A Ballroom Guide
What follows are a few guidelines for those engaged in "Vintage" dance -- though to be honest, I think they would apply equally to a disco. Good behavior is good behavior. I will address these comments primarily to the gentlemen, but much would apply to ladies as well.
1. Don't dance every dance with the same partner. Back in the day, dancing more than two dances with the same partner, especially your spouse, was considered to be highly unsociable. The same applies today. Mix it up, and pay particular attention to those who are not being asked to dance.
2. Back in the day, ladies never asked men to dance. That is one rule that is generally ignored in the modern "vintage" ballroom. Ladies need not wait to be asked in the Victorian age of the 21st Century. Conversely, men should not just sit back and wait to be asked, but assure that more reserved ladies get to dance as well.
3. If you are asked to dance, but say that you are "sitting this one out", then you can't say "yes" when a better partner asks. It's very rude to thereby say "No, I am not dancing this dance with YOU" to the partner you first refused.
4. At the end of the dance, do not abandon your partner and run off seeking another. Take your partner's arm and walk back to, more or less, the place you started or to some other location the lady requests. Make pleasant conversation en route, and then give a little bow and say "thank you".
5. Wear gloves. They are cheap and easy to find at Army Surplus stores and Tux shops. It is more sanitary and reduces sweat damage to ladies' gowns. I realize though that in the "Jazz Age", gloves were often out of fashion for both men and women. Let your conscience be your guide at a Jazz Age dance.
6. Bring at least one handkerchief. Use it, rather than your sleeve, to dab your sweaty brow.
7. Do not wear hats in a ballroom. It's just tacky. If yours is the only hat being worn in the room, it's probably not because no one else's hat is as magnificent as yours.
8. Men, please keep your coats on. Yeah, it's hot but we would rather see you looking a bit uncomfortable in your tailcoat than your sweat-soaked armpits. I know this is difficult for 21st Century guys who don't even wear ties at work anymore, but it's a bit of manly toughness that I highly recommend.
9. If you are dancing a partner dance like a waltz, polka etc. ALWAYS follow line of direction (counterclockwise) in maneuvering on the dance floor. If you are moving fast, move to the outside. If you are uncertain, tired, not in any particular hurry, or if you like to show off with fancy moves, clear the traffic lane on the outside and move to the center of the floor. This rule applies particularly to 20th Century themed events and swing dancers. If you are a swing dancer and are sharing the floor with foxtrotters, don't plant yourself in the line of direction and block all traffic. Swingers to the center -- foxtrotters to the outside!
10. If you have joined a set dance like a Quadrille or Contra, you can NEVER leave. It's like the Army--easy to join but hard to quit. If you leave a set dance while it's underway, you will throw the whole thing off and cause considerable distress to your fellow dancers. If you must leave, try to pull someone in from outside to take your place. The opposite applies to partner dances like the polka. There is no law that says you have to dance a waltz or polka until the band says you can stop. You can join a partner dance at any time, and quit any time.
11. Don't dance in such a way as to cause collisions, and if one occurs, say "I'm sorry", even if you don't think it was your fault. On a crowded floor, eschew dance moves that involve heels flying at high speed at angles that might find the shins and ankles of your fellow dancers.
12. Avoid costume features and accessories that are a hazard on a crowded floor. These include trains on ballgowns, swords, spurs, holstered guns, sheath knives. lethally long hat pins and alarming head-pieces (usually only a problem at masquerade balls)
13. Turn off your bloody cell phones! If you leave a set dance in the middle of a dance to take a call (and I have seen that happen), your fellow dancers have my permission to kill you on the spot. If you are expecting a call that is THAT important, then you should not be dancing.
14. If a dance caller is explaining something, shut up and, even if you already know it, let your fellow dancers hear it. If you are trying to help less experienced dancers, don't let your helping interfere with the principal instruction.
15. Gentlemen, as a man who dances you bear a special responsibility. There are always more ladies at such events than gentlemen, so it is incumbent on you to spread yourself around as much as possible.
16. Ladies should feel free to dance with other ladies, and while it was not much done outside of mining camps in the 19th Century, I don't much care if men dance with men - except in so much as it doesn't conflict with rule 15.
17. Even if you don't have suitable historical costume, at least make an effort to dress nice if the event is "formal". It is disrespectful of your fellow dancers who are trying to set an elegant tone to show up in blue jeans and flip flops.
18. Personal hygiene, both body and oral, for both men and women, is REALLY important. 'Nuf said.
19. Leaders (which usually means men), modify your lead to accommodate the skills and physical attributes of your partner, and look for cues as to what she wants to do and can do. Do not get snippy if she can't follow your lead for a particular move, and focus on what works between you. The dance is a cooperative effort between the two of you, and you need to work together, rather than say "this is my dance as I dance it". And ladies, have pity on the limitations of your partner, even if he is not as good as you at a particular dance. Do your best to gently help him to a dance that works for the both of you.
20. Be cheerful and pleasant to everyone. Do not be short, nasty or snooty to inexperienced dancers and never make anyone feel unwelcome or not "up to snuff". If we want our hobby to survive, we need a regular infusion of new (and therefore inexperienced) dancers, and we should do everything we can to make them feel welcome and included. They will learn far more from your excellent example than from your nasty comments or rolling eyes.
- Dance Floor Consideration (March 2007)
- Victorian Ball Etiquette (March 11 2006)
- Vintage Dance Costume Suggestions (March 2006)
- What to Wear to a Costume Optional Vintage Dance (Feb 2011)
- The Etiquette of the Ballroom (Gentleman's Page)
- Gentleman's Evening Wear