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Story Of London Victorian

Victorian Etiquette XI: The Ball-Room


The London Journal, launched in 1845, was one of the most widely read publications of nineteenth-century Britain. Its weekly appearance ushered in the period when mass-market reading, in a modern sense, was born. Between April 12 and August 30 1845, the Journal carried seventeen articles under the heading “Etiquette for the Millions,” written by G.W.M Reynolds. They were clearly aimed at educating the mass readership (mostly the newly emerging middle-classes) in the behaviour expected of them in public. At times trenchant, the views expressed in the articles describe a view of society that is very, very different from that which we experience today. But, perhaps, one that many sections of modern society hanker after. In this set of instructions we learn what to wear and how to behave at a ball. The Gentleman must not exhibit the steps and flings of a dancing Master! The Lady, on the other hand, although doing more dancing, should not be dragged through the figures! And never, never ask a lady to dance with you twice!

A tete a tete outside the ballroom.The dress of a gentleman for a ball must be more precise than for a dinner-party. He must wear a white cravat and white kid gloves. Even if in half mourning, his gloves must be white; – if in full, (or “deep’) mourning, it would be the height of indelicacy for him to think of visiting a ballroom at all.At public and subscription balls there is always a steward or master of the ceremonies. A stranger should apply to them for an introduction to a partner; and through their means he will be presented to some lady present, with whom he may dance one quadrille. This circumstance does not however render him an acquaintance of the lady to whom he is so presented; and when the dance is over, he remains a total stranger to her. Should he encounter the same lady in the streets on a future occasion, he may raise his hat formally, and pass on. These rules pre-suppose that no introduction to each other has been effected by a mutual friend – a circumstance which would of course materially alter the footing upon which the lady and gentleman are thenceforth to stand.No gentleman should invite a lady, with whom he is totally unacquainted, to dance. The presentation to her must be effected by the steward or master of the ceremonies, at a public ball, or by the master of the house at a private one.It is not now-a-days the fashion for gentlemen to exhibit the steps and flings of a dancing-master in the, ball-room. He does little more than “tread a measure” -which means, that the part which he has to perform is little more than a mere walk through the figures. The lady exhibits more of the dance; but she should not be dragged through the figures; nor should the gentleman clasp her hand tightly: he should mere( sustain her fingers in his.No one should stand up in a dance unless perfectly acquainted with the figures: no plea of “forgetfulness”-via., “it’s having been so long since you danced that quadrille,” will serve as an apology for throwing the entire set into confusion.Do not ask the same lady to dance with you twice, however intimate you may be with her and her family: that privilege is only reserved for couples who are engaged to be married.A well-bred gentleman will take compassion on any neglected young lady, or “wall-flower, ‘ whom he may fancy desirous of dancing, and will solicit her hand for a quadrille. However plain or unattractive she may be, his politeness and courtesy will be duly appreciated by those who possess good feelings.Having engaged a lady to dance some quadrille which is to succeed those for which she is already engaged, do not fail to seek her when the time comes. Nothing can be more discourteous or rude than to forget such an engagement.In waltzing do not press the lady’s waist; the palm of your hand must only slightly touch her waistband.The lady with whom you have last danced, previous to the announcement for supper, is the one whom you should conduct to the supper-room, unless she or you be engaged to be married to some other person present, when this circumstance is allowed to constitute a prior claim.Keep both gloves on while dancing.After each dance it is the custom for the partners therein to promenade together for a few minutes: but when the gentleman conducts the lady back to her seat, he should not remain by her side, or he will prevent others from approaching to invite her for the next quadrille.No persons of good taste will, think of giving a ball unless their house possess sufficient accommodation. To invite a large party and crowd them into miserably small rooms, is to render them and their entertainers alike uncomfortable.Young ladies under fifteen, and young gentlemen under sixteen, should not appear in the ballroom, save at a juvenile party. Grown up persons do not like to be placed upon a level with children.G.W.M. Reynolds.
The London Journal,
For the week ending June 28, 1845.