Balls And Dances, Their Arrangements, Etc.
FORMULAS for invitations to balls and dances have been already given in the chapter on Invitations. For a large ball, especially if it be given at a very gay season, when people will be apt to have numerous engagements, the invitations are sometimes sent out three or four wecks beforehand. This is notably the case in London, where the short season of gayety is crowded with social events.
In America, we have few city houses that are large enough to give balls in with any comfort to the dancers. Indeed, not many of them can boast a regular ballroom; and yet Americans are extremely fond of dancing, and dance extremely well. We have therefore adopted the custom of giving private balls at public assembly-rooms; and for the dancers this is infinitely more agreeable than trying to dance in crowded parlors, where the heat and the great crowd of noncombatants destroy all the pleasure for the young people.
It is in vain that the hospitable host and hostess at a private ball throw open their mansion from top to bottom, and arrange card-tables in the hope that the elderly will be lured away from the main scene of action. They seldom will be; every one wants to hear the music and see the dancing, save perhaps a few flirtatious couples who wander away to deserted nooks and corners.
But in the assembly-rooms at Delmonico's or Sherry's in New York, or at the Somerset Hotel in Boston, there is room for every one. The elders can sit in comfort, without the danger of anybody's trampling on their feet or crushing their dresses, and the dancers have a delightful floor, spacious, smooth and not too slippery. The music, too, can be placed and heard to much better advantage than in a private house, and the terrible jam at the supper-table is measurably avoided.
Balls thus given lack a certain social element, it is true, and it is also to be feared that the young men feel their obligations to a hostess even less, if that were possible, than they do under her own roof. Some entertainers compromise matters by giving a number of small dances at their own houses, — an excellent plan, but one which has also its own disadvantages. There is a saying that " nothing makes so many enemies as giving small parties; " you cannot ask every one to them, and somebody is sure to be offended because he is left out.
The safest way, for those who can afford it, is to give one large ball or reception in the beginning of the season, to invite all their friends and acquaintances, and after that to give as many small affairs as they choose.
Another objection to small dances at private houses is that the mothers are often not invited. This is certainly to be regretted, especially as it is usually the very young girls — the débutantes, those who most need the counsel and protection of their mothers — who are invited to these dances. In small cities, or in good, quiet, sober-going Boston, such a custom is less objectionable than in a place like New York, where the immense foreign population has necessarily had its effect on manners and customs.
When making out a list of those to be invited to a ball, one should be extremely careful to include the names of the living only. It is very painful to receive an invitation for some dear relative who has passed away from this earth; yet such a thing often happens. The reason for a mistake of this sort is that the hostess when about to give a ball necessarily asks many people with whom she is but slightly acquainted; perhaps she includes her entire visiting list, or even goes beyond it.
But there are to be found in most cities a few learned individuals who make it their pleasant business to know everything about everybody. The worth of these persons is not always fully appreciated by mankind at large; but they are invaluable in their way, and should always be consulted by the givers of balls and other festivities.
The best floors for dancing are the parquet floors that are now so fashionable. These should be polished, but not rendered so slippery that the dancers may be in danger of falling. Where a house does not boast of these, the next best thing is to take up the carpets and to have the floors smoothed and planed by a carpenter, so that there shall be no danger of splinters getting into the feet of the dancers. Formerly, carpets were covered with crash, which was nailed down over them smoothly, and made quite a pleasant surface to dance upon; but the fine lint which arose from it was found to have a very bad effect on the lungs of dancers and musicians. A favorite player of dance music in New York died a few years ago of consumption, caused by constantly inhaling this lint; and the use of crash has now been abandoned in a great measure because it has proved so unwholesome.
Plenty of good music is a great desideratum for a ball. Where a band of four or five or more players is employed, it is usual to place them in a small room adjoining those used for dancing, or at the end of the hall; a screen of vines and flowers concealing the usually prosaic forms of the hired musicians.
What a pity it is that we cannot hire Apollo to play for dances! Then we should not mind looking at him; and he, being a god, would not get so desperately tired as do the poor human musicians, who begin to wail out the dance music in rather lugubrious fashion toward three or four in the morning. How utterly inconsiderate and thoughtless, not to say selfish, are very young people! To them the fatigue of a fat, el-' derly German musician is incomprehensible; indeed, they cannot understand that he should even want to stop playing long enough to eat his supper.
It is lucky for the rest of the world that we can only be young once. Youth is a glorious period, but how it makes every one else suffer! Rapt in delightful rose-ate visions, the young man treads on air, and yet at. the same time he manages somehow to crush all the gouty toes that are anywhere near him!
For a ball, all the appointments must be very hand-some; there must be a first-class supper as well as good music, good floors, and plenty of illumination. Usually a wealth of floral decoration is an important feature of a modern ballroom; people turn their city mansions into temporary greenhouses, and waving palms, with every variety of potted plants and choice flowers, make a veritable Eden for the time being.
In a private house most of the furniture is necessarily removed from the ball-rooms to make room for the dancers; but a fringe of chairs and sofas should be left for the dowagers, who cannot be expected to stand during a whole evening. In England, people hire " rout-seats with velvet or damask cushions for so much a foot; but in this country we hire only chairs for the german or cotillon, true to our principle of looking out for the comfort of the young people, and letting the elders look out for themselves.. Paterfamilias must not forget to provide these seats for the german, which play an important part in the evening's entertainment. Fifty or more years ago the cotillon was danced without seats in New York; but we have changed all that.
Supper may be served continuously during the evening, or it may take place at a stated hour, — twelve o'clock, for instance. If the latter plan is adopted, it is advisable to have lemonade or weak punch, bouillon and other light refreshments placed where they will be easily accessible throughout the evening. Bouillon and ices are sometimes handed among the company at intervals. Those who dance the german will need a second supper; or if that is not provided, bouillon and ices should be passed to them.
Bouillon, oysters, -- fried, creamed and escalloped, - salads, croquettes, sandwiches, cold salmon served whole and handsomely ornamented, boned turkey, fillet of beef, lobster a la Newburg, terrapin, birds, ices of the most expensive forms and varieties,
such as frozen pudding, bombe glacée, café mousse, etc., fruits, bonbons, coffee and cake, are all suit-able refreshments for a ball supper. Bouillon, one hot dish, a salad, rolls and sandwiches, cakes, ices, bonbons and coffee make a sufficient menu for a small dance. The host can of course provide more or less, as he wishes. Champagne or light Rhine wines, cup and mineral waters are usually provided; and alas! it is sometimes wiser for ladies not to visit the supper-table very late in the evening, unless they wish to run the risk of meeting there young men who have drunk more than is good for them. As has been said elsewhere, however, the temperance movement has made great headway in recent years, and much less wine is consumed than formerly.
The buffet supper is still the usual one. For this the dining-table is made beautiful with flowers, lights, bonbons, cakes and other good things to eat. The plates, glasses, napkins, knives, forks, spoons, cups and saucers are set on a side-table. The chairs are drawn back against the walls. There are some advantages in the newer fashion of using a number of small tables, at each of which four, six or even eight persons may be seated. With this arrangement the supper is usually served in courses. One skilful waiter will be needed, for every two tables seating six guests apiece. Each table should be provided with candles and flowers. There is often a larger table, seating as many as twelve or fifteen persons in some instances, over which the host presides. The hostess may preside over a similar one, the most distinguished guests being asked to sit at these two tables. Sometimes the small tables are wheeled into the ball-room for supper, and removed at its close.
It is the rule that a hostess shall not be more handsomely attired than her guests, because if any one happens to be simply dressed the hostess thus keeps her in countenance as it were. But for a ball this rule does not hold. Here it is expected that every one will be en grande toilette, and the hostess therefore wears her handsomest gown, her most beautiful jewelry. Fashions in dress of course vary constantly, but it is an invariable rule that débutantes and very young girls should wear jewelry sparingly. If a young girl owns, for instance, a pair of large and valuable diamond earrings, she does better not to wear them until she has been in society for several years.
Young girls should always choose white or light, delicate colors for ball costumes, and as a rule, soft transparent materials, such as chiffon, voile, India muslin, etc.; it will be time enough to wear rich heavy brocades, silks and dark velvets, when they shall have attained more mature years. Some young girls prefer silken materials for ball dresses because they are less perishable. Rich laces should be reserved for elder or married ladies; Valenciennes and the thousand and one pretty, cheap laces now in vogue are suitable for girls, but deep flounces, aprons, etc., of point lace are not appropriate for them.
Débutantes are often ambitious of wearing costumes that are altogether unsuited to their years. They do not understand that it is better form for them to dress youthfully; indeed, they are often ashamed of being so young, and try to hide their greatest charms, — youth and freshness! With such girls, mothers should exercise a proper degree of firmness on the subject of clothes, and in two or three years their daughters will thank them for it.
In this country dressing-rooms are always provided for balls, dances, etc., one for ladies and one for gentlemen. It seems to us quite extraordinary that in London such a provision is' often omitted, and a lady must put the last touches to her toilette before leaving her carriage.
In the ladies' dressing-room, attendants should be in waiting to help the guests take off their cloaks, re-move their overshoes for them, etc.; and one attendant at least should stay there all the evening, since young girls are liable at any moment to need a ruffle mended or to have some other damage to their dresses repaired. The foot of man makes wondrous havoc with the light draperies of a ball-dress; and the Countess gravely informs her readers that gentlemen should not wear spurs in a ball-room!
In these luxurious days, one or more valets are often stationed in the men's dressing-room. If the dance takes place at assembly rooms, cigars, cigarettes and effervescent waters are provided, also brandy, if the host's principles permit this. These supplies are sometimes set out in private houses also. It is a part of good manners for a man to help himself sparingly to his host's tobacco. He may very properly take a cigar and a cigarette, to smoke on his way home, but to stuff a handful of these into his pocket for future use, shows a lack of delicacy and good-breeding.
Where there are a great number of people present, it is well to have the cloak bundles numbered, each person receiving a duplicate number. At a public ball this should always be done. There have been some dreadful times at the White House through carelessness in this particular. Such misfortunes are not likely to recur, since the new wing has ample accommodations systematically arranged for the reception of wraps. If dance-programmes are provided they may be put in the dressing-rooms, or handed on a tray by a servant to the guests, as they are about to enter the ball-room. The name " card-dances " is sometimes used, for occasions where there are dance- programmes. In college towns, the young men sometimes take charge of these cards for their friends or sisters. By a system of exchanges, they fill these out beforehand, so that each girl has all her dances engaged, before she enters the ball-room.
In the street, an awning overhead and a carpet on the steps and sidewalk should be provided for the comfort of the guests. A policeman should be hired for the occasion; or a private servant should open the doors of the carriages and help the ladies out. This functionary should also number the carriages, giving one number to the driver and the duplicate to the occupants of the carriage, so as to simplify as far as possible the tedious process of finding one's carriage when the party is over. A servant should also be stationed at the door, so that the guests may be admitted without delay.
( Originally Published 1911 )
Children And How They Should Behave At The Table
Afternoon Teas And Receptions
Balls And Dances, Their Arrangements, Etc.
Etiquette Of The Ballroom
Etiquette Of Weddings
Marriage Engagements And English Wedding Breakfasts
Read More Articles About: Social Customs