Read CHAPTER XII - THE DANCE of The Complete Bachelor Manners for Men , free online book, by Walter Germain, on

This is certainly a most important subject, and one which can not be lightly treated. I have thought it better to use exclusively the New York forms, which differ somewhat from the English, the French, and continental, as well as from a certain code of etiquette prevailing in other American cities.

I shall therefore, as we have no State balls or ceremonials of that character, consider public assemblages, a few of which are patronized by society in New York and elsewhere.

Of absolutely public balls the only one which society attends is the Charity. In New York this has fallen somewhat in fashionable popularity, although efforts are being made to revive it. In Chicago and in other cities it is still a very fashionable function. It is there well patronized and is considered smart. Tickets to the Charity are sold by a number of lady patronesses, and you are apt to receive one or several from some of them, if you are a rich young man, with a request to purchase. If the note states that you are expected to be a guest you are simply to answer it, as you would any other invitation, and certainly not to inclose any money. Patronesses frequently are named because it is expected that they will purchase quite a number of tickets. And here let me give a useful hint. In sending money to this and for charitable entertainments in general, always do it by check; never inclose bills. If you must use cash, keep it for your small tradespeople.

Everything may be said to have its price at a Charity Ball. Supper is sometimes included with the ticket. The repast is usually rather poor, but then you must remember it is for charity. Perhaps you will be asked some time in advance by the patronesses to be one in the “grand march.” The “grand march” proper is a form of exhibition long since relegated to balls of the “Tough Boys’ Coterie” and other assemblages of the same class. But it has survived, in place of a lancers or quadrille of honor, at the Charity Ball, and we have either to go through with it or watch it from the boxes with Christian patience. If you are to take part, I would advise you to present yourself at the hall or opera house about nine o’clock. The floor manager will do the rest. You are to offer your left arm to the lady you are taking out, and you march around the place in regular line, sometimes once, sometimes twice, and the agony is over. The company assembled does not join in this ceremony, and the formation of figures and countermarches is an affair in vogue at balls of a different class, which I should imagine none of my readers would patronize or even “hear tell of,” except through the newspapers.

The Inauguration Ball in Washington, as well as the New Years’ receptions at the different embassies’ and secretaries’ houses, are public functions to which the populace get admittance. They are crushes of the worst description, and at many of them refreshments are served. Except to make an obeisance to your distinguished host and hostess if to the President, shaking hands with him no other ceremony is needed.

At Newport and at other watering places there are during the season semipublic dances at the Casino. Any one who subscribes to that place of amusement is entitled to all the social privileges. The tickets can be obtained from the secretary or his agent.

In every city there is an assembly or dancing organization on the lines of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in New York. This is in itself not original with the “Four Hundred” vulgar term! but was copied from the St. Cecilia, the most exclusive affair of the kind in aristocratic Charleston, where it has existed since the days of the Revolution. The assemblies proper in New York are called the Matriarchs. The arrangements are in the hands of a number of fashionable women instead of men. The plan of all these organizations is practically the same. In order to make matters easy and to pilot my reader through the intricacies of a fashionable ball, I will suppose that he is a stranger in New York, with some smart friends, and that he is going either to the Patriarchs’ or to the Assembly. The rules laid down will hold good for other cities. Your first intimation may be while visiting at the house of one of the patrons or patronesses, when your hostess or host may ask you if you would like to go to the Assembly or the Patriarchs’. If you have no other engagement for that evening and I think it would be policy for you to make others subservient to this you should reply that you would be delighted to do so. Your host or hostess will then say that he or she will send you a ticket. This may be one way, or you may receive a note asking if you are free for that particular date, whether “would you like to go to the Assembly?” etc., or again, you might simply receive a note with a ticket. In any one of these cases, just as soon as you receive the ticket you must answer your correspondent immediately, accepting, or, if you can not go, regretting and returning it. You must remember that all tickets are personal and each Patriarch or each patroness has only a certain number.

I would, if there were time between the date for the ball and the reception of your ticket, call or leave cards personally on your hostess or host for the evening, according to rules in a former chapter. I do not believe this is considered necessary in New York, and perhaps some people would think you were straining a point, but New York “society” manners to-day are not all that could be desired.

The evening arrives. Balls and dances are theoretically supposed to begin at ten o’clock. You can safely go a little after eleven. You will be early enough. Your ticket is received, your hat and coat removed, your hat check given, and you proceed to the ballroom.

It is almost needless for me to tell you how to dress for this occasion. At dances of any kind, formal evening dress is required.

On entering the room, if it is at the Assembly, you will encounter a line of patronesses. You should make a low, sweeping bow to them and, if convenient, speak to your hostess, be it only a few words of greeting. If not at that time, select a later hour in the evening. No one shakes hands.

You look around to find your friends and acquaintances. At the Patriarchs’ the chaperons sit upon a raised platform, or dais, I might call it, all together. Their charges, once away from them, are around the rooms. In nearly all the cities, except New York, every guest is provided with a dancing card, which makes the keeping of dancing engagements a part of the festivity. New York is too large for such things, and dancing cards have been relegated to the realms of innocuous desuetude. However, if you are at a ball or a dance in another city where they are used, your first duty would be to have your engagements filled. You should remain with your partner after each dance until her next cavalier appears.

New Yorkers are sensible, if only for this reason, for having banished the dance card. It is hard for a man to tell a woman he must leave her, but I think it is better by far to do so than to appear rude to your succeeding partner. A woman who has so little regard for you and such selfish consideration for herself does not deserve to be handled with gloves. And yet it needs a heroic soul to abandon her in a crowded ballroom, even if it is to lead her back to her chaperon.

In New York everything is simplified. There exist no such social complications. Everybody is more or less grouped together, and you generally know in which part of the room you are to find your friends. You exchange greetings with the women you know, and if you wish to ask one of them to dance, you say, “May I have the pleasure of this turn with you?” or “Can I have a turn with you?” It is absolutely impossible to keep dance engagements, and you are obliged, perhaps, to snatch a dance whenever you can get it. After your turn you must always manage to stop at about the point where you began. You will be sure to find your partner’s chaperon just at that place. There are two reasons for this one is that the man with whom your partner has engaged weeks, if not months, before (one has to do this in New York) to dance the cotillon has reserved his chairs there, and she has told many of her friends just about in which part of the ballroom she may be found; and another is that New York women, under all circumstances, keep a distinctive place in a ballroom.

A gentleman never dances without gloves. He always puts them on before entering the ballroom. A man should dance easily and gracefully, and look as if he were enjoying himself. He should be careful about guiding and not running into people. Swinging the hands is vulgar and unsightly. The waltz seems to survive all other forms of dancing, but there is every now and then a revival of the polka. Two steps and fancy dances are the vogue at summer hotels, but not at smart functions.

The quadrille of to-day is the simple lancers, and some years ago it was a silly fad to pretend not to remember the figures. A little life and spirit are sometimes introduced in the lancers when the gathering is small, and among intimate friends there is more or less occasion for it. The barn dance has gone out of fashion entirely in America, but our English cousins, especially those living in the country and in Suburbia, are very fond of it. Balls frequently end with Sir Roger de Coverley, the English form of the Virginia reel.

About two o’clock supper is announced, and this is done all over the world, I believe, by the strains of the Priests’ March in Norma. So it was in my grandfather’s day, and so it is to-day and was at the very last Patriarchs’, the very last Assembly, and the very last large ball at Newport. Engagements for supper are made in New York weeks or even months beforehand. You should settle this with your partner, and as supper is served at tables of parties of four or six, an agreeable quartette or sextette can be secured. Parties are never less than four, and a girl who sups alone with a man, even at the Patriarchs’, is considered very fast, and by such impudent behavior would lose caste. You should arrange with your partner, therefore, to be as near the supper-room door as possible about the supper hour. There is always a rush and a crush, and no tables are reserved except those for the patronesses or the Patriarchs. Two of the party should get in early and reserve the table and wait until the rest arrive. Ball suppers are nearly all alike. Four or five courses, which commence with oysters, are followed by bouillon, and then terrapin and birds, and salad and ices, fruit and coffee. Three kinds of wine are served, and champagne forms the chief. Many matrons even will not allow their daughters to go to supper without being chaperoned, and so when you ask your partner she will sometimes have her parents obtain the table. Should you be asked to the table of one of the patronesses, you will have a partner provided for you. Remember the first engagement should always be kept, and if a patroness should honor you with such an invitation, and you have made prior arrangements, you should at once explain by note your position, which will be a sufficient excuse to your would-be hostess.

After supper the cotillon, or German, as it is sometimes called, is danced.