Complete Ball-Room Hand Book, 1858

Dance Instruction Manuals
Howe’s complete ball-room hand book, containing upwards of three hundred dances, including all the latest and most fashionable dances from the Library of Congress

There is no scene in which pleasure reigns more triumphantly than in the ball-room. The assemblage of fashion, of beauty, of elegance, and taste. The music rising with its voluptuous swell, the elegant attitudes and airy evolutions of graceful forms, the mirth in every step, unite to give to the spirits a buoyancy,to the heart a gayety, and to the passions a warmth, unequalled by any other species of amusement. Behold! that fair form, whose beauty, elegance, and grace render her the admiring object of attention to every eye; what a vigorous principle and amiable heart she must possess, to soften and subdue the feelings by that humility, modesty, and meekness, which furnish the sex with its brightest ornaments and most durable attractions. The following hints on Ball-Room Etiquette may be of use to persons unacquainted with dancing, or who have not been accustomed to attending balls with ladies.

In calling for the lady you have invited, be punctual at the hour appointed; if you order a carriage hand her in first, and sit opposite to her unless she requests you to change your position. In leaving the carriage you will presede the lady and assist her in descending, you will then conduct her to the ladies’ dressing. room, leaving her in charge of the maid, while you go to the gentlemen’s apartments to divest yourself of overcoat, hat, and boots, adjust your toilet, draw on your gloves, (white or colored). The lady in the meantime, after arranging her dress, retires to the ladies’ sitting-room, or awaits your arrival at the door of the dressing-room, according as the apartments may be arranged. Your first duty is to procure a programme for your partner, and introduce your friends, who place their names on her card for the dances engaged. You should always dance first, with your own partner, afterwards you may exchange partners with a friend or dance again with her, should she not be engaged.

The floor-managers give the order to the orchestra to commence, and who also take the lead in entering the ball-room. You either join in the promenade, or conduct your lady to a seat. Before taking your place in the set, await the signal from the managers or the call of the trumpet. Avoid rushing for places, which we regret to say is so prevalent m our public ball-rooms of the present day; such conduct is offensive to good breeding and derogatory to all rules of politeness, and if persisted in will tend materially to injure the character of such reunions, in the estimation of the enlightened and refined portion of our community, who take a pleasure in the enjoyment of this delightful accomplishment. In taking your position in the set, you ought to take the side, unless you: are well acquainted with the figure, as you will have an opportunity of observing the head couple’s movements, before it comes to your turn to commence.

The head of the sets of Quadrilles or Cotillon is that in which the top couples take their places, being always next to the top of the hall, which you may ascertain on inquiring of the managers. The head of country dances which are danced in lines, the ladies opposite the gentlemen, may be ascertained by giving left hand to your ladies right, so as to have her at your left side, the head of the line is behind you at the same time you are facing down the centre. While dancing, pay particular attention to the figures, as your carelessness may be a cause of embarrassment to ethers. Country dances most always require two couples to go through the figure; where all are perfectly acquainted with the dance, they can continue the figure without leaving a neutral couple, otherwise it would be more convenient for the couples who follow, to let the head couple pass down three couples before commencing.

There are a variety of country dances, in which the couples take their places, the same as in the first four in cotillons, and which may be danced in circles round the hall, or in lines formed the length of the hall. In taking your position in a quadrille, cotillon, or country dance, do not on any account leave your place, until the dance is ended. There is sometimes exhibited a laudable desire on the part of the gentleman to render himself agreeable, by procuring a seat for his lady in the interim of repose. Should all the cavaliers be equally desirous of administering to the comfort of their fair partners, during a momentary respite, what a ludicrous scene it would present. If the lady feels too fatigued to keep her place, the better way would be, to lead her to a seat, and then notify the managers, in case you cannot procure another couple to take your place. It often happens, that for want of knowing how the sets are numbered, a mistake may arise as to which of the side couples ought to take the lead, which may be easily ascertained, by observing that the first couple is at the head of the set, and the third couple to their right, so that in forward two, it is the third lady, and last gentleman, who perform the figure, immediately on the conclusion of the some, by the first four.

In dancing, let your steps be few, but well and easily performed, the feet should be raised but very little from the ground, the motions of the body should be easy and natural, prefering to lead your partner gracefully through the figure, than by exhibiting your agility by a vigorous display of your muscles,in the performance of an entre chats or a pigeons wing, which may do very well for a hornpipe, but would be quite out of place in a Quadrille or Cotillon. Attention should be particularly paid to giving the hands in a proper manner, to the avoiding of affectation in doing so, to keeping the united hands at a height suited to both parties, to shunning the slightest grasping or weighing upon the hands of another, to avoid twisting your partner

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round several times in the same place with hands crossed, instead of turning once round with both hands apart. At the conclusion of the dance conduct your partner to her seat, and pay her that attention which will be most likely to anticipate her wants; she may require her shawl, fan, or refreshments, these you may suggest without being improperly assiduous. Neither in the ball room, or in any other public place, be too ready to take offence. If an intentional insult should be offered, the presence of ladies should make your notice so slight, that none but the aggressor should be aware of it; a contrary line of conduct will not add to your reputation for courage or gallantry, a well bred lady will not thank you for making her a spectacle in a public room, a man of true courage will disguise his sentiments on such an occasion, and seek a proper time for explanation, rather than disturb the harmony of the company by an immediate exhibition of force in repelling the insult. If a lady should decline to dance with you, and afterwards dance with another gentleman, do not notice it; there may be many reasons too delicate to be inquired into which may have influenced her actions, personal preference and the various emotions of the heart, will furnish abundant cause for her decision, therefore do not insist upon the fulfillment to the letter of established regulations; if by indecorous conduct you thwarted her wishes, she would look upon you as a boor, whereas by a judicious blindness, you may probably secure her respect. Recollect the desire of imparting pleasure especially to the fair sex, is one of the essential qualifications of a gentleman.

When dancing with a lady to whom you are a stranger, be cautious in your conversation, not to attempt too much without at the same time being anti-social, trifling incidents may occur during the dance, which will afford a sufficient pretext for an agreeable remark. When the music ends, you bow to your partner, present your right arm, and lead her to her seat; should it happen to be occupied, you will politely ask her to what part of the hall she would like to be conducted; you also bow, as she takes her seat; you are not at liberty to sit by her side, unless you are on terms of intimacy. Should you wish to dance with a lady with whom you are not acquainted, apply first to your friends, should you have any present, who may be successful in procuring for you the desired introduction. If not, make application to one of the floor managers, who will introduce you, should he be intimate with her, Otherwise he may not present you without first demanding the consent of the lady. When introduced to a lady, be particular how you ask her to dance, and the manner in which you bow to her, and also of requesting to see her card; ladies are susceptible of first impressions, and it depends a good deal upon the manner of presenting yourself, whether they are agreeable or not: nothing prepossesses one in another’s favor so much, as a pleasing exterior and agreeable manner. Should a gentleman after being introduced

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to a lady, not know any better than ask her to dance, by saying, will you dance with me, and in presenting his arm poke his elbow into her face, before she has time to rise up, and in conducting her swing his body to and fro, not knowing how to keep the step, his arm on which the lady leans, is kept so loose that her hand is continually slipping, finally when he attempts to dance, his want of ear for the time, and ungainly movements, renders it a painful toil to his partner, in the very place where she most anticipates the fullest enjoyment.

It would be much more polite, to decline dancing altogether, regretting your inability to take part in so agreeable an amusement, than by too great a condescension to be obliging, attempt that which you would be only sure to mar.

In requesting a lady to dance, you stand at a proper distance, bend the body gracefully, accompanied by a slight motion of the right hand in front, you look at her with complaisance, and respectfully say, will you do me the honor to dance with me, or shall I have the pleasure of dancing with you, will you be pleased, or will you favor me with your hand for this or the next dance, remaining in the position you have assumed, until the lady signifies her intention, by saying, with pleasure sir, or I regret I am engaged sir, you then may request to see her card, or to be pleased to name the dance for which she is not engaged, and after having made the necessary arrangements you politely bow, and withdraw. Should there not be as many gentleman as ladies present, two ladies may be permitted to dance together, in order to fill up a set, or two gentlemen, should there be a want of ladies. But it would not be proper for ladies to refuse to dance with gentlemen, and afterwards dance together, or for gentlemen, after having refused to be introduced to ladies. There may be frequently seen in a ball room, young gentlemen so very particular and over-nice, that they consider it a remarkable condescension to dance with a lady, unless she happens to be very pretty and interesting. Those young exquisites rarely bring ladies with them, and are constantly boring their friends and the floor managers to be introduced to the best dancers, and the handsomest young ladies, they may happen to see in the room.

If a dispute should occur in a ball room, which arises more frequently through carelessness or inattention to the simplest rules of etiquette than from any other cause, application should be made to the managers, whose decision should be abided by. It often happens that a couple may stand too far from their vis-a-vis, or even turn their backs to them, and engage in conversation with those in another set. In the mean time a couple take their position in the set, not knowing that it was previously engaged, as soon as the music commences, the first couple claim their right of precedence, and thus by their carelessness, a dispute arises as to places, which might have been easily

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avoided, by being more attentive to the rules necessary to be observed on such occasions.

In taking your place in a set, be sure to secure a vis-a-vis, as you will by that means avoid being left alone, or under the necessity of removing to another set.

Avoid changing from one set to another, it may serve your purpose for the time, but will not add to your character for politeness.

You ought not to engage a lady, for more than four dances during the evening, as it may deprive her of the pleasure of dancing with those of her friends who may arrive at a later hour; besides much familiarity is out of place in a ball room.

Every lady should desist from dancing the moment she feels fatigued, or any difficulty in breathing, for it no longer affords either charm or pleasure, the steps and attitudes loose that easy elegance, that natural grace, which bestows upon dancers the most enchanting appearance.

In conducting a lady to the supper room, you present the right arm, and also on leaving. In ascending or descending, you may with propriety change sides, so that the lady may always have the inside. Before proceeding to the supper room, a military cotillon ending in a march, is customary in the New England States, in which all the sets fall into lines, headed by the managers or those deputed by them, capable of leading off the figure.

In entering the supper room, the head is opposite the door, should the tables run in that direction. If they are laid crosswise as you enter, the head may be either to the right or to the left of the entrance, according as it may have been decided on, by the managers. Should they not have made any previous arrangements, you proceed to the further end, followed by as many as can conveniently be seated. Each couple should keep their position in the lines, so that all may take their places at the table in regular order. There is often a reluctance on the part of some gentlemen to taking the head of the table, from the onerous duty it imposes upon them of carving. It ought to be the pleasing duty of every gentleman to provide for his fair partner, and if a fowl lay before him, requiring his service, he should not hesitate, but use his dexterity to the best of his knowledge. In requesting a lady to take wine, you say, shall I have the pleasure of taking a glass of wine with you? should she consent, you immediately pass the wine, and when ready, you meet her regards with a pleasing smile, politely bowing, holding the glass at the same time in year right hand, you partake of the contents.

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In taking your seat at the supper table, the lady takes her place, to the right of the gentleman.

It is not considered proper for a gentleman to eat with his gloves on, though a lady may do so without being contrary to etiquette.

Before rising from the supper table, wait a reasonable time, and observe if others are prepared to leave; if not, remain until the majority are ready, unless you are ambitious of attracting attention. In leaving, should there not be room enough to present your arm to the lady, let her precede you; when arrived at the door, conduct her to the ball room, or the ladies sitting room, which ever she may prefer, and as soon as dancing is resumed, be ready to take part, with your partner.

Should the lady desire to leave, before the ball is ended, you ought to apprise those to whom you and your lady are engaged, of your intentions to leave, and beg to be excused; you will then order a carriage, and see her safely home.

It is usual, before proceeding with a public ball to form a committee of arrangements, who appoint floor managers, Secretary, and Treasurer. The cards and circulars may be issued a fortnight in advance, directed and signed by the Secretary.

The floor managers, in selecting a hall, ought to see that it is well ventilated, with a smooth floor, free from dust, and nearly square, as being more convenient, particularly for waltzing.

A good Band is indispensable, one that can play in perfect harmony, and time, the most approved selections, from the latest and best composers.

In choosing the head of a new hall, the top may be placed at the end in which the orchestra is situated, if it is at the side, the end next to the ladies apartment should it enter into the hall, may be selected.

Halls already named, the Superintendent will inform you which is the head.

As a badge of distinction, a star, ribbon, bow, or sash, is usually worn by the floor managers.

In making arrangements for the supper, it is necessary to give directions, as to the head of the table, so that in leading into the supper room, the conducting couple will know where to proceed, all following and taking their places at the table in regular order.

The floor managers alone, have the ordering of the music, and the giving directions to the band; in filling up the sets, they may be assisted procure partners, for those who are net dancing.

Are usually composed of relations and friends, and are consequently free from that restraint, which characterizes mixed assemblies cards of invitation are issued a week or ten days in advance, in the name of the lady of the house, in which the ball is to take place, filled with the name &c., and directed in an unsealed envelope. It is to her the answer is to be addressed on the following or succeeding day. A lady also through a friend may give a verbal invitation, which should not be refused, because it is not couched in the formal exactness of a card.

Before entering a private ball room, the usual respects to the lady and gentleman of the house, should not be forgotten. If you come rather late, and they happen to be in the ball room, you seek the first opportunity to make your obeisance to them. The necessary introduction is obtained through the lady or gentleman of the house, or some member of the family.

When introduced to a lady, if not engaged, she will not refuse to dance with you, she may have reasonable grounds to decline, but should she dance with another, it would be considered a breach of etiquette. An introduction at private parties through the Mrs. and Master of the house, may entitle you to further acquaintance; under these circumstances, you must await subsequent recognition to come from the lady, in whose expression you may easily divine whether it will be agreeable or not.

An introduction at a public ball affords you no claim to an intimacy with your partner afterwards.

No gentleman should attempt to dance without being acquainted with the figures, for his blunders place the lady who does him the honor to dance, in an embarrassing situation; the figures are easily learned and sufficient knowledge of them can be obtained from a good master in a few lessons.

When the hour of supper has arrived, you select some lady and request leave to conduct her to the supper table, you remain with her, seeing that she has all that she desires, and then conduct her back to the ball room.

In leaving a private ball room, you should not allow your departure to interfere with the arrangements of the party; you will seek out your hostess and host in a quiet manner, and return them your grateful acknowledgments for the enjoyment you have received, and regret that you must leave so soon.

The etiquette of the ball room differs in the city from that of the country. A gentleman may ask any lady to dance with him at a Is invariably, black superfine dress coat, pair of well fitting pants of the same color, white vest, black or white cravat, tie or stock, pair patent leather boots, low heels, pair white kid gloves, white linen cambric handkerchief slightly perfumed, the hair well dressed, without its being too much curled; the whole should be in perfect keeping with the general appearance, and remarkable for its elegance and good taste.

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Country ball, and after an introduction may enter into conversation or promenade with her round the hall, without being considered guilty of the least presumption in so doing. But, in the city, a regular introduction must take place before the gentleman can be entitled to offer himself as a partner, and though he may be intimately acquainted with the lady, it would be but proper for him to ask the consent of the person accompanying her, as well as the lady herself. A Gentleman having two ladies under his charge, may address a stranger, and offer him a partner, asking his name previously to an introduction, and mentioning that of the lady to him or not, as he chooses.

The first thing for a lady to consider, is simplicity of attire, whether the material be cheap or costly–such simplicity as produces the finest effect with the least apparent labor and the smallest number of articles.

The next thing to be considered is elegance of make and propriety of colors. Fashion in general will determine the former; but the latter must be left to individual taste.

In the selection of colors a lady must consider her figure and her complexion. If slender and sylph-like, white or very light colors are generally supposed to be suitable; but if inclined to embonpoint, they should be avoided, as they have the reputation of apparently adding to the hulk of the wearer.

Pale colors, such as pink, salmon, light blue, maize, apple green and white are most in vogue among the blonds, as being thought to harmonize with their complexions. Brilliant colors are more generally selected by the brunettes, for a similar reason.

Harmony of dress involves the idea of contrast. A pale girl looks more wan, and a brunette looks less dark, contrasted with strong colors. But as the blonde and the brunette are both beautiful in themselves, when the contour of the countenance and figure is good, a beautiful young gill blond or brunette, may without fear adopt either

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style, or both, for a change; for a uniform mode of dressing, assumes at last the character of mannerism and formality–a character which is incompatible with the highest excellence in any of the fine arts.

The material of the dress should be of the lightest description–the more gossamer-like the better.

A rich satin slip should always have either crape or net over it; and it is the generally received opinion, that the least trimming the dress has the better. On this point, however, individual taste may sometimes successfully make a deviation from the general rule.

Ladies, also, should remember that gentlemen look more to the effect of dress, in setting off the agate and countenance of a lady, than its cost. Very few gentlemen have any idea of the value of ladies’ dresses. This is a subject for female criticism. Beauty of person and elegance of manners in woman will always command more admiration from the opposite sex than beauty, elegance, or the various fashionable costumes of the day.

It is the fashion at present to wear long dresses; but in having the dresses thus made, orders should be given not to have them so long as to touch the floor; for in that case they are apt to be torn before half the evening is over. It is almost impossible to thread the mazes of the dance without such an accident, if the dress should sweep the floor, except with a careful and accomplished cavalier.

The head-dress should be in unison with the robe, though ladies who have a profusion of beautiful hair require little or no artificial ornament; a simple flower is all that is necessary. To those who are less gifted in this respect wreaths are generally thought becoming.

Tall ladies should avoid wearing anything across the head, as that adds to the apparent height. A “chaplet” or a “drooping wreath” would, therefore, be preferable. White satin shoes are worn with light colored dresses; and black or bronze with dark ones. The gloves should fit to a nicety.

Mourning in any stage–full mourning or half mourning–has always a sombre appearance, and is, therefore, unbecoming in a ball-room; but since the custom of decorating it with scarlet has coma into vogue, an air of cheerfulness has been imparted to its melancholy appearance.

A black satin dress looks best when covered with net, tarlatan, or crape–the latter only to be worn in mourning.

Ladies should avoid affectation, frowning, quizzing, or the slightest indication of ill-temper, or they will infalliably be marked.

No loud laughter, loud talking, staring or any act which appertains to the hoyden, should be seen in a lady’s behaviour.

As it is considered a violation of etiquette, for man and wife to dance together, they should avoid doing so.

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The following Rules are taken from a Foreign work on Dancing.

“These amusements presuppose a fortune and good ton; the practice of society, therefore, and consequently a forgetfulness of the precepts of politeness in respect to them, would be truly preposterous.

When you wish to give a dance, you send out invitations a week Beforehand, that the ladies may have time to prepare articles tot their toilet.

If it is to be a simple evening party, in which we may wear a summer walking-dress, the mistress of the house gives verbal invitations, and does not omit to apprize her friends of this circumstance, or they might appear in unsuitable dresses If, on the contrary, the soirée is to be in reality a ball, the invitations are written, or what is better, printed, and expressed in the third person.

A room appropriated for the purpose, and furnished with cloakpins, to hang up the shawls and other dresses of the ladies, is almost indespensible. Domestics should be there also, to aid them in taking off and putting on their outside garments.

We are not obliged to go exactly at the appointed hour; it is even fashionable to go an hour later. Married ladies are accompanied by their husbands; unmarried ones, by their mother, or by a chaperon. These last ladies place themselves behind the dancers; the master of the house then goes before one and another, procures seats for them, and mingles again among the gentleman who are standing, and who form groups or walk about the room.

A lady cannot refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she has already accepted that of another, for she would be guilty of an incivility which might occasion trouble; she would, moreover, seem to show contempt for him whom she refused, and would expose herself to receive in secret an ill compliment from the mistress of the house.

Married or young ladies can not leave a ball-room, or any other party, alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.

Ladies should avoid talking too much; it will occasion remarks. It has also a bad appearance to whisper continually in the ear of your partner.

The master of the house should see that all the ladies dance; he should take notice particularly of those who seem to serve as the drapery to the walls of the ball-room (or wall-flowers as the familiar expression is), and should see that they are invited to dance. But he must do this wholly unperceived, in order not to wound the self-esteem of the unfortunate ladies.

Gentlemen whom the master of the house requests to dance with

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these ladies, should be ready to accede to his wish, and even appear pleased at dancing with a person thus recommended to their notice.

Ladies who dance much, should be very careful not to boast before those who dance but little or not at all, of the great number of dances for which they are engaged in advance. They should also, without being perceived, recommend to these less fortunate ladies, gentlemen of their acquaintance.

In giving the hand for ladies’ chain or any other figures, those dancing should wear a smile, and accompany it with a polite inclination of the head, in the manner of a salutation. At the end of the dance, the gentleman reconducts the lady to her place, bows and thanks her for the honor which she has conferred. She also bows in silence, smiling with a gracious air.

In these assemblies, we should conduct ourselves with reserve and politeness towards all present, although they may be unknown to us.

Persons who have no ear for music, that is so say, a false one, ought to refrain from dancing.

Never hazard taking part in a quadrille, unless you know how to dance tolerably; for if you are a novice, or but little skilled, you would bring disorder into the midst of pleasure. Being once engaged to take part in a dance, if the figures are not familiar, be careful not to advance first. You can in this way govern your steps by those who go before you. Beware, also, of taking your place in a set of dancers more skilful than yourself. When an unpractised dancer makes a mistake, we may apprize him of his error; but it would be very impolite to have the air of giving him a lesson.

Dance with grace and modesty, neither affect to make a parade of your knowledge; refrain from great leaps and ridiculous jumps, which would attract the attention of all toward you.

In a private ball or party, it is proper to show still more reserve, and not manifest more preference for one gentleman than another: you should dance with all who ask properly.

In public balls, a gentleman offers his partner refreshments, but which she very seldom accepts, unless she is well acquainted with him. But in private parties, the persons who receive the company send round cake and other refreshments, of which every one helps themselves. Near the end of the evening, in a well-regulated ball, it is customary to have a supper; but in a soiree without great preparation, we may dispense with a supper; refreshments are, however, necessary; and not to have them would be the greatest impoliteness.

We should retire incognito, in order not to disturb the master and mistress of the house; and we should make them, during the week, visit of thanks, at which we may converse of the pleasure of the ball, and the good selection of the company.”

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There are various ways of originating Balls. The most common one is for several persons, interested in dancing, to meet together and choose a Committee of Arrangements, or Managers as they are sometimes times called, whose duty it is to procure a hall, engage a quadrille band, make arrangements for the supper, and issue cards of invitations to such persons as they may wish to have attend. It should be the especial duty of some one or more of the committee to attend to each of the above duties. The number of the committee varies from five to twenty, according to the amount of services to be performed. If the invitations are to be sent to adjoining towns, at least one of the committee should be chosen from each, or in case there are several villages in the town, one from each village.

On the evening of the ball, two or more of the committee should be chosen as floor managers, to see that the sets are full, and that all persons wishing for partners are supplied, and also to direct the music when to commence, as well as to decide any questions that may arise in the ball-room.

Military and fire engine companies, clubs and associations often give a single ball, or perhaps a series of parties–the same committee officiating during the different evenings.

It is the custom for teachers of dancing, in connection with their schools, to open their rooms to the public after nine o’clock in the evening, and any proper person may for a small sum (usually fifty cents,) join in the amusements. These parties usually close about twelve o’clock, while bails are generally continued some hours later.

Sometimes balls are got up by some speculator, who generally manages the whole matter himself. Balls of this class are not always select, as the invitations are given to the public in general, and improper persons too frequently gain admission.

In getting up balls and parties, it adds to their reputation to have the “Cards of Invitation” and the “Order of Dances and Engagements” printed neatly, as well as correctly. At common printing offices the facilities are not always such as to get up these matters in the best manner; but, in all large cities, offices may be found, where particular attention is given to this description of work. In Boston, for instance, at No. 4 Spring Lane. Wright & Potter give special care to such styles of printing, and his office is supplied with an immense amount of material especially adapted to the work, specimens of which they are pleased to exhibit to all who may wish to examine.

The Band named on the opposite page is one of the oldest and best Quadrille Bands in the United States. Mr. B. A. Burditt is the agent 69 Court Street, over Clapp’s Music Store.


The floor-managers gave the order to the orchestra to commence, and also took the lead in entering the Victorian ballroom. The Victorian gentleman either joined in the promenade, or conducted his lady to a seat.  Upon entering the ballroom, the gentleman’s first duty was to procure a program for his partner, and to introduce his friends, who placed their names on her card for the d

ances engaged. The sound of a trumpet was generally the signal for the assembly to take their positions on the floor for dancing. A gentleman would, in all cases, dance the first set with the lady in company with him, after which he could exchange partners with

a friend; or dance again with her, as circumstances or inclination would dictate.

A Victorian lady could not refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she had already accepted that of another, for she would be guilty of an incivility. Ladies who danced often, would be very careful not to boast of the great number of dances for which they were engaged in advance before those who danced but little or not at all. They would also, without being seen, recommend these less fortunate ladies to gentlemen of their acquaintance.  At a private ball or party, a lady would show reserve, and not show more preference for one gentleman than another; moreover, she would dance with all who asked properly.

The master of the house would see that all the ladies danced; he would take notice particularly of those who appeared to be wall-flowers, and would see that they were invited to dance.  But he would do this wholly unperceived, in order not to wound the self-esteem of the unfortunate ladies. Gentlemen, whom the master of the house requested to dance with these ladies, would be ready to accede to his wish, and even appear pleased at dancing with the lady recommended. Frequently, some young Victorian gentlemen breached the rules of proper etiquette; they were so very particular that they considered it a remarkable inconvenience to dance with a lady unless she happened to be very pretty and interesting. Those young men rarely brought ladies with them, and were constantly bothering their friends and the floor managers to be introduced to the best dancers and the prettiest young ladies that they saw in the room. If there were not as many gentlemen as ladies present; two ladies were permitted to dance together in order to fill up a set, or two gentlemen could dance if there were a shortage of ladies. But it was not proper for ladies to refuse to dance with gentlemen, and afterwards dance together, or for gentlemen to do the same after having refused to be introduced to ladies. Engaged persons would not dance together too often; it was in bad taste; furthermore, it was considered a violation of etiquette for man and wife to dance together.

When introduced to a lady, a Victorian gentleman was particular about how he asked her to dance, and the manner in which he bowed to her, and also of requesting to see her card; ladies were susceptible of first impressions, and it depended a good deal upon the manner in which the gentleman first presented himself.  In requesting a lady to dance, he stood at a proper distance, bent the body gracefully, accompanied by a slight motion of the right hand in front, he looked at her amicably, and respectfully said, “Will you do me the honor to dance with me;” or “Shall I have the pleasure of dancing with you;” or “Will you be pleased, or will you favor me with your hand for this or the next dance.” He remained in the position he had assumed until the lady signified her intention, by saying, “With pleasure sir,” or “I regret I am engaged sir.” The gentleman would then place his name on her card, and after having made the necessary arrangements, he would politely bow and withdraw.

When a Victorian gentleman danced with a lady to whom he was a stranger, he was cautious in his conversation.  When the music ended, he bowed to his partner, presented his right arm, and led her to her seat; if the seat was occupied, he would politely ask her to what part of the hall she would like to be conducted; he would also bow as she took her seat.  The gentleman was not at liberty to sit by her side, unless he was on terms of intimacy.  Would he wish to dance with a lady with whom he was not acquainted, he applied first to his friends, who would try to procure for him the desired introduction.  If not, the Victorian gentleman would make application to one of the floor managers, who would introduce him if he was acquainted with the lady; otherwise the floor manager would not present him without first demanding the consent of the lady. The etiquette of the ballroom differed slightly in the country.  In country ballrooms, generally a gentleman would ask any lady to dance with him and, after an introduction, could enter into conversation or promenade with her through the room without being considered guilty of breeching proper etiquette.

Victorian gentlemen would attempt to entertain the ladies who danced with them with a little conversation, hopefully more novel than the weather and the heat of the room; and in round dances they would be particularly careful to guard them from collisions, and to see that their dresses were not torn. A gentleman would not engage a lady for more than four dances during the evening, as it could deprive her of the pleasure of dancing with those of her friends who may arrive at a later hour; besides much familiarity was out of place in a ballroom. At the end of the dance, the gentleman conducted the lady to her place, bowed and thanked her for the honor which she had presented. She also bowed in silence, smiling with a gracious air.

Nevertheless, no Victorian gentleman could take advantage of a ballroom introduction because it was given with a view to one dance only, and would certainly not warrant a gentleman in going any further than asking a lady to dance the second time. Out of the ballroom such an introduction had no meaning whatsoever.  If those who had danced together met the next day in the street, the gentleman would not venture to bow, unless the lady chose to recognize him—if he did bow, he would not expect any acknowledgment of his greeting nor take offense if it was withheld.

In a private Victorian ball or party, it was proper for a lady to show reserve, and not manifest more preference for one gentleman than another— she would dance with all who asked properly. Ladies would avoid talking too much during the dance; it was also in bad taste to whisper continually in the ear of her partner. Ladies would avoid affectation, frowning, quizzing, or the slightest indication of ill-temper.  No loud laughter, loud talking, or staring would be seen in a lady’s behavior.  It was recommended that every lady stop dancing the moment she felt fatigued, or had any difficulty in breathing.  Married or young ladies could not leave a ballroom, or any other party, alone. The former would be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.


Assemblies, such as Victorian balls, would be left quietly in order not to disturb the master and mistress of the house. If the party was small, it was permissible to bow to the hostess; but if the company was large, this was not necessary.  After a private ball it was proper etiquette to call at the house within a week to discuss the pleasure of the ball, and the good selection of the company; but it was also sufficient to leave a card.