Ballroom Dancing

Dancing is a natural form of expression, like singing, painting, talking and writing. For modern, civilized man it has become mostly a form of amusement, a pastime or an art; but, one thing is makes a statement!

The famous Lord Chesterfield said, in a letter to his son, “Do you mind your dancing when your dancing master is with you? As you will often be under necessity of dancing a minuet, I would have you dance it very well. Remember that the graceful motion of the arms, the giving of your hand, and the putting off and the putting on of your hat genteelly, are the material parts of a gentleman’s dancing. But the greatest advantage of dancing well is, the necessity that it teaches you to present yourself, to sit, stand and walk genteelly; all of which are of real importance to a man of fashion.”

Dancing came into fashion in the ballroom in the fifteenth century, when Italy saw its renaissance. The dances of other countries were taken to France, where they were studied and perfected. Then, it was between the fifteenth an eighteenth centuries that such dances arose as the Danse Basse, a dance of the court of Charles IX, the steps of which were very grave, dignified and solemn, and the accompaniment a psalm tune; and the Pavane, the most famous and stately dance of the period. Spanish in origin, it was really more a procession than a dance.

The Saraband was very popular until its final demise after the seventeenth century. The Courante, a court dance performed on tiptoe with small jumping steps and many bows and curtseys, was considered by many to be a great part of social education. And another, The Gavotte, originally a peasant’s dance, became stiff and artificial after its introduction at court.

The Minuet was the dance brought to its greatest perfection by the French. It was symbolic of the graces and outward refinements, which we do not now possess, and its importance in the cultured world is indicated by the fact that parts of the minuet have become incorporated into the structure of the “symphony”.

Other dances introduced in France during the period, and whose names are still familiar, are the Cotillion in 1820, which was popular under Charles X; the Polka, originated by a dancing master in Prague in 1840; the Schottische, a Bohemian dance first introduced in 1844; the Quadrille, known in the eighteenth century as the Contredanse; and the Waltz, danced as La Volta by Henry III of France. It was not until the nineteenth century that the Waltz reached the peak of its popularity. As it is danced today, its origins lie in Germany, but it may be equally stated that its origin is French.

Learn more about the historical influences of music...Because of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century forms, modern dancing was in a decadent state until 1912. In that year, a new era of popular ballroom dancing began. The industrialized society of the twentieth century finally broke away from those courtly steps expressing the emotions and social attitudes of another civilization. This new era found different steps to fit another cultural situation, and America led the way in this rebirth of the dance.

Until the turn of the century, dancing in the United States was nothing more than the mimicking of standardized and well-known European steps. Yankee dancing masters of the nineteenth century still taught the Polka, Schottische, Viennese Waltz and Cotillion.

From 1912 to 1915 new dances sprang up and disappeared in rapid succession. Those included Ragtime, Jazz, the Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug, Grizzly Bear, Castle Walk and the Tango. The Maxixe, imported from Brazil, and the Hesitation, performed to waltz music, were very popular in the ballroom as well as in musical comedy choruses.

In l925, Arthur Murray, a protege’ of Vernon Castle, simplified modern dancing by introducing five fundamental steps. After the introduction of the Fox Trot, there followed the Rhumba, Conga, Shag, Charleston, Black Bottom, Big Apple, and Lindy Hop. The Lambeth Walk, originally an old English folk step, was imported to America by Mr. Murray in l938. Since then, we have danced the Samba, which originated in Brazil, and the Mambo. Ideally, this serge led the way to the modern ballroom dance!

Is ballroom dancing something you would like to accomplish? Well then, learn it! Later, you may wish to present a ball of your own or attend a ball.

Here are some helpful rules to follow:

Be sure you can afford to give a ball in good style, or you had better not attempt it at all.

Once you’ve decided you can do justice to the occasion and set a time, decide whom and how many to invite.

Give due regard to the size of the rooms.

Make allowance for those who may decline to attend and then be sure those whom you feel will attend will have adequate sitting, standing and dancing room.

Considering having many guests is brilliant; but fewer guests is more enjoyable.

Over a hundred constitutes a “large ball” under fifty is merely a “dance”.

Since dancing is the amusement of he evening, pay due regard to the dancing qualifications of the guests.

  Invitations should be sent out at least 7 to 10 days before the ball; and replies for attendance should be sent back within one week of their receipt. Giving attention to these courtesies will give guests time to make decisions as to accepting and dress, and the host/hostess will know the number of the party for preparations.

Avoid sending an invitation to someone who has difficulty or opposition to dancing.

Invitations to teas differ from that of balls in that one specifies an invitation to tea; whereas for the ball, one requests the pleasure of another’s company.

When attending a ball, one should dress not conspicuously, but in good taste with regard to one’s own size, figure and look rather than the current dress trends.

If it is to be a simple evening party, the invitations could be verbal with notice to more casual dress; likewise, if in reality it will be a ball, then written invitations are appropriate. (This eliminates embarrassment of unsuitable dress).

A cloakroom with attendants is indispensable.

Arrival at the ball may vary; married ladies accompanied by their husbands, and unmarried ones by their mother or an escort is appropriate.

A lady should not refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she has already accepted that of another. But, if she must, she should give him a good reason why not. No gentlemen should have to compromise his self-respect by seeing the lady dance with another.

Ask a lady to dance by saying, “Will you honor me with your hand for a quadrille”? Or, “Shall I have the honor of dancing this set with you”? Also, “Shall I have the pleasure”? and “Will you give me the pleasure of dancing with you”?

Married or young ladies cannot leave a ballroom or any other party alone; the former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies and the latter by her mother or someone to represent her.

Ladies should avoid too much chatter or whispering.

The master of the ball should see that all the ladies dance, especially “wallflowers”, but this should be done with care not to cause embarrassment.

Ladies should accede to his wish and appear pleased to dance.

Ladies who dance much should not boast to those who dance little; and one may recommend carefully that a gentleman dance with one who dances little.

While dancing, ladies should wear a smile and exhibit a slight inclination of the head. At the end of the dance the gentleman returns the lady to her place and each may bow slightly in acknowledgement.

One should show politeness to all, dancing with modesty and avoid attracting attention.

At a ball or private party, it is improper for a lady to show more preference for one gentleman than regards dancing.

When leaving the ballroom it is improper to disturb the hosts...rather sometime later, visit them or send a note of compliment on the success of the ball and enjoyable time one has had.

A lady will not cross a ballroom unattended.

A gentleman will not take a vacant seat next to a lady with whom he is not acquainted; however, if he knows her he may ask permission to sit.

White gloves should be worn and only taken off at suppertime.

In dancing quadrilles do not attempt to take steps; also, do not dance unless one is familiar with the dance.

When a gent escorts a lady home after the ball, she should not invite him inside; and he should decline an invitation if she extends one. Rather, he should call the next day or evening.

When guests enter the ballroom, it is not necessary for the host to advance to the door each time.

When entering a ballroom or party the visitor should graciously bow to the host/hostess.

A mere dance with a lady does not give the gent a claim to her afterwards.... for another.

Never wait for the signal to hastily take a dance partner.... it is impolite.


In conclusion: Dancing can be one of life’s pleasures, and politeness and good manners around and about the dance floor are many times a matter of education and good common sense. So, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy dancing! And, as Lord Chesterfield put it, “ should do it very well”!


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