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Victorian Ball Etiquette

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Cathy Stephens
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To give participants in the 19th Century Ball a preview of the pre-ball workshop, Cathy Stephens provides a few comments on ball etiquette.

I like to think of these not as "rules" but as "gentle guidelines" to remind us all that we are all "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" and that a little consideration and courtesy can go a long way to ensure that everyone has a good time at the ball.

Ball cards and asking a lady to dance
"Ladies and gentlemen should not dance exclusively with the same partners, if by so doing they exclude others from desirable company. We may, however, without impropriety ask a lady to join us the second time in a dance. We should treat all courteously; and, not manifesting preference for any one in particular, be ready to dance with whoever may need a partner."
      There will be ball cards and they will be given out at least 15 minutes before dancing commences, but not until at least half of the assembly has arrived. Details on how to fill out ball cards will be discussed at the pre-ball workshop but I do offer a few suggestions.
      Traditionally it is the gentlemen who ask the ladies to dance, although we are not strict in that regard in this community. We only ask that you do try to arrange dances with as many different partners as you can and not dance solely with the person you came with or only your favorite partners, or even only with new or beginning dancers. Either way is extremely discourteous to the dancers you are neglecting. I offer a "gentle guideline":
·  Gentlemen who are escorting ladies to the ball sign up dances with those ladies first. Traditionally, it is the opening dance or the first set (of
quadrilles) that one dances with one's escort as well as the last dance before supper, after which the gentleman escorts the lady to the supper room and offers her refreshments. More recently, the trend has been to do the opening march or processional, the last waltz and a favorite dance of the lady's choosing during the course of the ball.
·  Other dances should be divided equally between your old friends and favorite partners and new attendees and new friends, being careful to leave a few open spaces on your card for latecomers, ladies who happen to be without partners, or "spontaneous partnering opportunities" during the ball.

During the Ball
As each dance is announced, the gentleman, after thanking his current partner and seeing her to her place or next partner, seeks out his next partner. Upon finding her, the gentleman leads her to a place in a set or, in the case of a round dance, in the outside circle. When the music commences, the gentleman bows, the lady responds with a courtesy and the dance begins.
      During the dance, "the gentleman is the lady's cavalier" in that it is his pleasant responsibility during the course of that dance to see to the lady's comfort and enjoyment of the dance. He will guide the lady safely around the circle, being aware of other dancers and taking care to steer clear of faltering or wayward couples and remembering to use the far corners or center of the room for any dance variations that could slow down the forward momentum of other dancers.
      At the end of the dance, the gentleman thanks the lady for the pleasure of her company and sees her to her next partner or to her seat before seeking out his next partner. If he does not have a partner signed up for the next dance, he could seek out a lady who also does not have a partner. If he is fatigued and does not wish to dance the next number, he might indicate that by taking a seat.

Forming Sets for the Quadrille and Country Dances
For both quadrilles and country dances, start at the top of the room (near the band) to form sets. When forming a contra dance line, join in at the end of the line. When you have obtained a place in a contra dance or quadrille, do not leave that place once the dance has commenced, otherwise you will create great confusion within the set and make it difficult for the rest of the dancers to continue. If you must leave, be sure to arrange for a substitute to take your place.
      When forming quadrille sets, start by filling the head couples places first. The place of the #1 couple is usually taken by the gentleman and his partner who are the most familiar with the figures. Fill up one set before starting another. The floor manager will aid in this endeavor so if you are looking to join a set, apply to the floor manager and he will help place you.

At the End of the Ball
The arrangements for the ball are a "community" effort at Grand Traditions. If you wish to take an active part in this community and you can spare the time after the ball, help with taking down and packing the decorations and clearing the supper room is greatly appreciated by the ball arrangements committee.
      Taking along brochures about our upcoming events and telling your friends about the delightful time you had would also be gratefully appreciated as would the promise and prospect of your attendance at future balls.

Etiquette text copyright 2003 Cathy Stephens. All rights reserved.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA