September 29, 2010

Civil War Dancing Curtsy and Dance Position Instructions


'"As to flirtation," continues this sage instructor in morals and manners, ''it is difficult to draw a limit where the predilection of the moment becomes the more tender and serious feeling, and flirtation sobers into a more honorable form of devoted attention. I think flirtation comes under the head of morals more than of manners; still I may be allowed to say that ballroom flirtation, being more open, is less dangerous than any other. But a young lady of taste will be careful not to flaunt and publish her flirtation, as if to say, ' See, I have an admirer !' In the same way a prudent man will never presume on a girl's liveliness or banter. No man of taste ever made an offer after supper, and certainly nine-tenths of those who have done so have regretted it at breakfast the next morning."' ~Harper's Magazine 1860

Dances and balls were at their height in the mid-1800s.  Many conservative people at the time thought balls were only good for introducing sin to young people. Despite that many people loved dances: a dance with under 50 participants was considered "a dance," a dance with under 100 people but more than 50 was considered "a ball," and a dance with over 100 people was considered "a large ball."

Tickets to public dances held in public halls could be bought in advance. Dance cards were frequently printed with the tickets. The cards listed the songs which would be played and the dances that would accompany them. The cards had spaces for dancing partners to write their names to reserve dances. It was considered polite to not dance with the same partner more than once or twice if you were engaged or married. This is much different from our view today, where we normally go to a dance with one person and stay with them the entire night.

The point of dances were to have a good time and to converse with people that you didn't see all of the time. The sentiment at the time was that if you stayed with one person all night you were monopolizing yourselves and denying everyone else the company of both of you. There were many group dances that would allow every lady to dance with every man throughout the course of the dance. This seems like a good arrangement because couples, although at the same dance, could have different experiences at the dance that they could share with each other after.
Dances and dinners that observe the separating of couples are quite refreshing.  I met a lady at a reenactment who said that a girl asked if she could dance with her husband. The lady said she was appalled and didn't know what to do and that she felt foolish after she found out that it was a common period request. It is a weird sensation to us today, but one that should probably be more common. Sometimes it seems that when two people get married or become a couple that they suddenly become removed from their friends and stopped getting invited out. I know many couples who dislike only being invited out on "couples outings" or "date nights." To quote a friend of mine, "We're married, not dead."

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  1. I'm not having a dance, but I am having a knitting party on Oct 9th. Did you get my email? And, can you let Amanda know? Thanks, Steph. Oh almost forgot - Liz was asking for Andy, wanting to know if he's okay.

  2. Stephanie great post! At events lots of times people do not understand why they cannot dance with one person the whole time. Even I who know some about the civil war mind set was not sure why they always had to switch patners. It always seems to finally get to know the person and dance well at the end of the dance. Then you have to do the same thing all over again with the next partner. But in the 1860s we would not have the problem of guys and gals not knowing a dance I am sure. This post really cleared up a lot of questions about dances. Thank you so much for all the info! It really is interesting and I am enjoy your posts.

    In Christ,

  3. Jodi, I am able to make it, and excited! I will let Amanda know. It's good to be hearing from Liz, Andy wasn't sure if she was still giving lessons with her new position, he knew she was really busy. He'll be glad to know she still is.

  4. Hey Rebecca, I know the feeling--it's like you finally get comfortable and then you have to relearn it again with a new partner! I am not a good dancer so it's always hard for me. :D


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