Category Archives: 19CBRE: 19th Century Ball Room Etiquette

19CBRE: Following With Trust

(I thought I was very clever when I came up with the name for the post… and then a few days later I couldn’t remember what I was thinking the content should be! I guess if I confuse myself that easily I should certainly explain my cleverness so you can appreciate it, too!)

I was reading Thomas Hillgrove’s The Art of Practical Dancing from 1868 and I came across this passage on page 154:

“It is recommended that the lady, when waltzing, leave herself to the direction of her partner, trusting entirely to him, without in any case seeking to follow her own impulse. A lady who should endeavor to avoid an encounter with other dancers, would risk interfering with the intention of the gentleman, to whom alone should be trusted her security amid the crowd surrounding and crossing her in every direction.” 

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I thought, “Hm! Trusting myself entirely to my partner’s care is something I rarely do! I’m often giving non-verbal hints about my opinions on where we should go, how much we should rotate, etc… and depending on the ability of my partner, my hints sometimes come down to downright back-leading.” I’m sure this partly comes from eight or so years of competitive modern ballroom dancing, in which the leader is in charge, but the lady has the duty to do her part to see what’s going on around the floor and help ensure that crashes, etc. don’t occur, as well as my independent-modern-woman mindset. However, despite these reasons, I imagine Hillgrove would have taken exception to my dancing style!

I started thinking about whether it made sense for me to attempt Hillgrove’s method while dancing historical dances. I dance in three settings, at private rehearsals when the dance troupe I am part of is practicing for performances, during performances with said dance troupe, and at public balls when I am dancing with guests of varying abilities or with members of the dance troupe.

I think it boils down this way: when dancing in a performance there are goals of elegance, nice spacing between couples, etc. that we are aiming for, and my interpretation of our artistic directors’ instruction in addition to my own feeling is that every person dancing should contribute to these goals, so a bit of hinting makes sense for the context. I feel similarly about hinting while dancing at balls depending on the ability of my partner, and if the goal is to ensure the safety of myself, my partner, or other people who might cut us off, etc. I also feel justified in back-leading a partner who needs some assistance to stay with the music, avoid crashes, or know how much rotation to complete in a given step, etc… but it sounds like I don’t really ever  follow with trust!

With these thoughts in mind at a recent ball, I attempted to follow partners (whose abilities I have faith in) with trust. It was surprisingly uneventful! I think it really comes down to the ability of a partner in order to determine if I’m comfortable with that level of trust. Do you entirely follow your partners with trust at historical dance events? Or are you like me, picking and choosing when you feel comfortable doing so?

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Success! Time to go home.

(As another side note, it’s been just about a year since my last 19CBRE post. If you’re not sure what that’s all about, check out this introductory post. You can see all of the posts relating to 19CBRE here. Perhaps this year I’ll get around to posting more of the interesting tidbits I’ve been thinking of posting over the last year!)

19CBRE: Etiquette For The Ballroom ‘Quick List’

For your 19th century ballroom edification today, we have a list of etiquette points from The Royal Ball-Room Guide and Etiquette of the Drawing Room, 1877 (available through The Library of Congress). This is a great digest of lots of  etiquette points on a variety of topics.

I believe many modern ladies and gentlemen could take note of many of these points when attending recreations of 19th century balls. My top choices for attendees and personal favorites are numbers 4, 11, 18, and 22.

Do you have a favorite (or two)? Did any surprise you? Have you been to a recreated 19th century ball and longed for any of these points to be adopted by modern ball guests?

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19CBRE: The Height Of Ill-Breeding

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The Soiree by Jean Beraud

Never anticipate the point or joke of an anecdote told in your presence. If you have heard the story before, it may be new to others, and the narrator should always be allowed to finish it in his own words. To take any sentence from the mouth of another person, before he has time to utter it, is the height of ill-breeding. Avoid it carefully.

Be careful always to speak in a distinct, clear voice; at the same time avoid talking too loudly, there is a happy medium between mumbling and screaming. Strive to attain it.

This particular quote is from page 14 of the The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), source here. Warning to all: avoid the “height of ill-breeding” in the new year! And, happy new year!

19CBRE: Stick To Your Own Language

Life has been very busy of late and I haven’t any new sewing or event pictures ready to share, but I do have another installment of 19CBRE ready, so let’s go with that for now.

This one is following up on the last 19CBRE post about the use of those “I can’t remember the specific thing I’m mentioning” phrases. In a similar vein, this excerpt is also about what one should and shouldn’t say in conversation. It is from the same source, The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), page 14:

It is a mark of ill breeding to use French phrases or words, unless you are sure your companion is a French scholar, and, even then, it is best to avoid them. Above all, do not use any foreign word or phrase, unless you have the language perfectly at your command. I heard a lady once use a Spanish quotation; she had mastered that one sentence alone; but a Cuban gentleman, delighted to meet an American who could converse with him in his own tongue, immediately addressed her in Spanish. Embarrassed and ashamed, she was obliged to confess that her knowledge of the language was confined to one quotation.

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A Trying Moment by George du Maurier

Good advice to follow in the 19th century and even today in many situations. Of course, our modern sense of etiquette being less strict than it used to be, a modern person perhaps wouldn’t be quite as embarrassed as a lady from the 1870s, but still it seems like a situation that is unnecessary and easy to avoid.

Introduction To A New Thin-Gummy: 19CBRE

I’ve been inspired lately to read (and in some cases skim at the very least) 19th century etiquette manuals,  especially those books and sections that pertain to 19th century ballroom etiquette. What got me started was perusing various posts at the blog Recreating the 19th Century Ballroom. Barbara posts tantalizing snippets from these sorts of manuals and I wanted to see the context and read more, so I went back to the original sources.

Looking for one thing leads to another, as you probably know, and so it was with etiquette manuals. Once you find one you are led to others and it’s just one big rabbit hole. In my perusal of these manuals, I’ve come across amusing and interesting sections that I’d like to share. In addition, I’ve also started thinking about 19th century ballroom etiquette and how much or little a modern historic ballroom atmosphere can replicate. It’s really quite fascinating!

I’m planning a series of posts relating to this general topic, exploring some of my thoughts as well as sharing quotes from the manuals. I don’t want to commit to any sort of regular posting, but I’m thinking I’ll just intersperse these posts amongst my usual parade of dressmaking and event pictures with the abbreviation 19CBRE (19th Century Ball Room Etiquette) to note what these posts are about. (It’s not a typo, in these manuals, the word we now spell ballroom was separated into two words “ball room.”)

To start, here is a short quote from The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), page 14, source here:

Never use the phrases, “What-d-ye call it,” “Thin-gummy,” “What’s his name,” or any such substitutes for a proper name or place. If you cannot recall the names you wish to use, it is better not to tell the story or incident connected with them. No lady of high breeding will ever use the substitutes in conversation.

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I am so guilty of using phrases like this in life (and at historic events…). I forget what I’m talking about within a few seconds of finishing a sentence sometimes! So when I want to continue the conversation these phrases pop right up. According to these 19th century standards, I’m of low breeding and obviously not polite… but in our modern world these phrases, while being casual, don’t mark you as being ill-bred, at least to me. I’ve spent time thinking about the fact that this very casual way of speaking is probably not appropriate for a 19th century lady, but that goes back to my currently unexplored thoughts about how far we choose to go when recreating the past at a public event such as a ball (a topic I’ll be sure to post about, someday!).

But thin-gummy is just so amusing! I really feel like I need to work that into modern conversation just because I can. In fact, I worked it into the title of this post and I hope you can imagine the grin on my face because of it!

Do you use these sorts of phrases in your modern life or at historic events? Had it ever occurred to you that in the 19th century these sorts of phrases were to be avoided?