1. Introduction (1 of 2)
At a time when Norwich was the second city in the country it may have attracted a smarter and larger than usual number of dancing masters to set up practice. Between 1690 and 1815 there were 21 of them, between one and three being in practice at any one time. Still more practised in Norfolk, based in Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. A few worked from a single site; most worked a circuit, twenty miles in radius, of small towns and villages. They often taught in schools on their circuit, and some masters, assisted by their wives, also ran boarding schools.
In spite of their claims to gentility, the masters were a piratical set, apt to raid each others’ territories for the Most Commodious Room and to advertise their opportunism as being in the best interest of their pupils. As well as fashionable social dance, the masters taught fencing (having an excellent understanding of self-preservation) French (the language of fashionable society) and etiquette – which is ironic.
Francis Noverre’s establishment of his Academy in Norwich in 1793 was less piracy and more a coup d’ état. There was already a dominant practice in the city, with a hundred-year history under John Boseley followed by the Christian dynasty. Noverre, whose family history was also dance history, secured the smartest location, the Assembly House, secured the smartest location, the Assembly House, and out-manoeuvred the competition, who were justifiable indignant.
As a result of this study of dancing masters, Noverre was extracted from the heap and given his own publication, Mr Noverre’s Academy (Marsh, 2005)1.
I had intended to summarise The Rest in a companion volume, but it has become clear that the Boseley/Christian practice was as important as Noverre’s, and it forms the centre-piece of this account. There is often little information about other practices. In the case of Boseley and Christian there is plenty of information about their personal lives in legal documents and parish registers but not enough information about their profession.
As a general rule what we know about the masters as a profession comes from their advertisements in the local press: the Norwich Post from 1711, Norwich Gazette from 1756, followed by the Norwich Mercury and Norfolk Chronicle. Occasionally a master advertises the publication of his collection of dances in the style of the London masters such as John Weaver, but none of the Norfolk publications are extant except for a Treatise on dancing, published in 1815 by Noverre’s assistant Francis Lambert. 1 Recently revised and enlarged with new material, which will be available in due course, on the Norwich Historical Dance website (www.norwichhistoricaldance.org/uk).
1 Recently revised and enlarged with new material, which will be available in due course, on the Norwich Historical Dance website (www.norwichhistoricaldance.org.uk).