Dancing out of Line transports readers back to the 1840s, when the craze for social and stage dancing forced Victorians into a complex relationship with the moving body in its most voluble, volatile form.
By partnering cultural discourses with representations of the dance and the dancer in novels such as Jane Eyre, Bleak House, and Daniel Deronda, Molly Engelhardt makes explicit many of the ironies underlying Victorian practices that up to this time have gone unnoticed in critical circles. She analyzes the role of the illustrious dance master, who created and disseminated the manners and moves expected of fashionable society, despite his position as a social outsider of nebulous origins. She describes how the daughters of the social elite were expected to “come out” to society in the ballroom, the most potent space in the cultural imagination for licentious behavior and temptation. These incongruities generated new, progressive ideas about the body, subjectivity, sexuality, and health.
Engelhardt challenges our assumptions about Victorian sensibilities and attitudes toward the sexual/social roles of men and women by bringing together historical voices from various fields to demonstrate the versatility of the dance, not only as a social practice but also as a forum for Victorians to engage in debate about the body and its pleasures and pathologies.