It is in the ball-room that society is on its best behavior. Every thing there is regulated according to the strictest code of good-breeding, and as any departure from this code becomes a grave offense, it is indispensable that the etiquette of the ball-room should be thoroughly mastered. This etiquette dictates the forms of invitation and the terms in which they are to be accepted; the appointments of the ball-room; the toilets proper to it; the demeanor of those assembled, and the manner in which the implied amusement, that of dancing, shall be conducted.
Public balls take various forms-charity, military, subscription, and what may be termed the ordinary or simple public ball. These are generally given in public assembly rooms, and the admission is by ticket. More or less care is always taken to secure the selectness of these assemblies. Sometimes lady patronesses or managers are appointed, from whom it is necessary to secure vouchers for tickets; sometimes a committee is thought sufficient, or tickets are obtained of gentlemen appointed as managers or directors, and who subsequently act on committees in the ball-room, where, from their supposed knowledge of the company, they arrange introductions, etc.
The etiquette of public balls is almost identical with that of private assemblies of the same kind, and it will be sufficient to observe here, that those attending them should, if possible, form their own parties or coteries beforehand. Ladies, especially, will find the comfort and advantage of this.
The rule as to giving PRIVATE PARTIES is this: that guests should make one return during the season.
In giving this, always avoid a "crush" as it is called; it is far better to restrict the number of invitations, so that all the guests may be fairly accommodated. The invitations should, however, be slightly in excess of the number counted on, as it is rare indeed that every one accepts. One-third more than the room will hold may generally be asked with safety. It is desirable to secure the attendance of an equal number of dancers of both sexes; but, experience shows that to do this it is necessary to invite more gentlemen than ladies. It is the lady of the house who gives the party. The invitations should be in her name, and the replies addressed to her.
The invitations should be sent out ten days before the time; a less time is not de rigueur.
Printed forms of invitation may be obtained at every stationer's; but it is better that they should be written. In that case, use small note-paper, white, and of the best quality. Let the envelopes be thick and good.
This form of invitation may be used: Monday, Jan. 1st. "Mrs.-requests the pleasure of Mr.-'s company at an Evening Party, on Thursday, Jan. 11th. "An answer will oblige." To this an answer should be returned within a day or two, and it may assume this form: Wednesday, Jan. 3d. "Mr.-has much pleasure in accepting Mrs.-'s polite invitation for Thursday evening, the 11th."
Verbal invitations should never be given, even among relations and intimate friends; it is discourteous, as implying that they are of no importance.
Formerly, at balls, a Master of Ceremonies was considered indispensable; but this custom is going out, and his duties are performed by the "Managers", who are often distinguished by a tiny rosette, or arrangement of a single flower and a ribbon in the button-hole. These superintend the dances, and gentlemen desiring to dance with ladies apply to them for introductions. In private parties introductions are effected through the lady of the house, or other members of the family. Where there are daughters, they fitly exert themselves in arranging sets, giving introductions, and so forth- never dancing themselves until all the other ladies present have partners.
No gentleman should ask a lady to dance with him until he has received an introduction to her. This may be obtained through members of the family, or managers of the party.
The usual form of asking a lady to dance is, "May I have the pleasure of dancing this quadrille with you?" Where there is great intimacy, "Will you dance?" may suffice. To accept is easy enough-"Thank you," is sufficient; to decline with delicacy, and without giving offense, is more difficult-"Thank you, I am engaged," suffices when that expresses the fact-when it does not, and a lady would rather not dance with the gentleman applying to her, she must beg to be excused, as politely as possible, and it is in better taste for-her not to dance at all in that set.
The slightest excuse should suffice, as it is ungentlemanly to force or press a lady to dance.
Ladies should take special care not to accept two partners for the same dance; nor should a gentleman ask a lady to dance with him more than twice during the same evening: if he is particularly intimate with a lady, he may dance with her three, or even four, times. Do not forget the daughters of the house: to overlook them is a great discourtesy. When a lady has accepted, the gentleman offers her his right arm, and, if it be for quadrilles, takes a position in the set.
A slight knowledge of the figure is sufficient to enable a gentleman to move through a quadrille, if he is easy and unembarrassed, and his manners are courteous; but to ask a lady to join you in a polka, or other round dance, in which you are not thoroughly proficient, is an unpardonable offense. It is not in good taste for gentlemen who do not dance to accept invitations to balls; but it is only the parvenu who, with a knowledge of dancing, hangs about the doors, and declines to join in the amusement.
It is not necessary to bow to the lady at the end of a quadrille-in fact, any thing like formality is now discountenanced; it is enough that you again offer her your right arm, and walk half round the room with her. You should inquire if she will take refreshments, and if she replies in the affirmative, you will conduct her to the room devoted to that purpose-where it is good taste on the part of the lady not to detain her cavalier too long, as he will be anxious to attend to his next engagement, and can not return to the ball-room until she is pleased to be escorted thither, that he may resign her to her friends, or to the partner who claims her promise for the next dance.
A lady should not accept refreshments from a stranger who dances with her.
The gentleman who dances with a lady in the last dance before supper, conducts that lady to the supper-room, attends on her with there, and escorts her back.
At a private party, the lady of the house may ask a gentleman, who is not dancing, to take a lady down to supper, and he is bound to comply, and to treat her with the utmost delicacy and attention.
In either case a gentleman will not sup with the ladies, but stand by and attend to them, permitting himself a cup of coffee with them; but taking a subsequent opportunity to secure his own refreshment.
One or two hints on conduct may be here grouped together. It is not well to dance every dance, as the exercise is unpleasantly heating and fatiguing. Never forget an engagement-and is an offense that does not admit of excuse, except when a lady commits it; and then a gentleman is bound to take her word without a murmur.
Engaged persons should not dance together too often; it is in bad taste.
Gentlemen should endeavor to entertain the ladies who dance with them with a little conversation, more novel than the weather and the heat of the room; and in round dances they should be particularly careful to guard them from collisions, and to see that their dresses are not torn.
Assemblies of this kind should be left quietly. If the party is small, it is permissible to bow to the hostess; but if the company is large, this is not necessary, unless indeed you meet her on your way from the room.
Avoid making your departure felt as a suggestion for breaking up the party; as you have no right to hint by your movements that you consider the entertainment has been kept up long enough.
Finally, let no gentleman presume on a ball-room introduction. It is given with a view to one dance only, and will certainly not warrant a gentleman in going any further than asking a lady to dance the second time. Out of the ball-room such an introduction has no force whatever.
If those who have danced together meet next day in the street, the gentleman must not venture to bow, unless the lady chooses to favor him with some mark of her recognition: if he does bow, he must not expect any acknowledgment of his salutation nor take offense if it is withheld.
After a private ball it is etiquette to call at the house within a week, but it is sufficient to leave a card.
Beadle's dime ball-room companion and guide to dancing, 1868
A young lady must be very careful how she refuses to dance with a gentleman. Next to refusing an offer of marriage, few things are so likely to draw upon her the indignation of the rejected applicant, for unless a good reason is given, he is apt to take it as evidence of a personal dislike. There is a great deal of polite and falsehood used on these occasions. "I am sorry that I am engaged." "I have a slight headache, and do not intend to dance;" but a lady should never be guilty even of a conventional lie, and if she replies very politely, asking to be excused, as she does not wish to dance ("with you," being probably her mental reservation), a man ought to be satisfied. At all events, he should never press her to dance after one refusal. The set forms which Turvey drop would give for the invitation are too much of the deportment school to be used in practice. If you know a young lady slightly, it is sufficient to say to her, "May I have the pleasure of dancing this waltz, with you?" or if intimately, "Will you dance, Miss A?" The young lady who has refused one gentleman has no right to accept another for that dance; and young ladies who do not wish to be annoyed must take care not to accept two gentlemen for the same dance. In Germany such innocent blunders often cause fatal results. Two partners arrive at the same moment to claim the fair one's hand; she vows she has not made a mistake; "was sure she was engaged to Ilcrr A and not to Ilerr B;" Herr B is equally certain that she was engaged to him. The awkwardness is, that if he at once gives her up, he appears to be indifferent about it; while, if he presses his suit, he must quarrel with Ilerr A, unless the damsel is clever enough to satisfy both of them; and particularly if there is an especial interest in Herr B , he yields at last, but when the dance is over, sends a friend to Herr A . Absurd as all this is, it is common, and I have often seen one Ilerr or the other walking about with a huge gash on his cheek, or his arm in a sling, a few days after a ball.
Friendship, it appears, can be let out on hire. The lady who was so very amiable to you last night, has a right to ignore your existence to-day. In fact, a ball-room acquaintance rarely goes any farther, until you have met at more balls than one. In the same way a man cannot, after being introduced to a young lady to dance with, ask her to do so more than twice in the same evening. On the Continent, however intimate, he must never dance twice with the same lady, that is, if she be unmarried. Mamma would interfere, and ask his intentions if he did so. In England, a man of sense will select at most one or two partners, and dance with them alternately the whole evening. But then he must expect comment there upon, and a young lady who does not wish to have her name coupled with his, will not allow him to single her out in this manner.
At an afternoon tea the debutante wears an evening dress-a very simple evening dress, but an evening dress all the same. Usually a very pale color, and quite untrimmed, such as she might wear at home for dinner. Her mother wears an afternoon dress, not an evening one. Both mother and daughter wear long gloves, and neither they, nor the young girls receiving, wear hats.
To describe the details of clothes is futile. Almost before this page comes from the printer, the trend may quite likely change. But the tendency of the moment is toward greater simplicity-in effect at all events.
However, a man may dance four or even five times with the same partner without this risk. On the other hand, a really well-bred man will wish to be useful, and there are certain people whom it is imperative on him to ask to dance, the daughters of the house, for instance, and any young ladies whom he may know intimately; but most of all the well-bred and amiable man will sacrifice himself to those plain, ill-dressed, dull-looking beings who cling to the wall, unsought and despairing. After all, he will not regret his good-nature. The spirits reviving at the unexpected invitation, the wall-flower will pour out her best conversation, will dance her best, and will show him her gratitude in some way or other. So, too, an amiable girl will do her best to find partners for her wall-flower friends, even at the risk of sitting out herself.
When a gentleman accompanies a lady to a ball he will at once proceed with her to the door of the ladies' dressing-room, there leaving her; and then repair to the gentlemen's dressing-room. In the mean time, the lady, after adjusting her toilet, will retire to the ladies' sitting-room or wait at the door of the dressing-room, according as the apartments may be arranged. After the gentleman has divested himself of hat, etc., and placed the same in the care of the man having charge of the hat-room, receiving therefor a check, and after arranging his toilet, he will proceed to the ladies' sitting-room, or wait at the entrance to the ladies' dressing-room for the lady whom he accompanies, and with her enter the ball-room.
The ladies' dressing-room is a sacred precinct, into which no gentleman should ever presume to look; to enter it would be an outrage not to be overlooked or forgiven.
The formal bow at the end of a quadrille has gradually dwindled away. At the end of every dance you offer you right arm to your partner (if by mistake you offer the left, you may turn the blunder into a pretty compliment, by reminding her that it is fe bras du ceur, nearest the heart, which if not anatomically true, is at least no worse than talking of a sunset and sunrise), and walk half round the room with her. You then ask her if she will take any refreshment, and, if she accepts, you convey your precious allotment of tarlatane to the refreshment-room to be invigorated by an ice or negus, or what you will. It is judicious not to linger too long in this room, if you are engaged to someone else for the next dance. You will have the pleasure of hearing the music begin in the distant ball-room, and of reflecting that an expectant fair is sighing for you like Mariana;
"He cometh not," she said.
She said, "I am a-weary a-weary, I would I were in bed;"
which is not an unfrequent wish in some ball-rooms. A well-bred girl, too, will remember this, and always offer to return to the ball-room, however interesting the conversation.
I think flirtation comes under, the head of morals more than of manners; still I may be allowed to say that ballroom flirtation being more open is less dangerous than any other. But a young lady of taste will be careful not to flaunt and publish her flirtation, as if to say, "See, I have an admirer!" In the same way a prudent man will never presume on a girl's liveliness or banter. No man of taste ever made an offer after supper, and certainly nine-tenths of those who have done so have regretted it at breakfast the next morning.
After dancing, a gentleman should invariably conduct a lady to a seat, unless she otherwise desires; and, in fact, a lady should not be unattended, at any time, in a public assembly.
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.The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentleman; 1859, James Hogg (London)
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