Scholla: President Buchanan’s Dancing Master

President Buchanan’s Dancing Master

When a troupe of French dancers, known as the Marteen dancers, suggested to Frank Stouch a native of Stouchsburg, Berks County, that he could achieve fame in Paris, the Berks lad replied that he would prefer to “become famous in Berks County first.” This took place during the middle of the last century, when Frank Stouch was astonishing Philadelphia theatre goers with the nimble steps which he had learned in the square dances in Berks County barns.

Born in 1809, a son of Andrew Stouch, for whom Stouchsburg was named, Frank Stouch came to Reading when he was 18 years old. Here he learned the trade of cabinet-maker and after serving his apprenticeship he obtained a position in Philadelphia. The theatre in the big city fascinated the young man and he made the acquaintance of such great starts as Edwin Forrest and the elder Booth. It was through these contacts that he met the Parisian dancers.

Although young Stouch was acknowledged to be one of the best square dancers in Berks he was reluctant to perform before metropolitan audiences until he received training in the dancing schools of Philadelphia. Once he felt that he was proficient in the terpsichorean art he entertained vast assemblages.

A fixed preference for upstate Pennsylvania brought him to Lancaster where he opened a dancing school. Among his pupils was the dashing young squire, James A. Buchanan, of Wheatland near Lancaster. Buchanan’s fiancée was a member of the same class. The tragedy which befell the romance of Pennsylvania’s only president has always had the element of secrecy in it. The girl’s father objected to the marriage and the broken hearted lady died under somewhat mysterious circumstance. Frank Stouch knew the story of the romance but he never committed himself beyond the point of saying that the young lady been a victim of suicide.

At various times Stouch conducted dancing schools in Reading, Lebanon, Easton, Allentown, Pottsville, and Carlisle. There are still many persons living who learned their steps from the Stouchsburg dancing master who had taught a president to dance.

In 1893, when Stouch was 84 years of age he filled an engagement at the World’s Fair in Chicago where he danced the fisherman’s horn dance. It is said that he received $1,000 a week for his Chicago Performances. At the age of 88 he died and was buried in the Womelsdorf cemetery.

Information supplied by Miss Elsie Goldman of Womelsdorf, a grand niece of Frank Stouch.

Archival Notes: While it is mentioned by multiple sources that Frank Stouch danced at the Chicago’s World Fair, direct evidence of the event is lacking. Our expert in this area of history Irv Rathman has yet to uncover such evidence. If anyone comes across evidence of Frank Stouch at the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair please do no hesitate to contact us at the Henry Janssen Library of the Berks County Historical Society.

James Buchanan (1859) by George Healy as seen in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC
James Buchanan (1859) by George Healy as seen in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC