Although there is no record of Washington studying with a dance teacher, and rumors suggest that he was self-taught, the first U.S. President was widely known as a superb dancer.
One anecdote has Washington performing a minuet before French officers who admitted that his dancing could not be improved by any Parisian instructor. Washington’s dancing of a minuet in 1779 with Henry Knox’s wife Lucy inspired the following tribute from The Pennsylvania packet:
“The ball was opened by his Excellency the General. When this man unbends from his station, and its weighty functions, he is even then like a philosopher, who mixes with the amusements of the world, that he may teach it what is right, or turn trifles into instruction.”
This according to George Washington: A biography in social dance by Kate Van Winkle Keller (Sandy Hook: Hendrickson Group, 1998). Today is Washington’s 280th birthday! Below, a minuet of the type that he would have danced.
Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffener Tanztmeister, oder Gründliche Erklärung der frantzösischen Tantz-Kunst (Leipzig: Erben, 1717) is an encyclopedic—even cosmological—work on early eighteenth-century dance, and the minuet is at the center of its universe.
Providing what is probably the most complete and accurate description of the dance of all time, Taubert discusses the minuet step, its cadence, its principal and collateral figures, the giving of hands, and the cavalier’s conduct of his hat, ending with a full description—both in words and in five notated choreographic figures—of a complete minuet ordinaire. Throughout, his information is based on French authority and follows the central French tradition; it is not a provincial German account.
This according to “The minuet according to Taubert” by Tilden A. Russell (Dance research XXIV/2 [winter 2006] pp. 138–162). Below, a brief demonstration that includes the cavalier’s conduct of his hat.
Related post: Mr. Isaac and the Union