur Galleries from September 2006 to February 2007 curated by librarian Jeanne Solensky, this online exhibit offers new thematic interpretations supplemented with additional items. It traces the history of social dance in America from the early 1700s into the 1900s through the use of prints and drawings, dance and etiquette manuals, dance tickets and cards, invitations, sheet music, photographs, paper dolls, and clothing accessories from both the library and museum collections.