What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Advertisements in the September 18, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle reminded readers that more than one dancing master taught lessons in the city that fall. Martin Foy and Mr. Tioli placed notices that conveniently appeared on the same page. Indeed, the compositor may have had a little fun when choosing the layout for the page, positioning both advertisements at the top of their respective columns but on opposite sides as though they were facing each other before commencing a dance … or perhaps a duel, considering that Foy taught “Gentlemen the use of the small sword” in addition to the latest steps. Whatever the compositor’s intent, the placement of the advertisements clearly put Foy and Tioli in competition with each other.
Even though they were rivals for students, both dancing masters emphasized the environment in which they provided their lessons. Foy ran his school “at the assembly room,” noting that the “room will be illuminated” in the evenings when he provided lessons for men who could not attend during the day due to their other commitments. Tioli taught at his home, where he set aside a room “excellently adapted for the purpose.” Yet it was not only the place of instruction that concerned the dancing masters. Tioli also assured prospective pupils that he would “make it his particular study to preserve the greatest order and decorum” during lessons. When several students gathered, the dancing school became a cacophony of movement and physical interactions, which helps to explain why both dancing masters instructed men and women separately. Even during lessons segregated by sex, Foy and Tioli recognized the prospect for misbehavior and mischievousness, whether horseplay or gossip, and insisted on their students acting with propriety. They imposed order when necessary. Foy promised his “fidelity” in conducting lessons “in a regular and polite manner.”
Personal comportment was an important aspect of both dancing well and appearing in genteel company to dance and socialize with others. Many colonists devoted considerable time to learning to dance in order to make the best possible impression on friends and neighbors when they attended public events. Learning the steps – and, equally important, how to do them gracefully – for a dance that lasted a few moments could require hours of instruction and practice, significantly more time for lapses in conduct and demeanor resulting from distractions during lessons composed entirely of male or female students who might feel unfettered when gathered in groups and not observed by members of the opposite sex. Instructing men and women separately avoided certain kinds of opportunities for discomfort among pupils, but doing so meant dancing masters potentially faced other sorts of allegations of impropriety at their schools. To that end, dancing masters advertised that they made great effort “to preserve the greatest order and decorum” at their schools.