What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE subscriber WILL OPEN A SCHOOL FOR DANCING.”
Compared to bustling cities like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, the more recent settlement at Savannah was a relatively small port with significantly fewer residents in 1768. Yet it was not so small that dancing masters thought it futile to attempt to cultivate a market for their services among the local elite and those who aspired to join their ranks. John Revear, for instance, placed an advertisement in the September 7, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette to announce that he would “OPEN A SCHOOL FOR DANCING” on the following day.
Revear welcomed various types of pupils. The majority of his advertisement focused on his lessons for children, but a brief nota bene indicated that he took “grown persons” as pupils as well. The dancing master offered daytime classes for children on Thursdays and Fridays “from the hours of ten to twelve, and from three to five.” This allowed him time to provide private lessons throughout the rest of the week. Such lessons could take place at the school, but Revear advised that “Any gentleman or lady may be taught at their own house” if they preferred. In addition, he kept “an evening school … from six to nine” for adults who did not have leisure time during the day for private lessons.
In crafting his advertisement, Revear played on the anxieties of parents who might send their children to his dancing school. He noted that he taught “all the celebrated dances that are used in polite academies,” signaling that young people needed his instruction or they risked public embarrassment when they displayed their lack of familiarity with this genteel pastime. Yet Revear likely intended that this warning resonate with others besides parents attending to the best interests of their children. Adults who had concerns about whether they had mastered the latest steps could ease their minds by signing up for lessons themselves. The option for private instruction in the home further reduced the possibility of awkward comportment in public spaces. Once students had mastered the steps they could gracefully display their skills.
Revear encouraged a sense of uneasiness even as he provided a means for relieving it. He prompted prospective pupils to imagine “polite assemblies” and the many sorts of “celebrated dances” that were part of their gatherings. He leveraged existing worries, realizing that some residents of Savannah did not wish to think of themselves as any less sophisticated than those who participated in the “polite assemblies” in Charleston or Philadelphia or other cosmopolitan American ports (just as residents of those cities constantly strove to demonstrate that they were as fashionable and genteel as if they lived in London).