Dancing Masters

Figure 1.--

Dancing masters for centuries have been forbidding figures. Luminary dancing masters, Italians Guglielmo ??breo and Antonio Cornazano dazeled 15th century Italy. In our modern era, 19th century dancing masters were renowned figures--Henri Cellarius (Paris), Allen Dodworth (New York), and Larenzo Papanti (Boston). Dancing masters throughout the ages have had the same high-minded and fiery tempers. They have been neither ladies' men or mens' men, but rather mannered men, devoted to discipline and decorum as well as dance itself. Dancing masters have rarely been pictured smiling. Perhaps this is because in their eyes, there has been little to smile about. They have had to view over the years, what they view as steadily degenerating generations.

The Social Register

Ward McAllister in the 1880s began picking out the first "400" of America's emerging industrial society. Many social figures, including dancing masters, achieved their position and social eminence through obsequious defference kowtowing to the socially prominent figures of the day. Only a few prominent dancing masters have refused to kowtow--one of those was the American William de Rham.

Individual Dancing Masters

William de Rham

Mr. De Rham was the ramrod-stiff figure that taught dancing to the children of the cream of New York society. Little boys and girls in their best dark blue suits and party frocks were ushered into his class to learn the social graces and in the process how to dance. Squirming little boys in new Eton suits were taught to sit still. Giggly little girls in white party frocks and Mary Janes wre taught how to sit correctly. These lessons during the 1950s were departed to children with names like Astor, Baker, Chrysler, Ford, Hearst, Whitney, and many others whose parents stood at the pinicle of American industrial life. He is an intenerit dancing master, moving New Port to Palm, to teach the soms and daughters of the rich and famous. He is such an engaging figure that HBC felt that he should dealt with in some detail. Mr. de Rham is from the old school. He is a dancing master extrondiare, noving from country club to another, holding his classes in some of the mpst prestigious social clubs in America. He sees himself as a voice crying in the wilderness for a return to the era of courtly manners. He mourns the passing of the private ballroom and the days when there were widely held standards of correct behavior. He tells of the days long past even in the 1950s when a scandalized maîitre'd would ask a awkward dance to leave the floor. He is a curious combination of the soft-spoken Howard on The Andy Griffith Show and a gruff drill seargent. He has a sixth sence that any gifted teacher has of knowing which students can handle criticism and which need more gentle trearment.

Christopher Wagner


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Created: April 17, 2000
Last updated: April 17, 2000