What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“PETER VIANY. CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing.”
Peter Vianey taught dancing and fencing in New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s. To attract students, he periodically placed newspaper advertisements in the New-York Journal. His advertisements often appeared in September in advance of a new season of lessons to commence at his “public Dancing School” in October, though he placed notices on other occasions as well. For prospective pupils who desired more personalized attention (or who were anxious about others potentially seeing them in awkward positions as they worked to master the steps), he also taught “Ladies and Gentleman in private either at his School or at their own Houses.”
Vianey inserted a relatively short advertisement into the September 6, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. His statement that he “CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing” suggests that he expected that many residents of New York were already familiar with his services. It was a very different tone than he took two years earlier when his advertisement included a short introduction and three additional paragraphs. The first announced the opening of his school in October, described the dances he taught, listed his fees, and offered private lessons. The second emphasized the quality of instruction. Vianey proclaimed that he taught “in the Style of the best Masters in Europe.” His methods were so effective that the results were already “discoverable in his Scholars” even though “none of them have yet had Time to be perfected in their Minuets.” It was the final paragraph, however, that was the most important. In it, Vianey addressed gossip and a case of mistaken identity. “Having been informed,” he stated, “that he has been mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago, he takes Liberty to inform those who are acquainted with him, that he never was in this Country, till the Year 1764.” He further asserted that “all who know him” could “testify that his Conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.” Vianey sought to manage his reputation in the wake of reports that confused him with another dancing master. Given that teaching dancing often required being in close physical proximity with his students, even touching them as they danced together and he demonstrated the steps, Vianey needed to establish that he was beyond reproach in order to protect his livelihood.
Apparently, Vianey successfully rehabilitated his reputation after placing his advertisement in 1768. In subsequent advertisements, including the one placed in advance of a new season of lessons starting in October 1770, he did not mention further difficulties, nor was it in his interest to remind readers of gossip he wished to put behind him. That he continued to reside in New York, offer lessons, and place advertisements testified to his success in overcoming the gossip and suspicions directed at him.