Guest Post: Oxford Dance Symposium, 15 and 16 April 2014

Jennifer Thorp, an organizer of the 16th Annual Oxford Dance Symposium, summarizes the very successful event below.

 ‘The dancer in celebrity culture in the long-eighteenth century:  reputations, images, portraits’

The 16th Annual Oxford Dance Symposium, held in association with the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson College on 15 & 16 April 2014, took as its subject dancer celebrity in all its forms: portraits, patronage, the nature of fame, and the practice and philosophy of dancing during the long-eighteenth century.

This well-attended and very successful two-day symposium attracted speakers and delegates from the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United States, and Australia. We were privileged to welcome as our keynote speaker Dr Shearer West, of the Humanities Division of the University of Oxford, who gave a superb introduction to the programme by her paper on Portraiture and the birth of celebrity on the eighteenth-century stage. A wide range of papers from subsequent speakers included such topics as the role of the spectator, signification and the dancing body, print culture, portraiture and iconography of celebrity dancers (including studies of several new discoveries), patronage and performance, ballets at court, in the Jesuit colleges and on the commercial stage.  Studies of specific dance celebrities took us from the mid-seventeenth to the early-nineteenth centuries, in the dancing careers of James, Duke of York (the future King James II), Hester Santlow, Nancy Dawson, Giovanna Baccelli, Jean-Georges Noverre, Salvatore Vigano, and Marie Taglioni; and the symposium ended with a lively trio of papers on dance and showmanship in London during the 1780s, in the form of John Astley the equestrian dancer, the tumbler Carlo Delpini (see illustration), and the links between ballet, balloonmania and celebrity.

It was a great pleasure to return again to Wolfson College for the symposium, and to work again in association with the Oxford Centre for Life Writing. Yet again we were all most impressed by the efficiency and friendliness of all the Wolfson College staff, both before and during the event, and the excellent service they provided to ensure the success of the symposium.

For more details of the annual Oxford Dance Symposium, see


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