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I thought it was to hide from people that she was learning sword fighting, but whenever she refers to her teacher as dancing master people tend to understand it was her fencing teacher — for example, when she discusses it with Jaqen H'gar.

Are fencing teachers commonly referred to as dancing masters?

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    I personally considered it as a gender thing. Females aren't allowed to learn sword mastery. I haven't read the books nor do I know anything specific/confirmable. Meaning all I can is comment. – DoStuffZ Jan 7 '14 at 7:42
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    Given the amount of advantage gained by controlled movement of the feet and legs, the term 'dancing master' seems not at all odd to me. (Note: I am not a trained swordsman, I cannot dance to save my life, & I have not watched GoT.) – Andrew Thompson Jan 7 '14 at 8:46
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    @AndrewThompson yup dancing master suits for someone who is teaching swordsmanship – HBhatia Jan 7 '14 at 9:06
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    I got the impression that this was certainly an idiom used everywhere, and not a falsehood to conceal fighting lessons. – John O Jan 7 '14 at 16:53
33

Although swordplay is sometimes referred to as dancing, the term was also deliberately used to deceive others as to the nature of Arya's training.

As Ned Stark first confronts Arya with Needle in hand, he muses (from the book)

"Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it"

implying that it was not conventional for women of Westeros to learn sword fighting.

When Arya first meets the bravo Syrio, he states (from the book)

"You are late, boy"

further reinforcing the notion that girls are not taught to use weapons.

Syrio then explains the water dance (from the book)

"Remember, child, this is not the iron dance of Westeros we are learning, the knight's dance, hacking and hammering, no. This is the bravo's dance, the water dance, swift and sudden."

Later, here's the exchange between Sansa and Arya (from the book)

"How was your dancing?" "I'm sore all over," Arya reported happily, proudly displaying a huge purple bruise on her leg. "You must be a terrible dancer," Sansa said doubtfully.

implying that Sansa has no clue as to the actual nature of the "dancing lessons"

When Ned starts doubting Syrio's effectiveness and suggests alternate teachers, he again reinforces the notion that these lessons are "on the sly" by suggesting (from the book)

"Or I might have a quiet word with Ser Barristan."

As for why Jaqen H'gar understands, that's self explanatory when you know that he is also a bravo so one can assume he would be familiar with water dancing as a fighting form and the reference to it as "dancing".

  • Wow thanks for the descriptive answer. This explains it. – HBhatia Jan 10 '14 at 5:10
19

Her father said he was a dancing instructor to hide what he was doing and who he was (he may have hired him as a bodyguard as well as an instructor, but there’s no real evidence aside from the fact that he protected Arya).

The teacher was teaching her to "Water Dance" I believe was the phrase, which I interpret as the name of a fighting technique.

  • Even I feel it was to hide his identity but I got confused when Arya refers to him as dancing master while talking to Jaqen. Was it just because she was used to of calling him dancing master? I don't think Arya was trying to hide anything from Jaqen H'gar – HBhatia Jan 7 '14 at 9:02
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    He was a dancing instructor Arya just fails to specify the type of dancing – severa Jan 7 '14 at 11:19
  • Sword fighting being referred to as dancing occurs in many multiple scifi/fantasy books. – JohnP Jan 7 '14 at 14:57
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    I do not believe it is ever mentioned in the books that Ned Stark tried to hide what Syrio was teaching Arya. It was merely said that Arya took "dancing lessons", which might as well be Arya's choice of words. Something that is curious, however, is that Ned Stark said that Syrio came "highly recommended", and then one has to wonder whose word Ned Stark trusted so much. – TLP Jan 7 '14 at 20:33
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I am a sword fighting instructor and have trained several dancers over the years. They generally make good fighters quite quickly, ballet dancers are especially good. The Spartan saying was that 'a warrior who could not dance was awkward in peace and in war' so there is a fair history of this being observed :-)

Originally he was called a dancing master to conceal what was actually happening. Sansa was horrified when Arya showed he some bruises she had got 'dancing' at dinner once. The fact that it was a dance, a water dance fighting style also meant that Stark did not have to actually lie to anyone.

I think that Arya called him dancing master out of habit. Jaqen H'gar probably knew exactly what she meant as he seems extremely astute and could deduce by context (although I do not know the exact quote you are referring to so I cannot be sure).

  • +1 for the real-world observation of the synergy between dancing and fighting. – arp Jan 24 at 4:22
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Mostly because you don't hire sword fighting instructors to train young proper ladies of nobility. When he was hired, they disguised what they were doing by claiming to others that he was her dance instructor. He talked about the art of swordplay as a dance, etc, but it was, mostly, at first, about keeping it on the down-low.

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