WRD104: Composition & Rhetoric II Rotating Header Image

“Mute rhetoric”

“Among Catholics, however, there was one group that did believe in dancers and dancing: the Jesuits.

“Known for their Counter-Reformation zeal and desire to employ the arts to save souls, the Jesuits saw ballets and spectacle as a way to attract and inspire believers, and it is no accident that many of the most impassioned treatises on ballet were written by Jesuit fathers.

Degas / Blue Dancers

“At Jesuit schools, students (many of them future courtiers) were taught oration and the ‘mute rhetoric’ of dance, gesture, and declamation. They learned to carry themselves with a firm, upright posture with the head just so, not thrust back or hanging dog-like to the front, not too high (proud) or too low (disrespectful). The hands were to be help by the side, slightly in front of the body, and the arms poised, never swinging to the gait of a step or lifted above the shoulders. Good orators, they were told, should have well-proportioned bodies (no short necks–too comic) and strive to hone their gestures to match those of kings and princes of the Church, whose numinous bodies shone with divine light. … The ballets were written and designed by professors of rhetoric and were meant to persuade. Working in conjunction with ballet masters, these professors created elaborate and richly decorated productions with up-to-date stage effects.”

From: Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet (p. 32)