Monday, 23 November 2015

Medical Endorsement for Dancing

In the preface to his book "An Analysis of Country Dancing," published in 1808, the London dancing master Thomas Wilson as part of his panegyric on the merits of dancing says " We have too in modern times the authority of the great Buchan, who particularly recommends Dancing and Riding as highly conducive to preserve a healthy constitution."

The Buchan Wilson refers to was the Scottish physician William Buchan. Since 1769 he had been publishing regular editions of his book "Domestic Medicine," an early example of a medical self-help book. It was a huge best seller and a new edition had been published two years before in 1806.

Buchan placed a great emphasis on exercise as a way of preventing disease.

Wilson somewhat exaggerates Buchan's endorsement of dancing as a means of achieving this. Buchan is clear that he favours exercise taken in the open air and particularly riding which he suggests should be done for three hours a day or a similar amount of walking. He even gives a plug to golf and cricket.

However, Buchan does say that if outdoor exercise is not available then "various methods may be contrived for exercising the body within doors, as the dumbbell, dancing, fencing, &c"

The popularity of Buchan's books and his regime may have had another impact on the crowded assembly rooms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Buchan saw cleanliness and frequent change of clothing as necessary for good health. As he says "The want of cleanliness is a fault which admits of no excuse."

William Buchan (1729 - 1805)

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