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The Etiquette of the Ballroom

ImageLadies and gentlemen were on their best behavior in the ballroom. Manners were more formal, clothing was finer, and bows were deeper.

Men were expected to be extremely active in the ballroom to make up for the passivity required of ladies; who could not ask gentlemen to dance, and who could not even be seen to cross the dance floor unescorted. Ladies would be conveyed to their station by a gentleman, and there they would wait until another gentleman came to speak to them, ask them to dance or convey them to the punchbowl.

"The gentleman should call for the lady whom he is to escort, go with her to the ball, escort her to the dressing room, return to join her there when she is ready to go to the reception room... engage her company for the first dance, and escort her to supper when she is ready to go. He must watch and see that she has a partner for dancing through the entire evening. Upon reaching home, if the lady invites him in, he must decline. It is his duty to call in two days".

"A gentleman should always walk around a lady's train and never attempt to step over it. If by accident he should tread upon her dress, he should beg her pardon, and if by greater awkwardness he should tear it, he must offer to escort her to the dressing room so that it may be repaired. If in the ball room a lady asks any favor of a gentleman, such as to inquire if her carriage is waiting, he should under no circumstances refuse her requests... well bred gentleman will look after those who are unsought and neglected in the dance".

Rules for the Ballroom

A man who knows how to dance, and refuses to do so, should absent himself from a ball.

Noisy talking and boisterous laughter in a ballroom are contrary to the rules of etiquette.

In a ballroom, never forget nor confuse your engagements. If such should occur, an apology, of course, must be offered and pleasantly accepted.

Always wear white gloves in a ballroom. Very light shades are admissible.

Usually a married couple do not dance together in society, but it is a sign of unusual attention for a husband to dance with his wife, and he may do so if he wishes.

Great care should be taken by a lady in refusing to dance with a gentleman. After refusing, she should not accept another invitation for the same dance.

"When gentleman are introduced to ladies at a ball for the purpose of dancing, upon meeting afterward, they should wait to be recognized before speaking; but they are at liberty to recall themselves by lifting their hats in passing. An introduction for dancing does not constitute a speaking acquaintance"

[Editor's note: ladies and gentlemen could not dance unless they had been introduced, so the hosts and escort spent much of the evening rushing about making introductions]

All the above quotes are from "Rules of Etiquette & Home Culture" 1886

There are some people who attend the fashionable balls of today, who express contempt for the little requirements of behavior known under the title of etiquette. The conduct of parties attending a ball should be governed by such rules as shall insure the entire company an evening of pleasure.

Avoid slang phrases.

Never take part in a quadrille without knowing something of the figures.

Dancing is subject to much abuse by the thoughtless acquirements of bad habits

Do not romp in dancing.

Do not change from one set to another, it may place you with friends for the time, but will not add to your character as partners.

Do not make a "grand rush" for places, which we regret to say is so frequent in our ball-rooms.

Do not forget that you belong to the set, and not the set to you.

Do not forget to thank your partner after seating her, for the favor she has bestowed upon you.

Do not dance with your hat or bonnet on, leave them in the dressing room.

Should you receive a polite refusal from a lady and then see her dancing with another gentleman, do not exhibit any symptoms of dissatisfaction, should this happen, as it often does, the gentleman is justified in never afterward repeating the request.

Do not forget that perfect politeness conceals preference, and makes itself generally agreeable.

Do not sway the body with each step.

Do not hold the arms stiffly.

Do not hold the arms out straight in imitation of a windmill-fan.

Do not wait until the music is half over before selecting a partner.

It is the duty of a gentleman having a place in a quadrille to have his lady with him, otherwise he forfeits his place.

Always recognize the lady or gentleman director or master of ceremonies, with becoming politeness.

A lady should never promenade the ball-room alone, nor enter it unaccompanied.

In passing through a quadrille, let your disengaged arm hang easily at the side.

Sets should be formed with as little confusion as possibly.

The ladies' dressing-room is a sacred precinct, into which no gentleman should presume to look. To enter it would be an outrage not to be forgiven.

It is very impolite and insulting to galop around or inside of other sets while dancing quadrilles.

If a gentleman wishes to dance with a lady with whom he is not acquainted, politely ask the master of ceremonies for an introduction.

The master of ceremonies is privileged to ask any lady or gentleman whether they wish to dance, make himself known and procure partners for all who desire to dance.

In asking a lady to dance, be sure that she accepts, and then allow her to rise before you offer your arm.

The ball-room was not designed for the purpose of making love.

At the close of a quadrille, the gentleman should salute his partner, present his right arm and lead her to a seat selected by her. Etiquette for the Street.

All of these quotes are from Prof. Clendenen's fashionable quadrille book and guide to etiquette. (1895)

Some Additional Materials

The bow and curtsy demonstrated (Library of Congress American Memory Project). Yes, it is just that simple.