This book contains information on different aspects of dance. It opens with a history of dance and goes on to consider some of the benefits of dancing (pp. 20–22). George Chivers quotes several famous people who held favourable views on dancing, including the philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) and Dr James Fordyce, a clergyman whose conduct manual Sermons to Young Women (1766) was extremely popular in the late 18th century. Chivers quotes these men partly in contradiction of the view, held by some branches of Evangelical Christianity, that dancing (unless as part of worship) was frivolous and immodest, even immoral.
Later chapters of The Modern Dancing Master set out how dancers should stand and move (pp. 23–25) and the etiquette of the ballroom (p. 35).The rest of the book consists of sections explaining different kinds of dances, such as country dances, quadrilles and Spanish dances, and the steps featured in those dances. The book includes sheet music, showing readers the kind of music that would have accompanied the featured dances.
Jane Austen and the characters in her novels would mostly have danced country dances, or Contre Danses, as George Chivers calls them (pp. 41–43), as well as cotillons. Country dancing was popular throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th century. In the early 19th century, the waltz and quadrille became fashionable, and would have been danced alongside the older dances.