Etiquette of the Ballroom

On entering the ball-room, the visitor should at once seek the lady of the house, and pay his respects to her. Having done this, he may exchange salutations with such friends and acquaintances as may be in the room.

If the ball be a public one, and a gentleman desires to dance with any lady to whom he is a stranger, he must apply to the master of the ceremonies for an introduction.

Even in private balls, no gentleman can invite a lady to dance without a previous introduction. This introduction should be effected through the lady of the house, or a member of her family.

No lady should accept an invitation to dance from a gentleman to whom she has not been introduced. In case any gentleman should commit the error of so inviting her, she should not excuse herself on the plea of a previous engagement, or of fatigue, as to do so would imply that she did not herself attach due importance to the necessary ceremony of introduction. Her best reply would be to the effect that she would have much pleasure in accepting his invitation, if he would procure an introduction to her. This observation may be taken as applying only to public balls. At a private party the host and hostess are sufficient guarantees for the respectability of their guests; and, although a gentleman would show a singular want of knowledge of the laws of society in acting as we have supposed, the lady who should reply to him as if he were merely an impertinent stranger in a public assembly-room, would be implying an affront to her entertainers.  The mere fact of being assembled together under the roof of a mutual friend, is in itself a kind of general introduction of the guests to each other.

An introduction given for the mere purpose of enabling a lady and gentleman to go through a dance together, does not constitute an acquaintanceship. The lady is at liberty to pass the gentleman in the park the next day without recognition.

No gentleman should venture to bow to a lady upon the strength of a ball-room introduction, unless she does him the honor to recognize him first. If he commits this solecism he must not be surprised to find that she does not return his salutation.

No gentleman should accept an invitation to a ball if he does not dance. When ladies are present who would be pleased to receive an invitation, those gentleman who hold themselves aloof are guilty, not only of a negative, but a positive act of neglect.

To attempt to dance without a knowledge of dancing is not only to make one’s self ridiculous, but one’s partner also. No lady or gentleman has the right to place a partner in this absurd position.

Never forget a ball-room engagement. To do so is to commit an unpardonable offence against good breeding.

It is not necessary that a lady or gentleman should be acquainted with the steps, in order to walk gracefully and easily through a quadrille. An easy carriage and a knowledge of the figure is all that is requisite. A round dance, however, should on no account be attempted without a thorough knowledge of the steps, and some previous practice.

No person who has not a good ear for time and tune need hope to dance well.

At the conclusion of a dance, the gentleman bows to his partner, and either promenades with her round the room, or takes her to a seat.  Where a room is set apart for refreshments, he offers to conduct her thither. At a public hall no gentleman would, of course, permit a lady to pay for refreshments.

No lady should accept refreshments from a stranger at a public ball; for she would thereby lay herself under a pecuniary obligation. For these she must rely on her father, brothers, or old friends.

Good taste forbids that a lady and gentleman should dance too frequently together at either a public or private ball. Engaged persons should be careful not to commit this conspicuous solecism.

Engagements for one dance should not be made while the present dance is yet in progress.

If a lady happens to forget a previous engagement, and stand up with another partner, the gentleman whom she has thus slighted is bound to believe that she has acted from mere inadvertence, and should by no means suffer his pride to master his good temper. To cause a disagreeable scene in a private ball-room is to affront your host and hostess, and to make yourself absurd. In a public room it is no less reprehensible. Always remember that good breeding and good temper (or the appearance of good temper) are inseparably connected.

Young gentlemen are earnestly advised not to limit their conversation to remarks on the weather and the heat of the room. It is, to a certain extent, incumbent on them to do something more than dance when they invite a lady to join a quadrille. If it be only upon the news of the day, a gentleman should be able to offer at least three or four observations to his partner in the course of a long half-hour.

Gentlemen who dance cannot be too careful not to injure the dresses of the ladies who do them the honor to stand up with them. The young men of the present day are singularly careless in this respect; and when they have torn a lady’s delicate skirt, appear to think the mischief they have done scarcely worth the trouble of an apology.

A gentleman conducts his last partner to the supper-room, and, having waited upon her while there, re-conducts her to the ball-room. Never attempt to take a place in a dance which has been previously engaged.

Withdraw from a private ball-room as quietly as possible, so that your departure may not be observed by others, and cause the party to break up. If you meet the lady of the house on her way out, take your leave of her in such a manner that her other guests may not suppose you are doing so; but do not seek her out for that purpose.

Never be seen without gloves in a ball-room, though it were only for a few moments. Those who dance much and are particularly soigné in matters relating to the toilette, take a second pair of gloves to replace the first when soiled.

A thoughtful hostess will never introduce a bad dancer to a good one, because she has no right to punish one friend in order to oblige another.

It is not customary for married persons to dance together in society.


This is taken from Routledge's Manual of Etiquette.





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