What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Young Ladies and Gentlemen instructed in DANCING.”
An advertisement for “DANCING and FENCING” lessons in the September 15, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal alerted readers that “PIKE’s ACADEMY, for FENCING and DANCING” would soon offer a new “Season” of classes. Pike was probably already familiar to many prospective pupils, having offered instruction in Charleston for several years. He attempted to generate interest even among those who had already taken lessons with him by inviting students to his “NEW SUIT of ROOMS” on Church Street.
A significant portion of the advertisement consisted of the schedule. Pike devoted early mornings, “Five o’Clock to Nine,” to fencing lessons. He taught dancing to “Young Ladies and Gentlemen” in the afternoons on Thursdays and Saturdays in addition to his “EVENING SCHOOL, every Evening in the Week, from Six o’Clock to Nine.” That left “four Afternoons at Liberty every Week” for Pike to venture beyond his academy to provide private lessons to students “at their own Houses.” That may have been the preferred option for those who felt anxious about appearing anything other than graceful and genteel in front of observers.
Yet dancing was an activity meant to be undertaken in public, at least eventually. Colonizers asserted their status and took great pride in being skillful dancers. Smoothly completing complex steps testified to their refinement, while awkwardness or stumbling undermined impressions of politeness and sophistication they demonstrated in other aspects of their comportment and dress. Understanding the stakes, Pike scheduled an exhibition ball for early December and encouraged the “Parents and Guardians of his Scholars” to enroll them in lessons “as soon as possible.” The teacher and his pupils needed sufficient time “to complete his Figures in a proper Manner” during their lessons so the young ladies and gentlemen could showcase their skills in front of observers at the ball. Other dancing masters also raised the specter of public embarrassment in their advertisements, encouraging prospective students and their parents to enroll in lessons in order to withstand public scrutiny. By stoking anxiety, they aimed to motivate colonizers to engage their services.