Dancing, like it or not

Dance Master Dolan didn’t stint on advertising, as this Sept. 17, 1904 full-page spread attests. Photo courtesy of Peter Betz

After finding a copy of Gloversville High School’s March 1905 Oracle, “Published monthly during the school year, 50 cents per year,” with the intention of donating it to our county museum, I noticed the following item under the headline, “The Benefit.”

“Two performances of Professor Dolan’s Musical Extravaganza were given Saturday, March 25, for the benefit of the high school athletic association. Both audiences were very small. There should have been much heartier support by students and especially members of the association. If members themselves didn’t patronize it, how could we expect others to? As it was, the Athletic Association cleared twenty-five dollars, but we’re safe in saying it should have been a hundred twenty-five. Mr. Dolan deserves our heartiest thanks for pushing things along and trying to make the benefit a success.”

As a child of the 50s, I and many other unfortunate boys were ordered by our parents to taking dancing lessons. My mother informed me dancing was part of my “cultural development” and like it or not, I would go.

I didn’t aspire to be culturally developed or wish to become the next Fred Astaire, but to Amsterdam’s premier dancing school, the Willoughby-Noble School of Dance, I reluctantly went.

Fortunately, Mrs. Noble, a family friend, after patiently enduring a few weeks of my lead-footed dancing attempts, mercifully advised my mother that a dancing career wasn’t in my future, and I should seek fame and fortune elsewhere. I have always appreciated her honesty.

No doubt Charles Dolan’s dancing schools were mostly filled with people who really did want to dance.

The Sept. 29, 1903 Daily Leader noted, “Professor Dolan’s Dancing School opened last night for beginners with the largest class ever enrolled upon opening night in this city.” With ragtime music all the rage and new dance steps appearing regularly, many people wanted to keep in step.

It was the era when young Irving Berlin was creating popular songs reflecting the times, writing ditties like “Everybody’s Doing It,” which referred to a popular dance called the Turkey Trot. The chorus went, “Everybody’s doing it, doing what, the Turkey Trot!” Some popular dances of the era had even sillier names.

Although residing in Amsterdam, ‘Professor’ Dolan ran dancing studios in Johnstown, Gloversville and Amsterdam from 1894 onward, somehow also managing to choreograph and produce area musical variety shows using local talent.

The Feb. 8, 1900 Fulton County Republican, for example, informed readers, “Professor Charles F. Dolan of Amsterdam is preparing the presentation of an up-to-date children’s minstrel show in Mills Hall, Gloversville.” Dolan didn’t limit his activities to our two counties either. Cooperstown’s July 9, 1912 Glimmerglass Daily gave him front page publicity, writing, “A bustling, sweltering individual arrived in town by the evening train yesterday, and when he shaved and put on a collar, he was recognized as ‘Professor’ Charles F. Dolan of Amsterdam, who has a contract with our Board of Trade to produce a mid-summer carnival. Mr. Dolan, who put on the very successful minstrel show at Oneonta a few weeks ago, has just got his trunks packed up after a 4th of July carnival at Cobleskill, and will give a similar show at Richfield Springs in August. He went right to work this morning enlisting the services of our young people in production of this musical extravaganza.”

Charles Dolan seems to have gotten in trouble only once in his life, after the March 25 1922 Amsterdam Recorder gave him free advertising by announcing, “Mr. Dolan is having a radio system installed in his dancing academy where dancers will trip to music from Newark, Pittsburgh, Chicago and other broadcasting points.”

This was very advanced technology for 1922 when most area radio listeners were happy just to receive a signal from WGY in Schenectady, but local musicians didn’t like Dolan’s radio system one bit. They protested outside Dolan’s East Main Street studio, claiming the dance master was robbing them of revenue. The contest ended in a draw when Dolan promised he’d continue employing live musicians at all other dancing locations.

By now the ‘professor’ had been dancing a long time. The September 13 1922 Recorder, noting Dolan was beginning his 30th year, observed, “He is known throughout the state as one of the leading dancing masters. An immense crowd was present at Dolan’s Hall in the Mark building last night, and the season promises to be among the most successful of his long career.”

Meanwhile, the busy professor was also half owner of the Morse Bowling Alley in Schenectady, and he moved the bowling equipment to Amsterdam in 1927. “He has leased a floor in the new Jacobson Building on Division Street and will be giving Amsterdam the last word in bowling.” Dolan nevertheless maintained his dancing studio throughout the 1930’s, shrewdly selling the bowling alley just before the great stock market ‘crash’.

The Jan. 11, 1943 Recorder announced Dolan’s demise. “Charles F. Dolan, old-time dancing instructor, died yesterday at Amsterdam’s City Hospital. For many years, he conducted Dolan’s Dance Academy, first in Gloversville and later in Amsterdam, and taught many residents the art.” In one sense, however, the old dance master may have died a little even before 1943, because on July 13th 1940, the Recorder announced, “Mr. Dolan is a patient in the Amsterdam City hospital, following amputation of his right leg,” an occupational disability if there ever was one.

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