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« What Makes a Good Living History Costume | Main | What to Wear to a "Costume Optional" Vintage Dance »

Thoughts on Programming a Victorian Dance

I am frequently asked for suggestions for putting on a vintage dance. Here are some of my thoughts on the elements of a successful program. I realize there are many successful events that don't follow these rules, but this has worked for us.

Good band--live music--n'uf said.

Be wary of dinners. They often cut in to the dancing due to logistics of serving a large group and people taking their time at their meal. Furthermore, even with the best intentions, they can be subject to logistical crises that can hammer your schedule.

Don't do dance or costume contests. Social dancing isn't about competition, and neither is dressing well--and these and all other bits of extraneous business (raffles, door prizes, visits from Emperor Franz Josef etc.) can throw off your timing if you aren't very careful. Contests often also lead to bad feelings on the part of those who weren't selected.

Don't do dance demonstrations that aren't tied to actual instruction. These cut into the time your paying customers have to dance, and can also intimidate novices by saying: "This is what REAL dancers look like you hopeless slob".

Provide a variety of dances--not just waltzes and polkas. Quadrilles and other set dances break up the program and are also an excellent entry point for novice dancers. An occasional Mazurka or Schottishe is also a nice break, but don't do many of them, as few dancers know them.

Assign a Master or Mistress of Ceremonies who has a lot of "stage presence" and who can also keep the band on schedule. Prussian efficiency is essential if you are using a dance card. Placing a dance on a card is something of a contract, and it is VERY bad form to have to cancel a dance that people have already made engagements for. If you haven't figured out the timing down to the last minute, then under schedule and keep a few "bonus dances" in reserve.

This Master of Ceremonies must frequently and forcefully remind people about the "Line of Direction", and remind them that dancers moving at high speed should be on the outside and the dancers who aren't moving at high speed, either because they are inexperienced, they are modern box-steppers, or they just want to show off; should move to the center of the floor.

And finally, "Floor Managers" are essential if you are having set dances in a dance with over 100 people. You need people who know what the set dances should look like to coordinate with the dance caller on the stage to move people around on the floor to get them into the right places. It is too much to ask of one person, on a stage, to try to sort thing out by shouting "Hey, you in the pink dress--no the other pink dress--move to your right...".


Thank you for the valuable information on programming for historical dances. I was wondering, however, what are the practical matters one must consider, e.g. hiring a hall, event insurance, etc?

Can you help me find a place from which to order cords and tassels, with the little pencil attached, for use with dance cards?
Thanks so much!

We got wind that dance card pencils were being discontinued, so we bought several years worth last year. When we did so, we purchased from However, when I visit their site now, I see no pencils.

We have also, in the past, bought them from Stump's Prom & Party supplies. However, when I visit their site, I also see no pencils.

However, it can't hurt to contact them directly and ask if they have pencils in their super secret stash.