Dance Etiquette Instructions from the early 1920's
Dancing is an art. More than that, it is a healthful art. In its graceful movements, cadenced rhythms, and expressive charms are evident the same beautiful emotions that are so eloquently expressed in music, sculpture, painting. And it is through these expressions of emotion, through this silent poetry of the body that dancing becomes a healthful art, for it imparts to the body--and mind--a poise and strength without which no one can be quite happy.
It is because the vital importance of dancing on the Mind and body has been universally recognized, that it has been added to the curriculum of public schools in almost every country. We find the youngsters revelling in folk-dances, and entering dancing games with a spirit that gives vigor to their bodies, balance and grace to their movements.
Consider, for a moment, the irresistible witchery of music, of rhythmic cadences. We hear the martial note of the drum, and unconsciously our feet beat time. We hear the first deep chords of the orchestra, and involuntarily our fingers mark the time of the measure. With the soft, mellow harmony of triplet melodies we are transported to the solemn vastness of a mountain beside a, gayly rippling stream. With the deep, sonorous bursts of triumphant melody, we are transported to the ocean's edge, where the rumbling of the waves holds us in awed ecstasy. Thoughts of sorrow, of gladness, of joy, of hope surge through us and cry for expression. Dancing is nature's way of expressing these emotions.
Then let us dance, for in dancing we find poise and strength and balance. Let us dance for in dancing we find joy, pleasure, hope. It is the language of the feelings, and nature meant it for the expression of those feelings.
It is only when dancing is confined to hot, crowded rooms where the atmosphere is unwholesome, that it loses its healthful influence on mind and body. But where there is plenty of room and fresh air, plenty of good, soul-inspiring music--we say dance, young and old alike, dance for the keen pleasure and joy of the dance itself, and for the health that follows in its wake!
DANCE-GIVING NO LONGER A LUXURY
The day of the strictly formal dance, entailing elaborate suppers, pretentious decorations and large orchestras has passed. In its place is the simple, enjoyable, inexpensive dance which is at once the delight of the guests and the pride of the hostess.
Simplicity is the keynote of the modern ball. A piano and two stringed instruments usually comprise the entire orchestra. The charm of the home is no longer spoiled by over-decoration; a vase or two containing the flowers of the season offer the sole touch of festivity. There are, of course, numerous personal innovations that may be instituted; but as the guests are assembled for dancing, space and a good floor and plenty of fresh air are the primary and paramount requisites.
Light refreshments have taken the place of the large suppers of not so long ago. Hostesses no longer feel overburdened with a sense of obligation. The dance has become simple and inexpensive; and because it is also so thoroughly enjoyable and healthful, it has become a favorite sport, especially during the cooler months.
THE DEBUT DANCE
Perhaps the most important dance of all is that given in honor of the debutante. No matter how large or formal a dance may be, it is never called a "ball" in the invitation. The latter is used only in case of a large public dance or function. The usual "at home" form of invitation is used, and in the lower left-hand corner the word dancing is printed. The name of the young debutante may be included if it is so desired, although it is not essential. But if it is an evening occasion, the name of both host and hostess must appear on the invitation.
Whether the dance is held in her own home or in a hall hired for the occasion, the hostess receives and welcomes each guest. She may be assisted by several of her friends who are well-known in society. Her daughter stands beside her and is introduced to those of her mother's guests whom she has not already met.
The debutante has her first partner selected for her by her mother. She may not dance with one man more than once on the occasion of her introduction to society. But she is expected to dance every dance, returning to receive guests during the intervals. Sometimes the young debutante has several of her chums receiving with her for the first half hour. She offers her hand to every guest who arrives, and introduces in turn the friends who are assisting her.
The father of the debutante may receive with his wife, but his duty is more to see that all the women have partners, and that the chaperons are taken into supper. He also sees that the gentlemen do their duty as dancers instead of remaining in the dressing room to smoke and chat. The hostess does not dance at all, or if she does, it is usually late in the evening. She remains at her post at the door, welcoming guests and seeing that all shy men get partners and all the young girls have a good time. One paramount duty of the hostess is so to arrange her invitations that there will be very many more men than women; this eliminates the chance of there being any unhappy wallflowers. Another consideration is to arrange the chairs in informal little groups instead of close to the walls in a solemn and dreary line.
The costume ball is conducted very much on the same order as the formal ball. The invitations are issued two or three weeks before the date set for the dance, and as for the debut dance, the word ball does not appear on it. Instead the words "Costumes of the Twelfth Century" or "Shakespearean Costumes" or whatever may be decided upon are printed in the lower left-hand corner of usual "at home" cards.
In selecting a fancy costume, one must be careful to choose only what is individually becoming. It must be in perfect harmony with one's personality. To assume a character that is in every way opposed to one's own character is unwise and ungratifying. A sedate, quiet young miss should not choose a Folly Costume. Nor should a jolly, vivacious young lady elect to emulate Martha Washington, And furthermore, a character must not be merely dressed--it must be lived. The successful costume ball must be realistic;
What is the purpose of the subscription dance? The question is a common one. And the answer is simple.
A subscription dance is given for the same reason that any other dance is given--to be surrounded by one's friends, to enjoy music and dancing, and generally to have a "good time" It is conducted very much on the order of the formal dance, except that it is semi-public and is usually held in a public hall. There is no host or hostess, of course; their place is held by an appointed committee or by the patronesses of the dance. They stand at the door of the ballroom to welcome guests, and they may either offer their hands or bow in greeting. It is the duty of the patronesses to introduce those of the guests who are not already acquainted.
Each subscriber to the dance has the privilege of inviting a certain number of friends to the function. Or, if the membership decide to give several periodic dances, he is entitled to invite a certain number of friends to each one of them. The invitations are issued two weeks ahead and require a prompt acceptance or regrets.
Sometimes elaborate suppers are served at the subscription dance, the money for the expenses having been appropriated from the subscription fees for the entertainment. Or simple refreshments, such as dainty sandwiches, salads, ices, cakes and punch, may be served at small, round tables.
In departing, it is not considered necessary to take leave of the patronesses. However, if they are on duty at the door, a cordial word or two of consideration for their efforts may be extended.
Everything in the ballroom should suggest gayety, light and beauty. The floor, of course, is the most important detail. A polished hardwood floor offers the most pleasing surface for dancing. If the wood seems sticky, paraffine wax adds a smoothness that actually tempts one to dance.
Flowers are always pleasing. Huge ferns may grace unexpected corners and greens may add a festive note, if the hostess so desires. But there must not be an obvious attempt at decoration.
Rather nothing at all, than so very much that it borders on the ostentatious.
In fact, the dance is tending more and more to become a simple and unpretentious function. The elaborate decorations and fashionable conventions that attended the minuet and quadrille of several decades ago have given way to a jolly informality which makes the dance so delightful and popular a way of entertaining.
MUSIC AT THE DANCE
The music, of course, is important; A piano and one or two stringed instruments are sufficient. The musicians should be hidden behind a cluster of palms, or placed in a balcony.
Ordinarily the selections are arranged previously by the hostess. She must also arrange for encores, and should make provision for special selections which the guests may desire.
The dance program is rarely used now except at college dances, or army and navy dances. It has lost prestige with the passing of the old-fashioned ball. But sometimes there are special occasions when the hostess wishes to have programs, in which case they serve not only as pretty and convenient adjuncts to the occasion, but as appropriate mementos.
Gilt-edged cards attached with a silk cord and provided with a tiny pencil are pretty when an attractive little sketch or a bit of verse enlivens the front cover. Each dance is entered on the program--and many a delightful memory is kept alive by glancing at these names days after the dance was held. These programs may be filled beforehand or they may be filled at the dance.
At the dinner dance, the hostess issues two sets of invitations, one for those whom she wishes to invite for dinner and dance both, and one for those whom she wishes to invite to the dance only. For the former the ordinary dinner invitation may be issued, with the words "Dancing at Nine" added in the left-hand corner. For the latter, the ordinary "at home" invitation with the same words "Dancing at Nine" added also in the left-hand corner is correct form.
Often the hostess has a buffet supper instead of a dinner. All the guests partake of this refreshment. On a long table, decorated with flowers, are salads, sandwiches, ices, jellies and fruits which may be partaken of throughout the entire evening. Sometimes hot bouillon is also served, and very often a midnight supper is given at which hot courses are in order.
If a dance is scheduled to be held in the ballroom of a hotel, the guests who are invited to dinner may be served in the dining-room of that hotel. The small tables are usually decorated with lamps and flowers for the occasion, and the dinner may be ordered by the hostess several days in advance.
Whether the dance be large or small, dressing rooms, or coat rooms, as they are sometimes called, are essential for the convenience of the guests. There must be one for the gentlemen and one for the ladies, each properly furnished.
It is usual to have a maid servant in attendance in the dressing room set apart for the ladies. She helps them relieve themselves of their wraps when they arrive, and to don them again when they are ready to depart. A dressing-table, completely furnished with hand-mirror, powder, perfume and a small lamp, should be provided. A full-size mirror is always appreciated. Sometimes, when a great number of guests are expected, a checking system is devised to simplify matters and aid the maid in identifying the wraps.
The men's dressing room may be provided with a smoking table supplied with all the necessary requisites for smoking, matches, ash-trays, cigar-cutters, etc. Here also a servant is usually on hand to offer the gentleman his service wherever it is needed.
There is a lesser formality, a greater gayety in the ballroom of to-day. The dance-card and program are no longer enjoying unrivaled vogue as they did when our grandmothers' danced the waltz and cotillon. The pauses between dances are shorter. Something of the old dignity is gone, but in its place is a new romance that is perhaps more gratifying. It is not a romance of the Mid-Victorian period, or a romance that carries with it the breath of mystery. It is a strangely companionable and levelheaded romance which pervades the ballroom and makes everyone, young and old, man and woman, want to get out on the floor and dance to the tune of the pretty melodies.
But the ballroom of good society, must retain its dignity even while it indulges in the new "romance of the dance." It must observe certain little rules of good conduct without which it loses all the grace and charm which are the pride and inspiration of the dancing couples. There is, for instance, the etiquette of asking a lady to dance, and accepting the invitation in a manner graciously befitting the well-bred young lady of the twentieth century.
WHEN THE LADY IS ASKED TO DANCE
Before asking anyone else to dance, the gentleman must request the first dance of the lady he escorted to the ball, Then he takes care that she has a partner for each dance, and that she is never left a wallflower while he dances with some other lady.
At the conclusion of the dance, the gentleman thanks the lady for the dance and goes off to find his next partner. The lady does not seek her partner for the next dance, if she has promised it to anyone, but waits until he comes to claim her. A man should never leave a woman standing alone on the floor.
A modern system of "cutting in" seems to be enjoying a vogue among our young people. While a dance is in progress, a young man may "cut in" and ask the lady to finish the dance with him. If the dance has not been very long in progress, and the young lady wishes to continue it, she may nod and say, "The next time we pass here" The dance continues around the room, and when the couple reach the same place again, the lady leaves her partner and finishes the dance with the young man who has "cut in."
Perhaps this custom of "cutting in" carries with it the merest suggestion of discourtesy, but when we consider the informal gayety of the ballroom, the keen and wholehearted love of dancing, we can understand why the privilege is extended. Like many another privilege, it becomes distasteful when it is abused.
It is not good form for a couple to dance together so many times as to make themselves conspicuous.
Men should not neglect their duty as dancers because they prefer to smoke or simply to act as spectators.
Dancing has been revolutionized since the day when the German waltz was first introduced to polite society. And it is safe to say that some of our austere granddames would feel righteously indignant if they were suddenly brought back to the ballroom and forced to witness some of the modern dance innovations!
There seems to be an attempt, on the part of the younger generation (although the older generation is not so very far behind!) to achieve absolute freedom of movement, to go through the dance with a certain unrestrained impulsiveness unknown to the minuet or graceful quadrille. These newer dances and dancing interpretations are charming and entertaining; and yet there is the possibility of their becoming vulgar if proper dancing positions are not taken. The position is especially important in the latest dances.
In guiding a lady across the polished floor to the tune of a simple waltz or a gay fox-trot, the gentleman encircles her waist half way with his right arm, laying the palm of his hand lightly just above the waist line. With his left hand, he holds her right at arm's length in the position most comfortable for both of them, taking special care not to hold it in an awkward or ungainly position. His face is always turned slightly to the left, while hers usually faces front or slightly to the right. The girl should place her left arm on her partner's right arm. She must follow him and not try to lead the dance herself.
When the dance requires certain swaying movements, as almost all modern dances do, the lady inclines her body in harmony with that of her partner, and if the proper care is taken to retain one's poise and dignity, not even a most exacting chaperon can find fault with the new steps.
WHEN THE GUEST DOES NOT DANCE
Always at a dance, formal or informal, there are guests who do not dance. Usually they are men, for there is rarely a woman who does not know the steps of the latest dances--that is, if she ever does accept invitations at all. But "the guest who does not dance" is one of the unfortunate things the hostess has to put up with at every one of her dances.
And there is rarely ever an excuse for it. Every man who mingles in society at all, who enjoys the company of brilliant women and attractive young ladies, who accepts the invitations of hostesses, is failing in his duty when he offers as an excuse the fact that he doesn't know how to dance for there are sufficient schools of dancing in every city and town where the latest steps can be learned quickly.
If for any reason, a gentleman does not know how to dance, and does not want to learn, he may make up for it by entertaining the chaperons while their charges are dancing--conversing with them, walking about with them and escorting them to the refreshment table, and altogether show by his kind attentiveness that he realizes his deficiency and wishes to make up for it. To lounge in the dressing-room, smoking and chatting with other gentlemen is both unfair to the hostess and essentially rude in the matter of ballroom etiquette. The true gentleman would rather decline an invitation than be unfair to his hostess and her guests in this respect.