What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PIKE’s ANNUAL BALL.”
The December 1, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal carried an advertisement that proclaimed “BALL” in a larger font than anything else in the entire issue. That headline drew attention to an announcement that “PIKE’s ANNUAL BALL, for the young LADIES and GENTLEMEN, under his Tuition, will be on Tuesday the Eighth of December.” The event would begin “exactly at SIX o’CLOCK.” Presumably members of the community other than the dancing master’s students were welcome to attend the ball to observe the skills that Pike taught in what he had promoted as a “NEW SUIT of ROOMS” in another advertisement that he published in September.
Pike concluded that advertisement with a message to the “Parents and Guardians of his Scholars, that his BALL will be on Tuesday the 8th of December next.” He underscored that they needed to sign up for classes “as soon as possible, that they may be enabled to complete his Figures in a proper Manner” when they were on display at the ball. The dancing master aimed to excite some anxiety about public scrutiny, knowing that colonizers carefully observed each other to assess whether their appearance and comportment revealed authentic grace and gentility …or whether they merely put on an act and went through the motions. Effortless dancing, many believed, revealed virtue, while stumbling around the dance floor and awkwardly interacting with partners and other dancers suggested character flaws.
As a result, colonizers who wished to demonstrate that they truly belonged among the ranks of the genteel relied on the services of various instructors, including tutors who taught them how to speak French, tutors who taught them how to play musical instruments, and dancing and fencing masters, like Pike, who taught them how to move gracefully and how to engage in polite exchanges at social gatherings. In cautioning the parents and guardians of his prospective pupils that “his SCHOLARS” would be on display at his annual ball in December, Pike reminded them that they needed his services just as much as he needed their patronage if they wished to safeguard their social standing.