How Not to Disgrace Yourself at the Next Ball

Dangers of Long Skirts

This is a scene to be avoided at all costs.

” Gentlemen should control their own movements and those of their partners so as to avoid colliding with other couples.”

–C. H. Rivers, A full description of Modern Dances

This drawing illustrates what I believe was known as “a crush” or too many people in a ballroom. Obviously the leader of the guilty couple was not following Mr Rivers advice.

This was meant to be a single post but I have had so much fun with the topic that I have expanded it into several posts largely based on the advice of Mr. C. H. Rivers.

Mr. Rivers, dance instructor at  175 State St Brooklyn, shared Sir William Lucas’s view that dancing was a mark of civilized societies whether the dance be “the social German, harmonious Quadrille, the jolly Reel and the ever fascinating Round Dances” (I follow his capitalization and take special note of ‘the social German’ which features in 1880’s Girl’s next post)

I discovered this gem of a book  A Full Description of Modern Dances , which was added to the library of congress in 1885. It was available to all and sundry for the modest sum of 25 cents, much more affordable than dance lessons themselves which were available at $10 for five one-hour sessions. (See here to read the book yourself.)

In this 70 page booklet, Mr. Rivers does not omit, “the fundamental principles which underlie ad regulate the Dance, and give it preeminence in the estimation of refined Society” (So there Mr. Darcy–If these references to Mr. Darcy and Sir William mystify you please see here: The Efficacy of Dancing)

Full descriptions of Modern Dance

It is from Mr. Rivers pages that I draw the following guidelines to ensure you do not disgrace yourself at your next ball.

Ball Room Etiquette

  1. Gentlemen you should dance first with the ladies in your own party (this goes without saying even in this modern age)
  2. If you have not previously met your dance partner then the acquaintance ends with the dance. In other words dancing together is not enough of an introduction to for you to presume an acquaintance. You should not accost a lady in the park just because you danced with her the previous evening. Nor can a lady extend an invitation or acknowledge the said gentleman on so slight an excuse as having danced together.
  3. Unless it is at a private party–at a private party one presentation is sufficient to claim further acquaintance if one wishes.
  4. A lady should not engage herself to dance with another man without the permission of her escort (this applies to public balls not private)
  5. Likewise a gentleman does not invite a lady to dance without first asking permission of her escort.
  6. At private parties or Germans (I told you to watch out for the German) ladies my make their own engagements after first  dancing with her own escort.
  7. You should  not leave one set to join another unless you make an apology to those in your set and explain your reason for leaving. ( Such as your partner being over come with faintness)
  8. If you do choose to leave a set you cannot return for  in so doing you “forfeit your right to be there.
  9. “It is bad taste to dispute the occupancy of a place in a set” (such as being the head couple)
  10. “Do not correct the mistakes of those who are in the same set.” (Does this mean it is okay to criticize the dance skills of the neighboring set?)

And last but not least:

11. If not in the set at the time the music begins, explanations and apologies are always in order, and no ill feeling should be expressed.

 Dances to Know

What a beautiful sight, a well appointed room and a company of skilled dancers.

What a beautiful sight, a well appointed room and a company of skilled dancers.

Ballet--Okay so Mr. Rivers does not list ballet, nor was ballet as we know it performed at Victorian balls however all the modern dances featured require knowledge of the five ballet positions, so it is best to brush up on these before continuing

The Polka–the polka was popular and had many variation including: Redowa, Mazourka, Bohemian and Russe, it has a quick time and involves hopping.

The Quadrille— and its variations–Caledonians, Diagonal, Prince Imperial and Waltz or the sports inspired variations Quadrille Lawn Tennis and Quadrille Polo. Or you may choose to honor a branch of the armed services with a Quadrille National Guard (more on the Quadrille next week)

Lancers–The Kemble Lancers was especially arranged by Mr. Rivers and dedicated to the Kemble Dramatic Society of Brooklyn.

Schottische-a dance with hops and turns to a count of 8 beats

The Rustic Reels-Either the Great Western or the Virginia or Sir Roger de Coverly.

The Cottilon-a complicated dance taking up half or all of an evening made up of any combination of 37 possible figures or games. Like the Quadrille it will have it’s own post.

Happy Dancing!

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