toward an Athenian model adopted ideals of the city-state in relationship to commerce and higher learning, it was Boston's upper-class women who would return to images of ancient Greece as they redefined their relationship to their own bodies and minds. As the women's movement swept through the city in the nineteenth century, it cleared a path for physical culture and greater expressive freedom that eventually awakened interest in the fledgling art of expressive dance.
The dancing master was already present in nineteenth-century Boston and had earned his place within the upper classes, but his presence was not without controversy. Boston's Puritan inception continued to play a role in questions regarding the body, particularly questions concerning pleasure. The Puritans' conviction in the Calvinist ideals of predestination and a harsh and judgmental deity left them opposed to any sort of leisurely activity that might distract from one's calling in life. Dance was of particular suspicion because of its association with the body and the possibility of the pleasures of physical activity encouraging sexual desire. Although the Puritans condemned dance in general, it was considered acceptable in the privacy of an individual's home. Because of traditions associated with their English roots, the Puritans recognized dance as a means of teaching manners and discipline. Ministers such as Cotton Mather felt the need to speak out against mixed dancing, but, as author Ann Wagner pointed out, his stance was defensive, implying that public opinion was not wholly on his side.2 The Puritans felt that if children were taught dancing, it should be in same-sex groupings and conducted by a dancing master of “grave” disposition.
Although these antidance sentiments, directed particularly at balls where mixed-sex dancing was common, continued throughout the nineteenth century, Boston's upper-class citizens adopted dance as an important component of social grace and an indicator of good breeding. This generation was less susceptible to images of a wrathful God, and Unitarian ministers began replacing Congregationalists with a more humanistic approach to religion. As scientific theories explained many of the natural disasters previously attributed to a harsh, unforgiving God, humanism and intellectualism rose among Boston's upper classes.