Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Dancing - Dancing Academies

    Of all the dancing academies that ever were established, there never was one more popular in its immediate vicinity than Signor Billsmethi's, of the 'King's Theatre.' It was not in Spring-gardens, or Newman-street, or Berners-street, or Gower-street, or Charlotte-street, or Percy-street, or any other of the numerous streets which have been devoted time out of mind to professional people, dispensaries, and boarding-houses; it was not in the West-end at all - it rather approximated to the eastern portion of London, being situated in the populous and improving neighbourhood of Gray's-inn-lane. It was not a dear dancing academy - four-and-sixpence a quarter is decidedly cheap upon the whole. It was VERY select, the number of pupils being strictly limited to seventy- five, and a quarter's payment in advance being rigidly exacted. There was public tuition and private tuition - an assembly-room and a parlour. Signor Billsmethi's family were always thrown in with the parlour, and included in parlour price; that is to say, a private pupil had Signor Billsmethi's parlour to dance IN, and Signor Billsmethi's family to dance WITH; and when he had been sufficiently broken in in the parlour, he began to run in couples in the assembly-room.
    Such was the dancing academy of Signor Billsmethi, when Mr. Augustus Cooper, of Fetter-lane, first saw an unstamped advertisement walking leisurely down Holborn-hill, announcing to the world that Signor Billsmethi, of the King's Theatre, intended opening for the season with a Grand Ball. ... The Signor was at home, and, what was still more gratifying, he was an Englishman! Such a nice man - and so polite! The list was not full, but it was a most extraordinary circumstance that there was only just one vacancy, and even that one would have been filled up, that very morning, only Signor Billsmethi was dissatisfied with the reference, and, being very much afraid that the lady wasn't select, wouldn't take her.
    'And very much delighted I am, Mr. Cooper,' said Signor Billsmethi, 'that I did NOT take her. I assure you, Mr. Cooper - I don't say it to flatter you, for I know you're above it - that I consider myself extremely fortunate in having a gentleman of your manners and appearance, sir.'
    'I am very glad of it too, sir,' said Augustus Cooper.
    ...  Well; Mr. Augustus Cooper went away to one of the cheap shoemakers' shops in Holborn, where gentlemen's dress-pumps are seven-and-sixpence, and men's strong walking just nothing at all, and bought a pair of the regular seven-and-sixpenny, long-quartered, town-mades, in which he astonished himself quite as much as his mother, and sallied forth to Signor Billsmethi's. There were four other private pupils in the parlour: two ladies and two gentlemen. Such nice people! Not a bit of pride about them. One of the ladies in particular, who was in training for a Columbine, was remarkably affable; and she and Miss Billsmethi took such an interest in Mr.
    Augustus Cooper, and joked, and smiled, and looked so bewitching, that he got quite at home, and learnt his steps in no time. After the practising was over, Signor Billsmethi, and Miss Billsmethi, and Master Billsmethi, and a young lady, and the two ladies, and the two gentlemen, danced a quadrille - none of your slipping and sliding about, but regular warm work, flying into corners, and diving among chairs, and shooting out at the door, - something like dancing! 

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1836

see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here

[for full text of this book, click here]

Next to the theatres and music-halls, the shilling, six- penny, and threepenny "hops" of the dancing academics and saloons which abound in manufacturing districts, are the amusements most affected by the younger and more spruce of unmarried working men. And it is at these cheap dancing academies (which, not being connected, as the saloons generally are, with public- houses, are looked upon as exclusive and genteel establishments) that unfortunate working men generally make the acquaintance of those young ladies of the millinery and dressmaking persuasion, who entertain secret hopes of one day marrying a gentleman; but who, unhappily for society in general and the working classes in particular, become the slovenly mismanaging wives of working men. 

Thomas Wright, Some Habits and Customs of the Working Class, 1867