The ongoing trend for celebrities in all ages is to have their great moment of fame and then to be cruelly forgotten, only leaving traces of their celebrity through time. Such is the case of Nancy Dawson. Googling the name today will deliver songs, and dances and nursery rhymes such as this one:
- Nancy Dawson was so fine
- She wouldn't get up to serve the swine;
- She lies in bed till eight or nine,
- So it's Oh, poor Nancy Dawson.
- And do ye ken* Nancy Dawson, honey?
- The wife who sells the barley, honey?
- She won't get up to feed her swine,
- And do ye ken Nancy Dawson, honey?
Nancy was born around 1728 into a poor situation in life but had aspirations for the stage. She turned to prostitution for survival and then took up with a traveling puppet company where she learned to dance. Her natural ability for dance opened up the opportunity to play Columbine, the ballerina in Commedia Dell'Arte and brought Nancy some recognition. Nancy continued to take different dancing jobs, performing at various coffee houses in Covent Garden. She was quite the go-go girl of her time. Her dancing caught the attention of Ned Shuter, a renown comedian and became his mistress. The relationship opened up more theater opportunities for Nancy.
Nancy was now comfortably situated in Covent Garden taking small acting parts here and there but her big break came in 1759. In the wildly successful The Beggar's Opera the dancer who would dance to horn pipes in the play was ill and an understudy was needed immediately. Nancy was given the role and when she pranced onto the stage she brought the house down. She became such a sensation that she was hired to perform her horn-pipe dances in between the acts of the play.
- All the girls in our town,
- black the fair the red the brown,
- Who dance and prance it up and down,
- There's none like Nancy Dawson!
- Her easy mien her step so neat,
- She foots she trips she looks so sweet,
- Her every motion is complete,
- I die for Nancy Dawson
Capitalizing on Nancy's fame were two books which may or may not have been published by her or with her permission; Genuine Memoirs and the appropriately titled, Nancy Dawson's Jests. Although far from a pure woman, Nancy seemed to have a good sense of humor, a tenacity, and a very fine talent which is what truly made her famous. After taking a few more rolls as Columbine Nancy retired to a comfortable house in Hampstead where she died in 1767.
*"Ken" is Scottish slang, still used today, meaning "know"