Hillary Burlock - Masculinity and Femininity: Gender Politics and Late Georgian Election Balls

Eighteenth-century elections, rife with ritual and corruption, were not only responsible for electing MPs, but for developing civic identity. While elections were triggered by parliament, they were inherently local, reaffirming the networks of dependence and interdependence within each town or county. Political rivalries made elections contentious affairs, punctuated by street fights and protests. Against the backdrop of the American and French Revolutions, when concerns of democracy, representation, and governance were hotly debated in parliament and pamphlets, politicians were aware of the importance of pacifying the local populace to retain control in a period of upheaval and crisis. Juxtaposed with the boisterous, bustling streets of electoral politics, election balls served as a conduit for issues of patronage and networking to be negotiated within an alternate, refined setting. These events were used by elite families to maintain their political influence; and by candidates to craft their public personas, gauge a constituency’s interest, and consolidate their support post-election. Networks of patronage and ties of obligation defined the relationships forged and renewed during eighteenth-century elections. The ballroom was a political arena in which candidates needed to demonstrate their prowess through minuets and country dances, wooing the constituency. Acknowledging the influence of women in the domestic sphere and in the ballroom, election balls were used to court their favour to win votes. Using family papers, newspapers, literature, caricatures, and dance manuals, my paper demonstrates that dance was an important means of maintaining and renewing citizenship in Georgian Britain.

This workshop is designed for dancers who have basic experience in English Country Dancing. We will be exploring the figures and footwork, including skip changes, jeté assemblés and sissonne ballottés,  from Nathaniel Gow’s 1817 quadrilles. These dances were recreated by Stuart Marsden and Talitha MacKenzie in 2017 for the 200th anniversary of the publication and performance of these quadrilles at Edinburgh’s glittering Assembly Rooms.

Hillary Burlock completed her Masters degree in British and European History at Oxford University in 2017, writing her dissertation on the intersection of social dance and the electoral process in Georgian Britain. She is currently working as an Education Interpreter at Black Creek Pioneer Village and as a research assistant for Dr. John Allison. In her spare time, Hillary is in the process of creating a Georgian cookbook and dances with the York Regency Dancers at Fort York.