Reviving the refined and gallant culture of yesteryear through historical dance
Dance Etiquette of Days Gone By
This is actual language from old etiquette manuals. Though it is somewhat amusing to read
these old-fashioned rules of behavior, the underlying princple of dance floor etiquette
remains the same: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Gentlemen are not permitted to enter the Ball Room in hats, boots, spurs, gaters, trowsers,
or with canes or sticks, nor are loose pantaloons considered proper for a Dress Ball.
Gentlemen do not wear swords, knives, guns, or anything else that may trip, gouge, or tangle
anyone else on the floor.
A gentleman should refrain from smoking, spitting, fighting, or using colorful language on
the dance floor or any other location in the presence of ladies. Recollect, the desire of
imparting pleasure, especially to the ladies, is one of the essential
qualifications of a gentleman.
A lady or gentleman should finish their toilet before entering the room for dancing,
as it is indecorous in either to be drawing on their gloves, or brushing their hair.
Finish your toilet in the dressing rooms. Ladies beware of trains. If you must wear them,
have a wrist loop. You will, however, find life to be better if you do without trains.
White kid gloves should be worn at a ball, and only be taken off at supper-time.
When entering a private ball or party, the visitor should invariably bow to the company.
No well-bred person would omit this courtesy in entering a drawing-room; although the
entrance to a large assembly may be unnoticed. Always recognize the lady or gentleman,
or the director of ceremonies with becoming politeness: a salute or bow is sufficient.
Dance with grace and modesty, neither affect to make a parade of your knowledge; refrain
from great leaps and ridiculous jumps, which would attract the attention of all towards you.
A lady should not attend a public ball without an escort, nor should she promenade the ball
room alone; in fact, no lady should be left unattended.
A gentleman will never approach a lady to whom he has not been properly introduced. A
gentlemen may ask a lady's escort or any male member of her family for an introduction.
Any such request for an introduction may be refused. A gentleman should accept such
A lady will never engage herself with a gentleman to whom she has not been properly introduced.
A gentleman will not take a vacant seat next to a lady who is a stranger to him. If she is
an acquaintance, he may do so with her permission.
Any presentation to a lady in a public ball-room, for the mere purpose of dancing, does
not entitle you to claim her acquaintance afterwards; therefore, should you meet her,
at most you may lift your hat; but even that is better avoided - unless, indeed, she
first bow - as neither she nor her friends can know who or what you are.
A lady cannot refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she has already accepted
that of another, for she would be guilty of an incivility which might occasion trouble;
she would, moreover, seem to show contempt for him whom she refused, and would expose
herself to receive in secret an ill compliment from the mistress of the house.
Never wait until the signal is given to take a partner, for nothing is more impolite than
to invite a lady hastily, and when the dancers are already in their places; it can be allowed
only when the set is incomplete.
The master of the house should see that all the ladies dance; he should take notice,
particularly of those who seem to serve as drapery to the walls of the ball-room,
(or wall-flowers, as the familiar expression is,) and should see that they are invited to
dance. But he must do this wholly unperceived, in order not to wound the self-esteem of
the unfortunate ladies.
In giving the hand for ladies chain or any other figures, those dancing should wear a
smile, and accompany it with a polite inclination of the head, in the manner of a salutation.
At the end of the dance, the gentleman re-conducts the lady to her place, bows and thanks
her for the honor which she has conferred. She also bows in silence, smiling with a
A lady will not cross a ball-room unattended.
Married or young ladies, cannot leave a ball-room or any other party, alone. The former
should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother,
or by a lady to represent her.
There is a custom which is sometimes practiced both in the assembly room and at private
parties, which cannot be too strongly reprehended; we allude to the habit of ridicule and
ungenerous criticism of those who are ungraceful or otherwise obnoxious to censure,
which is indulged in by the thoughtless, particularly among the dancers. Of its gross
impropriety and vulgarity we need hardly express an opinion; but there is such an utter
disregard for the feelings of others implied in this kind of negative censorship, that
we cannot forbear to warn our young readers to avoid it.
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Copyright 2015 by Palmetto English Country Dance