Dancing has been defined as a "graceful movement of the body, adjusted by art to the measures or tunes of instruments, or of voice;" and again, "agreeable to the true genius of the art, dancing is the art of expressing the sentiments of the mind, or the passions, by measured steps or bounds made in cadence, by regulated motions of the figure and by graceful gestures; all performed to the sound of musical instruments or the voice."
The calm ease which marks the man of good taste, makes even the swiftest dances graceful and agreeable. Vehemence may he excused at an election, but not ball-room. I once asked a beautiful and very clever young lady how she, who seemed to pass her life with hooks managed to dance so well. "I enjoy it, she replied; and when I dance I give my whole mind to it". She was quite right. Whatever is worth doing at all, worth doing well; and if it is not beneath your dignity to dance, it is not unworthy of your mind to give itself the time, wholly up to it. You will never enjoy dancing till you do it well; and if you do not enjoy it, [it i to dance]. But in reality dancing, if it be a mere is one to which great minds have not been ashamed stoop. Locke, for instance, has written on its utility and speaks of it as manly, which was certainly not [M.chal's] opinion, when she looked out of the window and lord and master dancing and playing. Plato recommended it, and Socrates learned the Athenian polk the day, when quite an old gentleman and liked it, much. Some one has even gone the length of calling it the logic of the body;" and Addison defends himself for making it the subject of a disquisition. If I say much more I shall have to do the same as Addison and will therefore pass to some other accomplishments necessary in society.
In dancing, generally, the performers of both sexes should endeavor to wear a pleasant countenance; and in presenting hands, a slight inclination of the head, in the manner of a salutation, is appropriate and becoming. Dancing is certainly supposed to be an enjoyment, but the sombre countenance of some who engage in it, might al most lead to the belief that it were a solemn duty being performed. If those who laugh in church would transfer their merriment to the assembly-room, and those who are sad in the assembly-room would carry their gravity to the church, they both might discover the appositeness of Solomon's declaration, that "there is a time to be merry and a time to be sad."
With the etiquette of a ball-room, so far as it goes, there are but few people unacquainted. Certain persons are appointed to act as floor managers, or there will be a "Master of the Ceremonies," whose office it is to see that everything be conducted in a proper manner: if you are entirely a stranger, it is to them you must apply for a partner, and point out (quietly) any young lady with whom you should like to dance, when, if there be no obvious inequality of position, they will present you for that purpose; should there be an objection, they will probably select some one they consider more suitable; but do not, on any account, go to a strange lady by yourself, and request her to dance, as she will unhesitatingly "decline the honor," and think you an impertinent fellow for your presumption.
A gentleman introduced to a lady by a floor manager, or the Master of Ceremonies, should not be refused by the lady if she be not already engaged, for her refusal would be a breach of good manners: as the Master of Ceremonies is supposed to be careful to introduce only gentlemen who are unexceptionable. But a gentleman who is unqualified as a dancer should never seek an introduction.
At a private party, a gentleman may offer to dance with a lady without an introduction, but at balls the rule is different. The gentleman should respectfully offer his arm to the lady who consents to dance with him, and lead her to her place. At the conclusion of the set he will conduct her to a seat, offer her any attention, or converse with her. A gentleman should not dance with his wife, and not too often with the lady to whom he is engaged.
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.
In inviting a lady to dance with you, the words, "Will you honor me with your hand for a quadrille? "or, " Shall I have the honor of dancing this set with you? " are more used now than "Shall I have the pleasure?" or, "Will you give me the pleasure of dancing with you?"
If she answers that she is engaged, merely request her to name the earliest dance for which she is not engaged, and when she will do you the honor of dancing with you.
When a young lady declines dancing with a gentleman, it is her duty to give him a reason why, although some thoughtless ones do not. No matter how frivolous it may be, it is simply an act of courtesy to offer him an excuse; while, on the other hand, no gentleman ought so far to compromise his self-respect as to take the slightest offence at seeing a lady by whom he has just been refused, dance immediately after with some one else.
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.
Be very careful not to forget an engagement. It is an unpardonable breach of politeness to ask a lady to dance with you, and neglect to remind her of her promise when the time to redeem it comes.
If a friend be engaged when you request her to dance, and she promises to be your partner for the next or any of the following dances, do not neglect her when the time comes, but be in readiness to fulfill your office as her cavalier, or she may think that you have studiously slighted her, besides preventing her obliging someone else. Even inattention and forgetfulness, by showing how little you care for a lady, form in themselves a tacit insult. In a quadrille, or other dance, while awaiting the music, or while unengaged, a lady and gentleman should avoid long conversations, as they are apt to interfere with the progress of the dance; while, on the other hand, a gentleman should not stand like an automaton, as though he were afraid of his partner, but endeavor to render himself agreeable by those "airy nothings" which amuse for the moment, and are in harmony with the occasion.
The customary honors of a bow and courtesy should be given at the commencement and conclusion of each dance.
Lord Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, says: "Dancing is, in itself, a very trifling and silly thing: but it is one of those established follies to which people of sense are sometimes obliged to conform; and then they should be able to do it well. And though I would not have you a dancer, yet, when you do dance, I would have you dance well, as I would have you do everything you do well." In another letter, he writes: "Do you mind your dancing while your dancing master is with you? As you will be often under the necessity of dancing a minuet, I would have you dance it very well. Remember that the graceful motion of the arms, the giving of your hand, and the putting off and putting on of your hat genteelly, are the material parts of a gentleman's dancing. But the greatest advantage of dancing well is, that it necessarily teaches you to present yourself, to sit, stand, and walk genteelly; all of which are of real importance to a man of fashion."
"Ye have the Pyrrhic dance as yet, Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?" says Byron bitterly to the Greeks, and some future Russian agent may perhaps sing to the wearers the same strain: Ye have the Highland reel as yet, Where are your Highland chieftains gone?
Then the Madrilaine has been imported from Spain, which retains the oriental Bolero, Fandango, and Cachu-cha. The last is of purely Eastern character, and may be danced by a Nach girl before a Lucknow Prince. Americans with more patriotism than ourselves have preserved the only national and English dances, the hornpipe and licr, and have about twenty varieties of the former including a sailor's, college, gipsy's, and even bricklayer's and lamplighter's hornpipe. These American names no less eccentric than their drinks. He should scarcely care to join in the - Devil's Dream, for [uiste and t! e] dance called Jordan is a hard road can hardly be a favorite out of Hebrew circles. Money Musk was once an English dance. When there was a quarrel between the country people and the rich tradesmen at the Bath balls, Beau Nash had some trouble to reconcile them, but he appropriately sealed his success by ordering the band to strike up "Money Musk." The "Lancers" are a revival after many long years, and perhaps we may soon have a drawing-room adaptation of the Morris-dance.
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