John Durang, Dancing Master

Kline’s Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Weekly Gazette, 25 August 1802

Kline’s Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Weekly Gazette, 25 August 1802

John Durang, too, may well have taught dancing in these small Pennsylvania towns during summer tours through the region.

Kline’s Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Weekly Gazette, 6 July 1810

Kline’s Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Weekly Gazette, 6 July 1810

His advertisements often promised dancing displays by his pupils or announced him as “Dancing Master” or “Professor of Dancing” from Philadelphia. Durang had made an early foray into dance teaching during the brief Hartford season he played with the Old American Company in 1795, his debut in the dual role of performer-dancing master.

Mr. Francis advertises his dancing school. Aurora General Advertiser, Philadelphia, 9 December 1795

Mr. Francis advertises his dancing school. Aurora General Advertiser, Philadelphia, 9 December 1795

Philadelphia was well served by dancing masters, including Mr. Francis of the Chestnut St. Theatre, who taught during the seasons he was performing there. He opened his academy in December 1795, having taught in Baltimore starting in September 1795. With the accomplished dancer Mr. Byrne as a teaching partner in 1796, Mr. Francis advertised that “Mr. Byrn’s recent attention to the dances of London and Paris will enable him to complete this branch of education in his scholars in the most finished style.”

The Dancing Lesson: The Minuet, G. Cruikshank. Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library, call number 825.7.0.4

The Dancing Lesson: The Minuet, G. Cruikshank. Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library, call number 825.7.0.4

His long career with the Chestnut St. Theatre allowed Mr. Francis to become a popular and familiar teacher in Philadelphia, as Francis Wemyss recorded in his Chronology (1852): “three-fourths of the leaders of fashion of the last century in Philadelphia learned to hop, step, and jump” under Mr. Francis’s tutelage. Charles Durang recollected that “On his ball nights, the pupils and visitors were delighted to see Mr. Francis standing at the head of the ball-room, as master of ceremonies, ushering all to places with his airy and amusing suavity. In dress, he was neatness personified. Fashionably cut small-clothes [knee-breeches], white silk stockings, neatly made shining pumps, set off a well-made leg. His head was carefully dressed and powdered, and his face wreathed with smiles.” He was the perfect model for John Durang’s own dancing master persona.

In his Memoir, John Durang summarized his years co-teaching with Francis: “In the first winter of my engagement in the new theatre Chesnut Street, I assisted Mr. Francis in his dancing academie at Harmony Hall in teaching his pupils in the art of dancing. Mr. Francis told me he would give me a suit of clothes for my labour at the close of the school. He gave me a check on the bank for one hundred dollars, and on the following winter Mr. Francis took me in pardnership and devided the profits of the school and ball equelly with me for the time of twelve or fourteen years in succession in the greatest amity and harmony.”

Durang and Francis teach in Baltimore. Republican, 21 October 1803

Durang and Francis teach in Baltimore. Republican, 21 October 1803

Although John Durang recalled teaching with Mr. Francis a few years earlier, Baltimore advertisements in 1803 are the first to publicly announce their teaching partnership.

Francis and Durang continue their teaching partnernship. Poulson’s, Philadelphia, 7 December 1807

Francis and Durang continue their teaching partnernship. Poulson’s, Philadelphia, 7 December 1807

For the 1803-04 Philadelphia theatre season, they continued at Harmony Hall: “Messrs. Francis and Durang’s Academy is now open for the reception of scholars, at 10 dollars per quarter, or 5 dollars a month; their pupils will be taught, besides the rudiments of the art, all the latest and most fashionable dances, such as the much admired Pas Seul, Ballet dances, Minuets, Gavots, Allemandes, Hornpipes, Paris, London, Bath, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York Cotillions, with the new Waltz, Jig and Reel, Finale, Country dances, with the Scotch and Irish steps. The days of tuition—Mondays and Wednesdays, from 3 till 6 o’clock in the evening, for young ladies, on Thursdays and Saturdays from 4 till 7, for young gentlemen, and from 7 till 9 o’clock, for those of more advanced age.” Practicing balls were held every Tuesday in preparation for performance of “a Grand Ballet Dance” to be presented at a “Select Ball.” Similar arrangements continued for the next several years. Other dancing masters were also active at this time: Mr. Auriol, Mr. Fleury, Mr. Sicard, and Mr. Quesnet all attempted to meet Philadelphian’s dance enthusiasms.

Mr. Auriol's Practicing Balls. Poulson’s, Philadelphia,  16 January 1804

Mr. Auriol's Practicing Balls. Poulson’s, Philadelphia, 16 January 1804

In Baltimore, this enthusiasm inspired John Anthony to advertise his “African Dancing School, announced in fall 1804, “for Africans as well as colored people, at the corner of Market space and Second-street.”

In 1805-06, Francis and Durang taught at “Harmony Hall,” but held their practicing balls at the “Assembly Room adjoining the Theatre,” probably referring to the large, elegant ballroom at O’Eller’s Hotel, also the site of the City Dancing Assembly.

Dancing masters in competition. Aurora, Philadelphia, 3 January 1805

Dancing masters in competition. Aurora, Philadelphia, 3 January 1805

Court House, Ricketts’ Circus, and Oeller’s Hotel, Philadelphia, 1797. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Court House, Ricketts’ Circus, and Oeller’s Hotel, Philadelphia, 1797. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia

In the course of these seasons, Francis periodically published sets of new “cotillians [sic] and country dances, with their proper figures annexed, including a variety of reels, hornpipes, minuets, gavots, &c.,” with “music composed and selected from the most eminent masters. The whole arranged as lessons for the Piano Forte.” In 1807-08, advertisements list not only Francis and Durang, but also “Assistants”— probably, as later information indicates, Charles Durang and other theatre youngsters. Not only did the school offer dancing lessons, but it could also train “young gentlemen, who may wish to acquire a knowledge of the Manual Exercise, an exercise conducive both to health and strength, which has long formed a part of education in Europe, and must be highly useful in a country like this, where the duties of the Soldier, should be inseparable from those of the Citizen.”

Corporal Cartouch teaching Miss Camp-Love her Manual Exerciset. Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library Call Number 780.5.9.1

Corporal Cartouch teaching Miss Camp-Love her Manual Exerciset. Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library Call Number 780.5.9.1

Manual Exercise according to the Discipline practiced in 1791. Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library Call Number 791.5.0.1

Manual Exercise according to the Discipline practiced in 1791. Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library Call Number 791.5.0.1

The Francis-Durang teaching partnership apparently ended in the fall of 1810, when John Durang announced his academy taught by himself, his son Ferdinand, and Mr. Harris of the New Theatre. The following year, only John and Ferdinand Durang are listed as teachers.

John Durang’s comments about Francis in his Memoir assure the reader of Durang’s eternal “esteem and respect for Mr. Francis” (p. 110), suggesting that the end to the teaching partnership was not acrimonious. Neither Charles Durang’s History nor John Durang’s Memoir offer any clue to the realignment of teaching associations. The field was crowded this season with dancing masters; aside from Durang’s academy, newspapers advertised Messrs. Falconet (Falconi), Guillou, Auriol, Quesnet, Dupouy, and Whale, the father of the “Infant Vesris” featured much of this season at the Chestnut Street Theatre.

Mr. Francis and Mr. Barnum. Poulson’s, Philadelphia, 8 January 1811

Mr. Francis and Mr. Barnum. Poulson’s, Philadelphia, 8 January 1811

One of many dancing masters in Philadelphia at this time. Poulson’s, 1 April 1813

One of many dancing masters in Philadelphia at this time. Poulson’s, 1 April 1813

Francis, partnering with a Mr. Barnum, gave three “Subscription Balls at the Masonic Hall, Chesnut between Seventh and Eighth Streets” starting in January 1811, but they gave no notice of dance instruction. Newspapers for 1812-1817 carry notices of dancing academies and balls by other masters than Francis and Durang—Auriol, Dupouy, Guigon, Guillou, Quesnet, and Trigant.

Mr. Trigant & Son Dancing Academy Advertisement. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Mr. Trigant & Son Dancing Academy Advertisement. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The dancing master’s instruction in dance movements and figures was founded on an understanding of proper deportment and courtesy, which would allow the individual to fit into civic and social life. Although his years as a Philadelphia dancing master apparently ended by 1812, John Durang—a first-generation American, born and raised in a small town—rose to instruct America’s youth and aspiring adults in proper ballroom and social behavior, which he modeled.