If he hadn't excelled at dance, George Washington might have been known merely as an accomplished dodger of musket balls. Like everything, though, he took his performance on the dance floor seriously, once referring warmly to dance as "the gentler conflict."
By Philip G. Smucker
Virginians of all ages brought their competitive spirits to the ballroom, and in scenes that would have amused the modem creators of "Dancing with the Stars," attendees and participants delighted themselves with the fine dancing as much as with the fun of watching others slip up, or otherwise entirely embarrass themselves on the floor.
As did their English cousins, Virginians preferred the playful steps of a French minuet set to Handel over - say - a battle in the woods with the natives. Many would have chuckled knowingly at Shakespeare's lines in King Henry VI, when Burgundy says, "I see our wars will tum unto peaceful comic sport when ladies crave to be encountered with." Most gentlemen of George Washington's era, while aspiring to glory on the battlefield, still preferred love over war - or at least a chance to dance with a lovely lady.
George Washington likely first acquired his dancing skills at his half-brother Lawrence's Mount Vernon estate, as well as with the Fairfax family at Belvoir Manor while in his teens.
By the age of 19, however, it appears that George was dancing regularly, notably on a trip to Barbados with his half-brother, Lawrence, who wrote to his father-in-law Colonel William Fairfax from the islands that "we have no kind of bodily diversions but dancing."
Washington's Journey to Barbados
Dexterity on the dance floor maintained social status, and also allowed for proper courtship. Dance represented an elaborate world of non-verbal signs, a system of gestures, starting with curtsy and bow, which derived from an ancient sometimes forgotten European court life. For George Washington and others, dance was refined flirtation -- a means for Virginia's men to express their adoration and interest in ornately attired women - the loveliest of Southern Belles.