Dancing with Cook

Captain James Cook: a culture of music and dance.

Captain Cook wisely thought that dancing was of special use to sailors.  This famous navigator, wishing to counteract disease on board his vessels as much as possible, took particular care, in calm weather, to make his sailors and marines dance to the sound of a violin, and it was to this practice that he mainly ascribed the sound health which his crew enjoyed during voyages of several years continuance.

The Code of Terpsichore (1830) Carlo Blasis.

2020 will mark the 250th anniversary of the visit of James Cook to Australia.  Commemorations are planned nationwide.

During his lifetime Cook was renowned as a brilliant explorer; after his death he was elevated to the status of mythical hero, and in more recent times, he has been demonized for his treatment of Indigenous people and for introducing Western civilization into the Pacific.  This series presents a hitherto uncharted facet of his life.

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) by Nathaniel Dance. Courtesy of National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom, Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18059

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) by Nathaniel Dance. Courtesy of National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom, Public Domain

A fascinating aspect of Cook’s story concerns the culture of music and dance in which he was immersed, and which celebrated his discoveries and his death. Until now, this has not been examined.

Cook recognised the benefits of dance, using it to good effect as the leader of extensive voyages in the Pacific. Not only did he encourage his crew to dance for their good health, but he used music and dance  in cultural exchanges as he visited new lands.

The voyages, people, and places Cook visited were portrayed in the popular culture of the day, and even his death was commemorated in dance.

Leading up to the anniversary, be sure to check these captivating stories as they become available.  All the posts have a recording of the tune, and a CD will be available in late April.

Early life in Yorkshire

Boscawen’s Frolick

Nova Scotia

Family life at Mile End

Lord Morton’s hints

The South Sea

Transit of Venus

Island of Love

Dancing for sailors

Dance as cultural exchange

Polynesian Dance

A Trip to Tahiti

Omai, the Tahitian celebrity
Omai, 0r, a trip round the world, a pantomime

The Death of Captain Cook
Drama on the European stage
Grand Equestrian Dramatic Spectacle
In Dublin 1789
Edinburgh 1790
Ricketts Circus, USA

A Lament for Cook

Captain Cook’s Country Dance


Dance Resources for Primary Teachers – available May 2020

Captain Cook’s Country Dance – book & CD – available April 2020

HMS Resolution and Discovery in Tahiti By John Cleveley the Younger - http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/16210/lot/1/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19961903

Cook used music and dance in his interactions with people throughout the Pacific. HMS Resolution and Discovery in Tahiti, by John Cleveley the Younger.

Header credits:
1. Portrait of Captain Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland [Public domain] 2. A jig on board by Cruikshank. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University
3. View of the South Seas by John Cleveley the Younger [Public domain]

Acknowledgement of Country.

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the Country on which we live and work, and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge the impact colonialism has had on Aboriginal Country and Aboriginal peoples and that this impact continues to be felt today.


The information on this website www.colonialdance.com.au may be copied for personal use only, and must be acknowledged as from this website. It may not be reproduced for publication without prior permission from Dr Heather Blasdale Clarke.