- Claude Conyers
(b York, PA, Jan 6, 1768; d Philadelphia, 1822). American dancer. He was the first native-born American to become known as a performing dancer. Interested in theater and dance as a boy, he was, according to his memoirs, “charmed” by the liveliness of the hornpipe. As early as 1780, at age twelve, he learned “the correct style of dancing a hornpipe” from a visiting French dancer and made it his specialty. At fifteen he left home, went to Boston, and in 1785 joined Lewis Hallam’s theatrical company, dancing the hornpipe between acts. During Durang’s first season, a musician named Hoffmaster composed a tune for him that became famous as “Durang’s Hornpipe,” and a few years later his staged version of the traditional “Sailor’s Hornpipe” in The Wapping Landlady (1790) solidified his reputation as an unparalleled performer of the dance.
From his collaborations with visiting European artists, Durang acquired skills in acrobatics, tightrope walking, classical ballet, clowning, pantomime, choreography, and theater management. In ...