Youngest son of George Dance, sen. He set off for Italy in 1758, met up with his brother Nathaniel (1735–1811) in Florence, and arrived in Rome in 1759, where he acquired his skills as a draughtsman and absorbed the essentials of the new Neo-Classicism, returning to England in 1764. His first commission was All Hallows Church, London Wall (1765–7), an advanced Neo-Classical building with a barrel-vaulted interior and a bare exterior that perhaps shows influences of Laugier and other French writers. In 1768 he succeeded his father as Clerk of the Works, and designed the outstandingly fine Newgate Gaol (1768–85— demolished 1902), a powerful and Sublime composition with massive windowless rusticated walls based on precedents by Palladio and Giulio Romano, and certain elements reminiscent of Piranesi's imaginary prisons. It was one of the few works of architecture by an Englishman to be illustrated in Durand's Recueil et parallèle des édifices (1799), and was architecture expressive of its purpose (architecture parlante), in this case retribution. Dance effected various town-planning improvements that altered many of the medieval street-plans of London, and, with Sir Robert Taylor, drafted the Building Act (1774), which had a profound effect on the character of the London street-façade for the subsequent seven decades by setting down the thickness of front walls and ensuring no timbers such as sash-frames were exposed but set back behind the brickwork. He remodelled part of the Mansion House, roofing over the cortile, removing the grand staircase, lowering the roof of the Egyptian Hall and erecting a coffered ceiling (1795–6). In 1788–9 he rebuilt the south façade of Guildhall in a Hindoo Gothic style with Greek detailing, later to be lampooned by A. W. N. Pugin. His most distinguished pupil was Soane, some of whose work was influenced by Dance's designs (e.g. the low dome of the Council Chamber at Guildhall (1737–8—demolished 1908) ). Some of Dance's work anticipated the Greek Revival, e.g. the severe portico at Stratton Park, Hants. (1803–6), and the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London (1806–13), where the portico is all that survives the rebuilding by Barry, who fluted the columns (1835–7).
Colvin (1995);Geffrye Museum (1972);Jeffery (1993);Pugin (1973);Stroud (1971);Summerson (ed.) (1963)