6. Dancing masters and the theatre (1 of 2)

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One might expect dancing masters to have some involvement in assemblies and the theatre. In Norfolk and Norwich assemblies were raised and run by – and for – county and city grandees; attenders of lower status being ignored by the local press. Dancing masters were ‘trade’, according to local directories until 1822, and may have been, or felt, unwelcome for that reason. Assemblies may have been a busman’s holiday to them. Whatever the reason there is apparently no link between assemblies and dancing masters – apart from that curious exception Mrs Eastland who ‘held’ Lynn Mart Assembly.

With the theatre there was two-way traffic; masters used the theatre for advertisement; actors – who were also singers and dancers – had sidelines in order to survive financially and they were usually the teaching of fencing, music and dancing. Mr Dixon, the scenic artist at Norwich Theatre Royal c1800 to 1805, was a drawing master. There were odder sidelines; an actor on the Lancaster circuit was also a dentist. There were also the performers who left the stage to set up as dancing masters.

We have already met most of those in this study, but to summarise: ‘Mr Waddy of the Theatre’ advertised as fencing master in 1782. Mr Last of the Norwich Company of Comedians at the White Swan theatre advertised that he would settle in Norwich and teach dancing in March 1721 but nothing further is known of him. The White Swan was a ‘fit-up’ in a large inn room; it saw Macklin’s Shylock and designs by Devoto.

Peter Oliver also left the company at the White Swan to set up as dancing master in Yarmouth in 1742, and in Norwich at a succession of places: Mr Vipond’s in 1749, in Mr Burney’s Room in 1750, and in Little Cockey Lane in 1752, after which nothing is known of him until the report of his suicide in 1762.

Charles Gosnold was a Norwich dancing master who danced at the White Swan in 1757, apparently as a PR exercise for his ‘new-built Rooms’ and 20-mile-radius circuit.

Mr Guerin danced in Ivory’s new Theatre Royal in 1759 a month before advertising as a dancing/fencing master in the city, and again in 1760 to advertise his improved circumstances.

Two 6-year-old pupils of Edward Christian danced at the White Swan on 25 May 1776, but whether at the request of the theatre – which usually fielded in-house infants for such entertainment or as a Christian PR exercise, I don’t know.

And now, for a special diversion – Mr Lassells of the Theatre Royal advertised in the Chronicle on 22 January 1803:

‘DANCING. Young Ladies and Gentlemen and Grown Persons instructed in the art of DANCING, particularly in the most fashionable Scotch and Irish steps, and attended at their own houses by Mr Lassells sen. Terms 1 guinea for 12 lessons. No entrance required of previous pupils. 6 Gun Lane, Norwich.’

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Labec Steps 3A