The Dutch Dancing Master of Dundee

Why would a Dutch dancing master settle in Dundee? Yet that is what Gillis Nozeman and his wife Maria van Duyven did. Little is known of their sojourn in Dundee, except that in late 1746 they bought real estate on the north side of the Nethergate, between the properties of James Ramsay and John Haliburton, and adjacent to the churchyard. We know this because the transaction is recorded in the Town Council’s Register of Deeds. It is likely that Nozeman stayed in Dundee for some length of time as memories of him lingered on into the nineteenth century. An 1822 publication, Dundee Delineated, provides a description of him: “Mr. Noseman was the only dancing-master. I shall ever remember him. He was a tall German; he wore a small silver-laced hat, diminutive round silver buckles, and cane, and walked upright as an oak; drank brandy, and was a thorough pedant in his profession.” Not a particularly flattering picture, but perhaps more information would shed a different light on him. At least, that is what I hoped for, when embarking upon a bit of desk research.

It is quite understandable that Nozeman was remembered as a ‘German’, rather than as a Dutchman, even though he was of Dutch ancestry. Gillis Nozeman and his brother, the composer Jacob or Jacobus Nozeman, were the sons of Johannes Nozeman and Anna Rijndorp. In the late seventeenth century, they ran an acting group in the Hague, which is known to have also performed in Leiden. Johannes and Anna were scions of a travelling family of actors that had amused noble courts in the north of Germany and in Sweden in the seventeenth century. The grandparents of Jacob and Gillis may have been Gillis and Ariana Nozeman, the first professional actress of the Stadsschouwburg (Municipal Theatre) in Amsterdam in 1655, and the first Dutch ballerina. As she died in 1661, it is unlikely that she ever taught her grandsons any dance though.

Of the two brothers, Jacob is the better-known: he was born in 1693 in Hamburg, Germany, but when his father died, sometime between 1710 and 1713, Jacob decided to settle in Amsterdam. He played the violin in the orchestra of the Stadsschouwburg and in 1719 was appointed as organist of one of Amsterdam’s churches, a position he kept until his death in October 1745. Apart from his work as a performer, he was an accomplished composer, whose works, including a string of sonatas for violin and basso continuo, were published by the famous music publisher Michel Corrette.

So our Dutch dancing master in Dundee descended from a well-known artistic and musical family. He was born in The Hague in February 1691 and so was two years older than his brother. In 1710, he enrolled at Leiden University. The addition of “Artis saltator” (dancer) to his name that there can be little doubt that it is the same man. His matriculation does not imply that he actually was a student; he may well have enrolled in order to benefit from tax exemptions, a usual practice at the time. Gillis Nozeman probably lived in Leiden for a number of years and met his wife, Maria van Duyven, there. He may have supplemented the fees that he drew from teaching students how to dance by occasionally playing the violin at gigs organized by his brother in Amsterdam. It is possible that the death of his brother in 1745 played a role in the decision of Gillis and his wife to leave the Netherlands and settle in Dundee in 1746. But many questions remain as to the steps taken by Dundee’s Dutch dancing master. He left little footprint and that makes him a hard act to follow.

By Jaap Jacobs, volunteer at Dundee City Archives

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