1899: Professor John Stoutner’s school of dance

Sepia Saturday 391: Eighth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

When I discovered that my grandmother’s Uncle John Stoutner won a first prize for waltz at an 1895 company picnic, I assumed he was participating in a once-in-a-lifetime event — a lighthearted, informal competition among colleagues to liven up a summer gathering.

Grand ball at the Baltimore Academy of Music for the benefit of the Nursery and Child’s Hospital, from a sketch by Walter Goater. (April 24, 1880) Source: Library of Congress

But it turns out Uncle John was serious about his dancing.

Because four years later — on Sept. 27, 1899 — the Gloverville Daily Leader announced the upcoming launch of Professor John Stoutner’s school of dance in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

Of course Uncle John was not literally a professor. However, Miriam-Webster’s dictionary says a professor can be “one that teaches or professes special knowledge of an art, sport or occupation requiring skill.”

Imparting his skill

So Uncle John, as a dance instructor, was imparting his special knowledge and skill — complete with an honorific that added a feather to his cap as professional milliner.

Gloversville,N.Y. Daily Leader (Oct. 5, 1899). Uncle John had to move his successful class to a larger hall to accommodate the dancers. He also ran short ads every week to attract students. Source: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

Apparently, social dancing was tremendously popular at the turn of the century, because another news article said Uncle John’s first class (held 118 years ago this month) drew 80 dance students.

In fact, turnout was so good that Uncle John had to change venues for the remainder of the season from Gloversville’s Music Hall to the larger Mills Hall — where his second class was attended by 300 dancers and their friends!

A social and masquerade  party

Invitations to a Private Masquerade Party and an E. L. Social held in February 1898 in Gloversville, N.Y. Uncle John was on the committee that organized the masquerade party and may have had a hand in the social. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Nor was this the first extravaganza Uncle John had organized. Among inherited family papers, I found a formal invitation to a Private Masquerade Party held on Monday, Feb. 14, 1898 at the Gloversville armory.

Printed at the bottom are the names of the Masquerade Party Committee: J.H. Stoutner, L.H. Rinefort and W.J. Nelson.

Tucked in with this announcement was a hand-drawn invitation inviting Miss Celia Mimm, my maternal great-grandmother, to attend another event Uncle John may have had a hand in — an E. L. Social held earlier the same month on Feb. 4, 1898.

Celia, then 21, eventually became Uncle John’s sister-in-law when she married his younger brother — my maternal great-grandfather Andrew J. “Pete” Stoutner.

Musical heritage

Although I have no pictures of him teaching or waltzing or emceeing an event, I was nevertheless thrilled to discover this social dance history of my maternal grandmother’s Uncle John.

Gloverville Daily Leader (Oct. 25, 1899). A brief story about the success of Uncle John’s second dance class. Source: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

Throughout my adult life, I have been a regular social dancer — favoring swing and Latin dance styles.

My mother — a talented pianist, singer, composer and arranger — was a career music educator before she retired.

My maternal grandmother Liz apparently danced socially — because I still see all the moves she taught me during my teens whenever someone breaks into the Charleston swing.

Now it turns out that long before all of us there was Uncle John H. Stoutner — winning waltz contests, leading dance classes, booking halls and orchestras, and contributing his dramatic dancer’s dip to our family’s musical heritage!

Up next: My maternal grandmother develops her own signature style. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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15 thoughts on “1899: Professor John Stoutner’s school of dance”

  1. Molly C.
    Glad to hear that you inherited the dancing gene. As I remember, all the Charboneau boys were good dancers. I can remember Hubert and Doris whirling about the dance floor at Charboneau’s Bar and Grill in Otter Lake (operated by Tom and Ruth Charboneau). They usually celebrated New Year’s Eve there with Robert and Margaret Van Gorder. I too like to dance and never have been booed off the dance floor (perhaps this is due to my size and not my dancing abilities)!!! Randy

  2. Clearly Uncle John was a very stylish gentleman and he probably wore one of his hats while twirling around the dance floor demonstrating dance moves to all his eager students. I’m not sure about the 1890s but I know that in my parents’ day (1940s) dances were where you met your future husband or wife, so knowing how to dance was an essential life skill.

    1. Sadly, this is true even in New York City where I live. Antiquated cabaret laws and rising rents have put a number of dance schools out of business.

  3. Bandleaders were also called Professor in your Uncle John’s era. Few had any formal training from a music college as they didn’t exist in America then, only in Europe. Music and dance go together of course as in those days you couldn’t have one without the other. The transplanted German culture brought a craze for waltzes, polkas, schottische, etc. to America that lasted until WW1.

    1. Thanks, Mike: I knew I had heard that term “professor” in another musical context! Interesting that Uncle John’s waltz contest prize (from last week’s post) was a set of opera glasses — opera being another form of musical entertainment that came to Gloversville, N.Y. with transplanted Germans and later heartily supported by newly-arrived Italian immigrants.

  4. What a musically gifted family you had. Loved hearing about your Uncle John and his classes. Walzes and Fox Trots were popular when I was a teen, because romantic couples could hug each other. I learned in dance classes during school, but remember my first lessons standing on my father’s shoes at home.

    1. Thanks, Barb — I also remember dancing with my dad, although I believe it was at a parents night in college. I still need to really perfect the fox trot.

  5. My Mom & Dad took ballroom dance lessons and practiced their steps in our living room while all us (4) kids sat around the room watching them. I guess, because I was a teenager at the time and my brother & sisters were younger, I was the only one interested in learning how to do all those dances – which I did. I love social dancing but don’t get much of a chance to do it as my husband doesn’t dance. Oh well. Once upon a time – before I was married – I had boyfriends who liked to dance so I did get to do it then.

    1. So wonderful that you were exposed to dance at an early age. I’m sure that appreciation of that art form stays with you even if you don’t get out on the dance floor that much.

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