Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson VI. Ball Room Etiquette

Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson VI. Ball Room Etiquette

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 03, 2010

V. Travel by Sea
VII. Table Manners

VI. Ball Room Etiquette.

It has been stated in these lessons that the Lord is not displeased with His children who indulge themselves, under right conditions and at proper times and places, in the recreation of dancing, which is designed to and does re-create or make anew the wasted nervous forces which are of that fine substance that not even food itself can supply the need. The body requires sleep and rest to revivify its tissues, and this, to be sure, rests the nerves also; and yet, not even sleep and suitable food will keep the nervous system in good order, if a monotonous life without recreation be the rule.

There is a strong prejudice in the Christian world against dancing and going to theatres, and this is harmful, not because of the actual dancing itself nor of the attendance at the theatre, if it be a proper one, but because so any weak-minded persons are led by these forms of amusement into sin and misery.

It is next to impossible to convince our young people that there is any harm in dancing or theatre going, because they have been given such free license in these forms of amusement; and yet it is certainly true that there lurks a great danger in both these things for the unwary and the undisciplined youth.

A glance into the ethics of ball room procedure will indicate sufficiently where this danger lies and how it may be avoided.

Dancing is a healthful amusement, and is practiced in all gymnasiums as a part of the curriculum; but it has physical danger if indulged in at wrong times and to too great an extent. Round dancing is often indecent and immodest, and is even more dangerous, physically, than the plain “square” dance or quadrille. Dancing, while it is healthful and good in moderation, is often a serious cause of moral degeneracy, but this lesson cannot deal with this phase of the subject, and therefore we recommend that all those who would pursue this topic for themselves shall apply to their parents or other wise counselors.

Invitations for parties of a private nature should be issued to individuals rather than to couples. Invitations to parties given by associations, by clubs or by individuals in a public hall should be distributed with great care and thought. It is shocking to see the thoughtlessness with which our young people give invitations to dances and other social parties. Both young men and young women will issue invitations to persons not of our faith; and even one hour’s acquaintance seems to be sufficient, at times, upon which to base an invitation to a private and select gathering.

No man, in the world, would be invited to the home and acquaintance, much less to a private social gathering or party, without a long acquaintance and knowledge of the invited person’s antecedents and character, or without the best letters of introduction from reliable mutual friends. The world understands the character of the man of the world, and society has erected around helpless, innocent girls a strong barrier of public opinion of gossip united with strict social observances, which, in a measure, protect the girl and the woman from the acquaintance of evil and designing men. It is a pity, but it is true, that the one creature to whom a woman must look for protection, for guidance and for help, is the one creature who is also her worst enemy. Women need not be afraid of anything in the animal kingdom; their greatest fear is always of a wicked man. And, alas, so many wicked men – wicked morally – bear fair reputations in the business and commercial world. But our people must awaken themselves to this condition of affairs existing in the world and protect our innocent girls from undesirable acquaintances and wicked, designing men. It is for this that letters of introduction from honest and honorable people should precede an acquaintance with any stranger who comes into our midst. A man of the world smiles in ridicule and amusement at the loose manner in which he may introduce himself into almost any society he pleases among our innocent, unsuspecting and generous-hearted people; therefore, let invitations be issued with great care, and only to those whose whole moral character can bear the inspection of the most searching light. That a man or a woman has the manners of a gentleman or a lady is not sufficient, for manners constitute but the outer clothing of the spirit; and yet good manners are beautiful in themselves and must be sought for and obtained by the son or daughter of Zion who would be a Saint indeed.

No lady will intimate to a gentleman in any way that she wishes to be invited to a party; but when she has been invited, she will either accept or decline with courtesy and cordiality. It is an unwritten law that the first invitation is the accepted one; but if a girl should receive an invitation from an undesirable source, it is well that she should have previously engaged in some informal manner to her brother or her father so that she may gracefully refuse the invitation.

It is bad form to keep a gentleman waiting after the appointed hour for his arrival.

If the party be a public one, and the young lady be under seventeen years of age, it is unwise for her to go out alone at night with a young man; she should be accompanied by her mother or other chaperone. This is another precaution which the influx of worldly morals and manners makes necessary amongst our people today. In the world, a young girl is not considered “out” until she is eighteen years old, and she would therefore never receive an invitation under that age to go anywhere with a young man.

On arriving at the ball room, whether it be a public or a private dance, the young lady will go to the dressing room set aside for ladies, and as soon as she is prepared to go into the ball room, she will find her partner waiting for her in the hall, who will escort her to greet the host or hostess of the occasion.

The first and the last dance belong to her partner, and some young ladies hand their dancing cards to their gentlemen escort that he may write in any other number he desires before giving it to friends who may crowd around seeking this privilege.

More than three dances with any gentleman excepting one’s partner, is in bad form, and girls who do not wish to be gossiped about should avoid making too pronounced a choice of any gentleman partner.

A knowledge of dancing and some grace in the manner thereof is an attractive quality in a young girl, and this accomplishment can be acquired now-a-days at a dancing school or through the tuition of some kind friend if the girl is a little slow in learning the various new dances.

Training dresses in a ball room are an abomination. And the low-neck, short-sleeve dresses worn by some of our young girls are neither nice nor proper; they are anything but modest.

Some ignorant girls – ignorant of the laws that govern their own beings – are led into this extreme of fashion, and thereby render themselves a menace to morality and somewhat of a disgrace to their parents and associates. Elbow sleeves and a little dainty cutting away from the throat are not to be condemned.

It is considered rude to refuse one partner and dance the same number with another. If a girl has any occasion to decline a dance with a gentleman, she should be careful to “sit out” that dance, unless she wishes to insult the one she has refused. Some young people, in the exuberance of their spirits, allow themselves to indulge in a number of practices which are rude in themselves, and which oftentimes seriously interfere with the pleasure of other people who may be present, such, for instance, as stamping the feet, swinging the partner around several times, shouting across the set, snapping the fingers, laughing and talking in loud tones, running across the floor, and even sliding the floor. Young people will even be guilty of pushing themselves into a set where they have no right to be, or of making others to leave the set, or of crowding past others already just taking their places, and if the couple in the set be an elderly one, such an action becomes an insult to every one present.

Everybody, and especially older people, recognizes the excitement and lack of mental poise which often characterize young people who gather in these places of amusement – the music, the lights, the sex contact, the dancing – all contribute to make the nerves unsteady, and especially in young people to make them intoxicated with the spirit of the hour. But never, at any time, should a young lady be more careful of her womanliness and sweet modesty of manner than under these circumstances.

Occasionally a young man will drop his handkerchief in a quadrille set, and will leave, sometimes without even some such sign, and if somebody else comes and takes the vacant place rude words may be the result. All this is reprehensible to a degree.

It is sometimes difficult for a young lady to refuse a young man she does not wish to dance with. If she be over-tired, yet she is fearful of offending a friend, she may well learn to invite him to sit by her side while she entertains him so gaily with conversation that he will enjoy it quite as much as if they had danced the set out together.

Too much dancing is bad, physically and morally, for both sexes, as stated before.

No young lady who has any respect for herself or regard for her character will dance with a young man whose breath smells of liquor; much less will she dance with a man whose reputation for morality goes even deeper into evil than liquor drinking. Girls cannot too quickly sever their acquaintance, coldly and promptly, with men who lose their moral reputations. The Lord did not design innocent girls to become the saviors of immoral men; mothers and sisters may help them, but it is the fathers and the Elders who will have the power, and to them God will look for assistance in the saving of moral degenerates.

It is expected that any young man in a private party may ask any young girl to dance without the formality of an introduction, but this is exceedingly bad form in public parties.

Cliques should not form in little crowds in private parties, although it is allowable and natural in public ones.

A young girl has no right to introduce a young man to another girl without her consent and permission. Introductions are a dangerous and much-abused privilege; they should be carefully given, and the person who gives them should remember that he or she assumes responsibility for the person introduced.

Parties should begin early and close early; but it is always optional with a girl when she shall go home, for her partner awaits her choice in the matter. It is not considered good form to be among the last to leave the ball room.

Every girl knows that it is certainly the height of rudeness to go to a party with one young man and go home with another.

If any article of clothing has been lost, such as rubbers, cape or hat, do not add to the wrong by committing another and taking those of somebody else, for this is dishonest.

A young man is usually expected to call the next day and find out if his partner has suffered any ill effects from her enjoyment. This call, however, should be made at an hour when the young lady may be supposed to have set herself to rights, or at least when she is not still resting in bed.


1. Under what conditions is round dancing harmful physically?
2. Under what conditions is it harmful morally?
3. When is dancing innocent as a recreation?
4. Why do we need recreation, and when is it proper?
5. Why does dancing have such charms as a recreation?
6. Why is round dancing more liable to be harmful than square dancing?
7. To whom should we apply for deeper information in respect to the ethics of dancing, and why?
8. Why should invitations for parties be issued to individuals rather than to couples?
9. What should be the guide in issuing invitations to both girls and young men?
10. When and why should young Latter-day Saints be careful as to whom they invite to parties, especially those who are not of the same faith?
11. What good-sense rule in the world serves as a protection for young girls in a social way?
112. What can you say of letters of introduction?
13. Why may letters of introduction prove a menace to society?
14. What should a lady do when invited to dance with a gentleman she does not care to know further? Or when she is too tired?
15. What can you say of the etiquette of the ball-room and of private parties? What about cliques? What about rowdyism?
16. Should a young girl be accompanied by a chaperone when going out at night with a young man?
17. What can you say and what do you think of dress in the ball-room?
18. What general rule will always safely guide one in the etiquette of the ball-room? And why?



  1. What a fun post. It’s interesting how some things have changed and how some things have stayed the same. The topic of dancing reminded me of a paragraph from the autobiography of my great grandmother who was a girl during the time that this was written. She said,

    In St. Johns during the dances we couldn’t hear the orchestra for the feet a scraping on the floor. The orchestra was just Brother M– playing his fiddle and somebody else played the guitar. We had wonderful dances. One night Joe J– came in a cart with two horses hooked on it. He stopped and got me first and then he went up and he stopped and went in and got Ethyl G–. It just tickled me so much and I thought it was funny. Ethyl just sat there with a solemn face. So we got to the dance and he said, “Well, I’ll tell you, Ethyl. I picked Jessie up for the dance first so I’ll dance with Jessie first and then I’ll come and dance with you.” Ethyl was not too happy. As we were going down to dance Joe said, “I’m dancing with you first because I’ll never get another chance.” He didn’t.

    Comment by Researcher — March 3, 2010 @ 9:36 am

  2. Love it!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  3. “A young girl has no right to introduce a young man to another girl without her consent and permission. Introductions are a dangerous and much-abused privilege; they should be carefully given, and the person who gives them should remember that he or she assumes responsibility for the person introduced.”

    Now I understand the dilemma expressed in the ballad “The Tennessee Waltz”!

    Comment by Coffinberry — March 3, 2010 @ 10:02 am

  4. I would appreciate a picture of the abomination that is the “training dress” or some explanation why the wearing of it in the ballroom is so deplorable.

    Comment by Mina — March 3, 2010 @ 11:30 am

  5. A young man is usually expected to call the next day and find out if his partner has suffered any ill effects from her enjoyment. This call, however, should be made at an hour when the young lady may be supposed to have set herself to rights, or at least when she is not still resting in bed.


    Comment by Anne (U.K) — March 3, 2010 @ 11:37 am

  6. “I was waltzing with my darlin’ to the Tennessee Waltz
    When an old friend I happened to see.
    Introduced him to my loved one and while they were waltzing,
    My friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

    Thanks, Coffinberry — I guess you know what tune I can’t seem to shake ever since reading your comment!

    Mina, I gather that “training dress” — much as it might create interesting mental images linking it to “training bra” or “training wheels” — is probably just a dress with a train. Can’t imagine a train would make dancing a pleasure for the girl who got it tangled around her ankles while she was spinning, and it would be a nuisance for every other dancer who had to avoid stepping on it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2010 @ 11:38 am

  7. The “morning after” visit must have morphed into the “morning after” phone call a little later in the century. Those turn-of-the-century balls must have been wilder than the ones they show on Masterpiece Theater if there was such widespread expectation that there might have been ill effects …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  8. Perhaps the potential ill effects had more to do with the restrictive clothing worn to the ball. It might make breathing difficult even under mild exertion.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 3, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

  9. A quadrille. Any idea what kind of dance that was? It was associated with a traumatic–yet ultimately spiritual experience–of one of my pioneer ancestors.

    Comment by Clark — March 3, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

  10. Clark, a square dance is a kind of quadrille; so are the long lines of dancers with men in one line facing women in the other line that you might see on a BBC production of a Jane Austen novel. They are all very formalized dances where, say, the opposite lines bow to each other, then both lines step toward each other with every man circling around his partner, then they step apart; at some point the couple at the head of the line might make an arch with their arms, and each other couple will hold hands and walk under the arch, or whatever.

    If we can judge by those BBC models, there was a lot of opportunity for a couple to flirt with and talk to each other. Since the instruments were usually softer than their modern equivalents, the dance music wouldn’t have interfered with talking, either.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

  11. I wondered about the training dresses, too. It seems a strange term. Where is Justin to give us his take on this?

    Comment by Maurine — March 3, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

  12. And a round dance. Why so inclined to corrupt morals? Are we speaking of what might be called country dances?

    Could “training dress” be a misprint for “trailing dress”?

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — March 3, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  13. This post and this one will give some insight into the official attitude toward “round dancing” (waltzes and other couples dances — as opposed to group dances — where there was close physical contact between dance partners) in 1897. Pick up a fresh hanky before you read the sad tale of round dancing in the second post.

    The original says “training,” which I really do think is the adjective for a dress with a train, but “trailing” would certainly fit the context even if the dragging hem didn’t count as a true train. Abominations all!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  14. Your are probably right about “training,” Ardis. The -ing form sounds odd to my ears, but perhaps it was common parlance, then. I took a quick look in my clothing and costume dictionaries and didn’t find anything; since I’m likely not committing that fashion abomination, I won’t worry.

    Comment by Mina — March 3, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

  15. And, of course, the failure to make that “morning after” call, especially if there was a good-night kiss after the dance, is the explanation for all those mid-day promises to never fall in love again.

    Which promises were kept until at least tomorrow.

    (By the way, I missed the paragraph describing the etiquette for that good-night kiss. OK on a first date? What about a “last” date? What if it’s both a first and a last date?)

    Comment by Mark B. — March 4, 2010 @ 7:41 am

  16. Thanks for posting this, Ardis. I just love the phrase “reprehensible to a degree.”

    Comment by Ziff — March 7, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

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