[This is taken from Routledge's Manual of Etiquette, late 19th century.]
As the number of guests at a dinner-party is regulated by the size of the table, so should the number of invitations to a ball be limited by the proportions of the ball-room. A prudent hostess will always invite a few more guests than she really desires to entertain, in the certainty that there will be some deserters when the appointed evening comes round; but she will at the same time remember that to overcrowd her room is to spoil the pleasure of those who love dancing, and that a party of this kind when, too numerously attended is as great a failure as one at which too few are present.
A room which is nearly square, yet a little longer than it is broad, will be found the most favorable for a ball. It admits of two quadrille parties, or two round dances, at the same time. In a perfectly square room this arrangement is not so practicable or pleasant. A very long and narrow room is obviously of the worst shape for the purpose of dancing, and is fit only for quadrilles and country dances.
The top of the ball-room is the part nearest the orchestra. In a private room, the top is where it would be if the room were a dining-room. It is generally at the farthest point from the door. Dancers should be careful to ascertain the top of the room before taking their places, as the top couples always lead the dances.
A good floor is of the last importance in a ball-room. In a private house, nothing can be better than a smooth, well-stretched holland, with the carpet beneath.
Abundance of light and free ventilation are indispensable to the spirits and comfort of the dancers.
Good music is as necessary to the prosperity of a ball as good wine to the excellence of a dinner. No hostess should tax her friends for this part of the entertainment. It is the most injudicious economy imaginable. Ladies who would prefer to dance are tied to the pianoforte; and as few amateurs have been trained in the art of playing dance music with that strict attention to time and accent which is absolutely necessary to the comfort of the dancers, a total and general discontent is sure to be the result. To play dance music thoroughly well is a branch of the art which requires considerable practice. It is as different from every other kind of playing as whale fishing is from fly fishing. Those who give private balls will do well ever to bear this in mind, and to provide skilled musicians for the evening. For a small party, a piano and cornopean make a very pleasant combination. Unless where several instruments are engaged we do not recommend the introduction of the violin: although in some respects the finest of all solo instruments, it is apt to sound thin and shrill when employed on mere inexpressive dance tunes, and played by a mere dance player.
Invitations to a ball should be issued in the name of the lady of the house, and written on small note paper of the best quality. Elegant printed forms, some of them printed in gold or silver, are to be had at every stationer’s by those who prefer them. The paper may be gilt-edged, but not colored. The sealing-wax used should be of some delicate hue.
An invitation to a ball should be sent out at least ten days before the evening appointed. A fortnight, three weeks, and even a month may be allowed in the way of notice.
Not more than two or three days should be permitted to elapse before you reply to an invitation of this kind. The reply should always be addressed to the lady of the house, and should be couched in the same person as the invitation. The following are the forms generally in use:--
Mrs. Molyneux requests the honor of Captain Hamilton’s company at an evening party, on Monday, March the 11th instant.
Dancing will begin at Nine o’clock.
Thursday, March 1st.
* * * * *
Captain Hamilton has much pleasure in accepting Mrs. Molyneux’s polite invitation for Monday evening, March the 11th instant.
Friday, March 2nd.
The old form of “presenting compliments” is now out of fashion.
If Mrs. Molyneux writes to Captain Hamilton in the first person, as “My dear Sir,” he is bound in etiquette to reply “My dear Madam.”
The lady who gives a ball should endeavor to secure an equal number of dancers of both sexes. Many private parties are spoiled by the preponderance of young ladies, some of whom never get partners at all, unless they dance with each other.
A room should in all cases be provided for the accommodation of the ladies. In this room there ought to be several looking-glasses; attendants to assist the fair visitors in the arrangement of their hair and dress; and some place in which the cloaks and shawls can be laid in order, and found at a moment’s notice. It is well to affix tickets to the cloaks, giving a duplicate at the same time to each lady, as at the public theatres and concert-rooms. Needles and thread should also be at hand, to repair any little accident incurred in dancing.
Another room should be devoted to refreshments, and kept amply supplied with coffee, lemonade, ices, wine and biscuits during the evening. Where this cannot be arranged, the refreshments should be handed round between the dances.
The question of supper is one which so entirely depends on the means of those who give a ball or evening party, that very little can be said upon it in a treatise of this description. Where money is no object, it is of course always preferable to have the whole supper, “with all appliances and means to boot,” sent in from some first-rate house. It spares all trouble whether to the entertainers or their servants, and relieves the hostess of every anxiety. Where circumstances render such a course imprudent, we would only observe that a home-provided supper, however simple, should be good of its kind, and abundant in quantity. Dancers are generally hungry people, and feel themselves much aggrieved if the supply of sandwiches proves unequal to the demand. Great inconvenience is often experienced by the difficulty of procuring cabs at the close of an evening party. Gentlemen who have been dancing, and are unprepared for walking, object to go home on foot, or seek vehicles for their wives and daughters. Female servants who have been in attendance upon the visitors during a whole evening ought not to be sent out. If even men-servants are kept, they may find it difficult to procure as many cabs as are necessary. The best thing that the giver of a private ball can do under these circumstances, is to engage a policeman with a lantern to attend on the pavement during the evening, and to give notice during the morning at a neighboring cab-stand, so as to ensure a sufficient number of vehicles at the time when they are likely to be required.
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