Of all the amusements open for young people, none is more delightful and more popular than dancing. Lord Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, says: “Dancing is, in itself, a very trifling and silly thing; but it is one of those established follies to which people of sense are sometimes obliged to conform; and then they should be able to do it well. And, though I would not have you a dancer, yet, when you do dance, I would have you dance well, as I would have you do everything you do well.”
In another letter, he writes: “Do you mind your dancing while your dancing master is with you? As you will be often under the 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 putting on of your hat genteelly, are the material parts of a gentleman’s dancing. But the greatest advantage of dancing well is, that it necessarily teaches you to present yourself, to sit, stand, and walk genteelly; all of which are of real importance to a “man of fashion.”
Although the days are over when gentlemen carried their hats into ball rooms and danced minuets, there are useful hints in the quotations given above. Nothing will give ease of manner and a graceful carriage to a gentleman more surely than the knowledge of dancing. He will, in its practice, acquire easy motion, a light step, and learn to use both hands and feet well. What can be more awkward than a man who continually finds his hands and feet in his way, and, by his fussy movements, betrays his trouble?
A good dancer never feels this embarrassment, consequently he never appears aware of the existence of his feet, and carries his hands and arms gracefully. Some people being bashful and afraid of attracting attention in a ball room or evening party, do not take lessons in dancing, overlooking the fact that it is those who do not partake of the amusement on such occasions, not those who do, that attract attention. To all such gentlemen I would say; Learn to dance. You will find it one of the very best plans for correcting bashfulness. Unless you possess the accomplishments that are common in polite society, you can neither give nor receive all the benefits that can be derived from social intercourse.
When you receive an invitation to a ball, answer it immediately.
If you go alone, go from the dressing-room to the ball room, find your host and hostess, and speak first to them; if there are several ladies in the house, take the earliest opportunity of paying your respects to each of them, and invite one of them to dance with you the first dance. If she is already engaged, you should endeavor to engage her for a dance later in the evening, and are then at liberty to seek a partner amongst the guests.
When you have engaged a partner for a dance, you should go to her a few moments before the set for which you have engaged her will be formed, that you may not be hurried in taking your places upon the floor. Enquire whether she prefers the head or side place in the set, and take the position she names.
In inviting a lady to dance with you, the words, “Will you honor me with your hand for a quadrille?” or, “Shall I have the honor of dancing this set with you?” are more used now than “Shall I have the pleasure?” or, “Will you give me the pleasure of dancing with you?”
Offer a lady your arm to lead her to the quadrille, and in the pauses between the figures endeavor to make the duty of standing still less tiresome by pleasant conversation. Let the subjects be light, as you will be constantly interrupted by the figures in the dance. There is no occasion upon which a pleasant flow of small talk is more àpropos, and agreeable than in a ball room.
When the dance is over, offer your arm to your partner, and enquire whether she prefers to go immediately to her seat, or wishes to promenade. If she chooses the former, conduct her to her seat, stand near her a few moments, chatting, then bow, and give other gentlemen an opportunity of addressing her. If she prefers to promenade, walk with her until she expresses a wish to sit down. Enquire, before you leave her, whether you can be of any service, and, if the supper-room is open, invite her to go in there with you.
You will pay a delicate compliment and one that will certainly be appreciated, if, when a lady declines your invitation to dance on the plea of fatigue or fear of fatigue, you do not seek another partner, but remain with the lady you have just invited, and thus imply that the pleasure of talking with, and being near, her, is greater than that of dancing with another.
Let your hostess understand that you are at her service for the evening, that she may have a prospect of giving her wall flowers a partner, and, however unattractive these may prove, endeavor to make yourself as agreeable to them as possible.
Your conduct will differ if you escort a lady to a ball. Then your principal attentions must be paid to her. You must call for her punctually at the hour she has appointed, and it is your duty to provide the carriage. You may carry her a bouquet if you will, this is optional. A more elegant way of presenting it is to send it in the afternoon with your card, as, if you wait until evening, she may think you do not mean to present one, and provide one for herself.
When you arrive at your destination, leave the carriage, and assist her in alighting; then escort her to the lady’s dressing-room, leave her at the door, and go to the gentlemen’s dressing-room. As soon as you have arranged your own dress, go again to the door of the lady’s room, and wait until your companion comes out. Give her your left arm and escort her to the ball room; find the hostess and lead your companion to her. When they have exchanged greetings, lead your lady to a seat, and then engage her for the first dance.
Tell her that while you will not deprive others of the pleasure of dancing with her, you are desirous of dancing with her whenever she is not more pleasantly engaged, and before seeking a partner for any other set, see whether your lady is engaged or is ready to dance again with you. You must watch during the evening, and, while you do not force your attentions upon her, or prevent others from paying her attention, you must never allow her to be alone, but join her whenever others are not speaking to her. You must take her in to supper, and be ready to leave the party, whenever she wishes to do so.
If the ball is given in your own house, or at that of a near relative, it becomes your duty to see that every lady, young or old, handsome or ugly, is provided with a partner, though the oldest and ugliest may fall to your own share.
Never stand up to dance unless you are perfect master of the step, figure, and time of that dance. If you make a mistake you not only render yourself ridiculous, but you annoy your partner and the others in the set.
If you have come alone to a ball, do not devote yourself entirely to any one lady. Divide your attentions amongst several, and never dance twice in succession with the same partner.
To affect an air of secrecy or mystery when conversing in a ball-room is a piece of impertinence for which no lady of delicacy will thank you.
When you conduct your partner to her seat, thank her for the pleasure she has conferred upon you, and do not remain too long conversing with her.
Give your partner your whole attention when dancing with her. To let your eyes wander round the room, or to make remarks betraying your interest in others, is not flattering, as she will not be unobservant of your want of taste.
Be very careful not to forget an engagement. It is an unpardonable breach of politeness to ask a lady to dance with you, and neglect to remind her of her promise when the time to redeem it comes.
A dress coat, dress boots, full suit of black, and white or very light kid gloves must be worn in a ball room. A white waistcoat and cravat are sometimes worn, but this is a matter of taste.
Never wait until the music commences before inviting a lady to dance with you.
If one lady refuses you, do not ask another who is seated near her to dance the same set. Do not go immediately to another lady, but chat a few moments with the one whom you first invited, and then join a group or gentlemen friends for a few moments, before seeking another partner.
Never dance without gloves. This is an imperative rule. It is best to carry two pair, as in the contact with dark dresses, or in handing refreshments, you may soil the pair you wear on entering the room, and will thus be under the necessity of offering your hand covered by a soiled glove, to some fair partner. You can slip unperceived from the room, change the soiled for a fresh pair, and then avoid that mortification.
If your partner has a bouquet, handkerchief, or fan in her hand, do not offer to carry them for her. If she finds they embarrass her, she will request you to hold them for her, but etiquette requires you not to notice them, unless she speaks of them first.
Do not be the last to leave the ball room. It is more elegant to leave early, as staying too late gives others the impression that you do not often have an invitation to a ball, and must “make the most of it.”
Some gentlemen linger at a private ball until all the ladies have left, and then congregate in the supper-room, where they remain for hours, totally regardless of the fact that they are keeping the wearied host and his servants from their rest. Never, as you value your reputation as a gentleman of refinement, be among the number of these “hangers on.” –From Cecil B. Hartley's. “The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness"
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