What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“DANCING and FENCING.”
Elite and middling colonists consider personal comportment an important aspect of demonstrating their gentility to anyone who happened to observe them, most especially their peers. Comportment consisted of practicing proper manners, dressing appropriately and according to current fashions, and engaging in social rituals (such as drinking tea or dancing) with ease. Much of this could be learned through informal instruction within the household or carefully watching and then putting into practice the comportment of others, especially those generally acknowledged for combining good character and grace. Other aspects could be learned through reading newspapers and magazines and, increasingly throughout the eighteenth century, various sorts of instructional manuals or guides to good etiquette.
A few aspects of genteel comportment, however, required (or at least greatly benefited from) formal instruction by experts. Such was the case with dancing and fencing, two endeavors taught by Mr. Pike in Charleston, South Carolina, for nearly a decade in the late 1760s and early 1770s before he took up residence in Philadelphia and advertised his services there. (In advertisements that appeared in both cities, he was known only as “Mr. Pike,” the absence of a first name perhaps lending authority and cachet to the dancing master.)
Pike announced that his dancing school would open “for the ensuing Season” within the next couple of days. He encouraged all sorts of “scholars” (many of them presumably women and youth of both sexes) to attend his daytime lessons, but he also offered evening lessons for “grown Gentlemen” who needed to brush up on their skills or learn the steps that had most recently come into fashion. At a separate time, early mornings, he also taught “the Use of the SMALL-SWORD.” Fencing certainly would have been a pastime adopted by the select few with sufficient leisure times to pursue it.
Pike concluded his advertisement by announcing that the “BALL for his young Ladies and Gentlemen, will be the second Week in December.” In so doing, he encouraged potential students to envision their dancing abilities – and their ability to make an impression on others – after taking his lessons. Hosting a ball also had the potential to be good for business, putting Pike’s students on display and demonstrating the quality of his instruction. Like any other sort of recital, it also implicitly incorporated elements of competition that might prompt clients to continue to engage his services.