A BALL is the only social function in America to which such qualifying words as splendor and magnificence can with proper modesty of expression be applied. Even the most elaborate wedding is not quite a scene of splendor and magnificence no matter how luxurious the decorations or how costly the dress of the bride and bridesmaids, because the majority of the wedding guests do not complete the picture. A dinner may be lavish, a dance may be beautiful, but a ball alone is prodigal, meaning, of course, a private ball of greatest importance.
On rare occasions, a great ball is given in a private house, but since few houses are big enough to provide dancing space for several hundred and sit-down supper space for a greater number still, besides smoking-room, dressing-room and sitting-about space, it would seem logical to describe a typical ball as taking place in the ballroom suite built for the purpose in nearly all hotels.
The hostess who is not giving the ball in her own house goes first of all to see the manager of the hotel (or of whatever suitable assembly rooms there may be) and finds out which evenings are available. She then telephonesprobably from the managers officeand engages the two best orchestras for whichever evening both the orchestras and the ballroom are at her disposal. Of the two, music is of more importance than rooms. With perfect music the success of a ball is more than three-quarters assured; without it, the most beautiful decorations and most delicious supper are as flat as a fallen soufflé. You cannot give a ball or a dance that is anything but a dull promenade if you have dull music.
To illustrate the importance that prominent hostesses attach to music: a certain orchestra in New York to-day is forced to dash almost daily, not alone from party to party, but from city to city. Time and again its leader has conducted the music at a noon wedding in Philadelphia, and a ball in Boston; or a dancing tea in Providence and a ball that evening in New York; because Boston, Providence, New York and Philadelphia hostesses all at the present moment clamor for this one especial orchestra. The men have a little more respite than the leader since it is his leading that every one insists upon. Tomorrow another orchestra will probably make the daily tour of various cities ballrooms.
At all balls, there must be two orchestras, so that each time one finishes playing the other begins. At very dignified private balls, dancers should not stand in the middle of the floor and clap as they do in a dance hall or cabaret if the music ends. On the other hand, the music should not end.
Having secured the music and engaged the ballroom, reception rooms, dressing-rooms and smoking-room, as well as the main restaurant (after it is closed to the public), the hostess next makes out her list and orders and sends out her invitations.
The fundamental difference between a ball and a dance is that people of all ages are asked to a ball, while only those of approximately one age are asked to a dance. Once in a while a ball is given to which the hostess invites every person on her visiting list. Mr. and Mrs. Titherington de Puyster give one every season, which although a credit to their intentions is seldom a credit to their sense of beauty!
Snobbish as it sounds and is, a brilliant ball is necessarily a collection of brilliantly fashionable people, and the hostess who gathers in all the oddly assorted frumps on the outskirts of society cannot expect to achieve a very distinguished result.
Ball invitations properly include all of the personal friends of the hostess no matter what their age, and all her better-known social acquaintancesmeaning every one she would be likely to invite to a formal dinner. She does not usually invite a lady with whom she may work on a charitable committee, even though she may know her well, and like her. The question as to whether an outsider may be invited is not a matter of a hostess own inclination so much as a question whether the outsider would be agreeable to all the insiders who are coming. If the co-worker is in everything a lady and a fitting ornament to society, the hostess might very possibly ask her.
If the ball to be given is for a débutante, all the débutantes whose mothers are on the general visiting list are asked as well as all young dancing men in these same families. In other words the children of all those whose names are on the general visiting list of a hostess are selected to receive invitations, but the parents on whose standing the daughters and sons are asked, are rarely invited.
A lady who has a débutante daughter, but who has not given any general parties for yearsor ever, and whose daughter, having been away at boarding-school or abroad, has therefore very few acquaintances of her own, must necessarily in sending out invitations to a ball take the list of young girls and men from a friend or a member of her family. This of course could only be done by a hostess whose position is unquestioned, but having had no occasion to keep a young peoples list, she has not the least idea who the young people of the moment are, and takes a short-cut as above. Otherwise she would send invitations to children of ten and spinsters of forty, trusting to their being of suitable age.
To take a family or intimate friends list is also important to the unaccustomed hostess, because to leave out any of the younger set who belong in the groups which are included, is not the way to make a party a success. Those who dont find their friends go home, or stay and are bored, and the whole party sags in consequence. So that if a hostess knows the parents personally of, let us say, eighty per cent. of young society, she can quite properly include the twenty per cent. she does not know, so that the hundred per cent. can come together. In a small community it is rather cruel to leave out any of the young people whose friends are all invited. In a very great city on the other hand, an habitual hostess does not ask any to her house whom she does not know, but she can of course be as generous as she chooses in allowing young people to have invitations for friends.
It is always permissible to ask a hostess if you may bring a dancing man who is a stranger to her. It is rather difficult to ask for an invitation for an extra girl, and still more difficult to ask for older people, because the hostess has no ground on which she can refuse without being rude; she cant say there is no room since no dance is really limited, and least of all a ball. Men who dance are always an asset, and the more the better; but a strange young girl hung around the neck of the hostess is about as welcome as a fog at a garden party. If the girl is to be brought and looked after by the lady asking for the invitationwho has herself been already invitedthat is another matter, and the hostess can not well object. Or if the young girl is the fiancée of the man whose mother asks for the invitation, that is all right too; since he will undoubtedly come with her and see that she is not left alone. Invitations for older people are never asked for unless they are rather distinguished strangers and unquestionably suitable.
Invitations are never asked for persons whom the hostess already knows, since if she had cared to invite them she would have done so. It is, however, not at all out of the way for an intimate friend to remind her of some one who in receiving no invitation has more than likely been overlooked. If the omission was intentional, nothing need be said; if it was an oversight, the hostess is very glad to repair her forgetfulness.
An invitation that has been asked for a stranger is sent direct and without comment. For instance, when the Greatlakes of Chicago came to New York for a few weeks, Mrs. Norman asked both Mrs. Worldly and Mrs. Gilding to send them invitations; one to a musicale and the other to a ball. The Greatlakes received these invitations without Mrs. Normans card enclosed or any other word of explanation, as it was taken for granted that Mrs. Norman would tell the Greatlakes that it was through her that the invitations were sent. The Greatlakes said Thank you very much for asking us when they bid their hostess good night, and they also left their cards immediately on the Worldlys and Gildings after the partiesbut it was also the duty of Mrs. Norman to thank both hostessesverballyfor sending the invitations.
So far as good taste is concerned, the decorations for a ball cannot be too lavish or beautiful. To be sure they should not be lavish if ones purse is limited, but if ones purse is really limited, one should not give a ball! A small dance or a dancing tea would be more suitable.
Ball decorations have on occasions been literally astounding, but as a rule no elaboration is undertaken other than hanging greens and flowers over the edge of the gallery, if there is a gallery, banking palms in corners, and putting up sheaves of flowers or trailing vines wherever most effective.
Certain sounds, perfumes, places, always bring associated pictures to mind: Restaurant suppers; Paris! Distinguished-looking audiences; London! The essence of charm in society; Rome! Beguiling and informal joyousness; San Francisco! Recklessness; Colorado Springs! The afternoon visit; Washington! Hectic and splendid gaiety; New York! Beautiful balls; Boston!
There are three reasons (probably more) why the balls in Boston have what can be described only by the word quality. The word elegance before it was misused out of existence expressed it even better.
First: Best Society in Boston having kept its social walls intact, granting admission only to those of birth and breeding, has therefore preserved a quality of unmistakable cultivation. There are undoubtedly other cities, especially in the South, which have also kept their walls up and their traditions intactbut Boston has been the wise virgin as well, and has kept her lamp filled.
Second: Boston hostesses of position have never failed to demand of those who would remain on their lists, strict obedience to the tenets of ceremonies and dignified behavior; nor ceased themselves to cultivate something of the grand manner that should be the birthright of every thoroughbred lady and gentleman.
Third: Bostons older ladies and gentlemen always dance at balls, and they neither rock around the floor, nor take their dancing violently. And the fact that older ladies of distinction dance with dignity, has an inevitable effect upon younger ones, so that at balls at least, dancing has not degenerated into gymnastics or contortions.
The extreme reverse of a smart Boston ball is oneno matter wherewhich has a roomful of people who deport themselves abominably, who greet each other by waving their arms aloft, who dance like Apaches or jiggling music-box figures, and who scarcely suggest an assemblage of even decentlet alone well-bredpeople.
A sit-down supper that is served continuously for two or three hours, is the most elaborate ball supper. Next in importance is the sit-down supper at a set time. Third, the buffet supper which is served at dances but not at balls.
At the most fashionable New York balls, supper service begins at one and continues until three and people go when they feel like it. The restaurant is closed to the public at one oclock; the entrance is then curtained or shut off from the rest of the hotel. The tables are decorated with flowers and the supper service opened for the ball guests. Guests sit where they please, either making up a table, or a man and his partner finding a place wherever there are two vacant chairs. At a private ball guests do not pay for anything or sign supper checks, or tip the waiter, since the restaurant is for the time being the private dining-room of the host and hostess.
At a sit-down supper at a set hour, the choice of menu is unlimited, but suppers are never as elaborate now as they used to be. Years ago few balls were given without terrapin, and a supper without champagne was as unheard of. In fact, champagne was the heaviest item of expenditure always. Decorations might be very limited, but champagne was as essential as music! Cotillion favors were also an important item which no longer exists; and champagne has gone its way with nectar, to the land of fable, so that if you eliminate elaborate decorations, ball-giving is not half the expense it used to be.
When the service of supper continues for several hours, it is necessary to select food that can be kept hot indefinitely without being spoiled. Birds or broiled chicken, which should be eaten the moment they are cooked, are therefore unsuitable. Dishes prepared in sauce keep best, such as lobster Newburg, sweetbreads and mushrooms, chicken à la King, or creamed oysters. Pâtés are satisfactory as the shells can be heated in a moment and hot creamed chicken or oysters poured in. Of course all cold dishes and salads can stand in the pantry or on a buffet table all evening.
There is always an enormous glass bowl of punch or orangeadesometimes two or three bowls each containing a different iced drinkin a room adjoining the ballroom. And in very cold climates it is the thoughtful custom of some hostesses to have a cup of hot chocolate or bouillon offered each departing guest. This is an especially welcome attention to those who have a long drive home.
But the real difference is that invitations to balls always include older peopleas many if not more than younger oneswhereas invitations to a dance for a débutante, for instance, include none but very young girls, young men and the merest handful of the hostess most intimate friends.
A formal dance differs from an informal one merely in elaboration, and in whether the majority of those present are strangers to one another; a really informal dance is one to which only those who know one another well are invited.
DETAILS OF PREPARATION FOR A BALL OR DANCE IN A PRIVATE HOUSE
There is always an awning and a red carpet down the steps (or up), and a chauffeur to open the carriage doors and a policeman or detective to see that strangers do not walk uninvited into the house. If there is a great crush, there is a detective in the hall to investigate anyone who does not have himself announced to the hostess.
All the necessary appurtenances such as awning, red carpet, coat hanging racks, ballroom chairs, as well as crockery, glass, napkins, waiters and food are supplied by hotels or caterers. (Excepting in houses like the Gildings, where footmens liveries are kept purposely, the caterers men are never in footmens liveries.)
Unless a house has a ballroom the room selected for dancing must have all the furniture moved out of it; and if there are adjoining rooms and the dancing room is not especially big, it adds considerably to the floor space to put no chairs around it. Those who dance seldom sit around a ballroom anyway, and the more informal grouping of chairs in the hall or library is a better arrangement than the wainscot row or wall-flower exposition grounds. The floor, it goes without saying, must be smooth and waxed, and no one should attempt to give a dance whose house is not big enough.
New Yorks invitations are usually for ten oclock but first guests do not appear before ten-thirty and most people arrive at about eleven or after. The hostess, however, must be ready to receive on the stroke of the hour specified in her invitations, and the débutante or any one the ball may be given for, must also be with her.
It is not customary to put the débutantes name on the formal At Home invitation, and it is even occasionally omitted on invitations that request the pleasure of so that the only way acquaintances can know the ball is being given for the daughter is by seeing her standing beside her mother.
The hostess never leaves her post, wherever it is she is standing, until she goes to supper. If, as at the Ritz in New York, the ballroom opens on a foyer at the head of a stairway, the hostess always receives at this place. In a private house where guests go up in an elevator to the dressing rooms, and then walk down to the ballroom floor, the hostess receives either at the foot of the stairway, or just outside the ballroom.
Guests arriving are announced, as at a dinner or afternoon tea, and after shaking hands with the hostess, they must pass on into the ballroom. It is not etiquette to linger beside the hostess for more than a moment, especially if later arrivals are being announced. A stranger ought never go to a ball alone, as the hostess is powerless to look after any especial guests; her duty being to stand in one precise place and receive. A stranger who is a particular friend of the hostess would be looked after by the host; but a stranger who is invited through another guest should be looked after by that other.
A gentleman who has received an invitation through a friend is usually accompanied by the friend who presents him. Otherwise when the butler announces him to the hostess, he bows, and says Mrs. Norman asked you if I might come. And the hostess shakes hands and says How do you do, I am very glad to see you. If other young men or any young girls are standing near, the hostess very likely introduces him. Otherwise, if he knows no one, he waits among the stags until his own particular sponsor appears.
When her guests leave she does not go back to where she received, but stands wherever she happens to be, shakes hands and says Good night. There is one occasion when it is better not to bid ones hostess good night, and that is, if one finds her party dull and leaves again immediately; in this one case it is more polite to slip away so as to attract the least attention possible, but late in the evening it is inexcusably ill mannered not to find her and say Good night and Thank you.
The duty of seeing that guests are looked after, that shy youths are presented to partners, that shyer girls are not left on the far wall-flower outposts, that the dowagers are taken in to supper, and that the elderly gentlemen are provided with good cigars in the smoking-room, falls to the host and his son or son-in-law, or any other near male member of the family.
Vouchers or tickets of admission like those sent with invitations to assembly or public balls should be enclosed in invitations to a masquerade; it would be too easy otherwise for dishonest or other undesirable persons to gain admittance. If vouchers are not sent with the invitations, or better yet, mailed afterwards to all those who have accepted, it is necessary that the hostess receive her guests singly in a small private room and request each to unmask before her.
If you analyze the precepts laid down by etiquette you will find that for each there is a perfectly good reason. Years ago a lady never walked across a ballroom floor without the support of a gentlemans arm, which was much easier than walking alone across a very slippery surface in high-heeled slippers. When the late Ward McAllister classified New York society as having four hundred people who were at ease in a ballroom, he indicated that the ballroom was the test of the best manners. He also said at a dinnerafter his book was published and the country had already made New Yorks Four Hundred a theme for cartoons and jeststhat among the Four hundred who were at ease, not more than ten could gracefully cross a ballroom floor alone. If his ghost is haunting the ballrooms of our time, it is certain the number is still further reduced. The athletic young woman of to-day strides across the ballroom floor as though she were on the golf course; the happy-go-lucky one amblesshoulders stooped, arms swinging, hips and head in advance of chest; others trot, others shuffle, others make a rush for it. The young girl who could walk across a room with the consummate grace of Mrs. Oldname (who as a girl of eighteen was one of Mr. McAllisters ten) would have to be very assiduously sought for.
How does Mrs. Oldname walk? One might answer by describing how Pavlowa dances. Her body is perfectly balanced, she holds herself straight, and yet in nothing suggests a ramrod. She takes steps of medium length, and, like all people who move and dance well, walks from the hip, not the knee. On no account does she swing her arms, nor does she rest a hand on her hip! Nor when walking, does she wave her hands about in gesticulation.
Some one asked her if she had ever been taught to cross a ballroom floor. As a matter of fact, she had. Her grandmother, who was a Toplofty, made all her grandchildren walk daily across a polished floor with sand-bags on their heads. And the old lady directed the drill herself. No shuffling of feet and no stamping, either; no waggling of hips, no swinging of arms, and not a shoulder stooped. Furthermore, they were taught to enter a room and to sit for an indefinite period in self-effacing silence while their elders were talking.
Older gentlemen still give their arms to older ladies in all promenading at a ball, since the customs of a lifetime are not broken by one short and modern generation. Those of to-day walk side by side, except in going down to supper when supper is at a set hour.
The glittering display of tinsel satin favors that used to be the featured and gayest decoration of every ballroom, is gone; the cotillion leader, his hands full of seat checks, his manners a cross between those of Lord Chesterfield and a traffic policeman, is gone; and much of the distinction that used to be characteristic of the ballroom is gone with the cotillion. There is no question that a cotillion was prettier to look at than a mob scene of dancers crowding each other for every few inches of progress.
The reason why cotillions were conducive to good manners was that people were on exhibition, where now they are unnoticed components of a general crowd. When only a sixth, at most, of those in the room danced while others had nothing to do but watch them, it was only natural that those on exhibition should dance as well as they possibly could, and since their walking across the room and asking others to dance by offering a favor was also watched, grace of deportment and correct manners were not likely to deteriorate, either.
The cotillion was detested and finally banned by the majority who wanted to dance ceaselessly throughout the evening. But it was of particular advantage to the very young girl who did not know many men, as well as to what might be called the helpless type. Each young girl, if she had a partner, had a place where she belonged and where she sat throughout the evening. And since no couple could dance longer than the few moments allowed by the figure, there was no chance of anyones being stuck; so that the average girl had a better chance of being asked to dance than nowwhen, without programmes, and without cotillions, there is nothing to relieve the permanency of a young mans attachment to an unknown young girl once he asks her to dance.
Instead of being easier, it would seem that time makes it increasingly difficult for any but distinct successes to survive the ordeal by ballroom. Years ago a débutante was supposed to flutter into society in the shadow of mammas protecting amplitude; to-day she is packed off by herself and with nothing to relieve her dependence upon whoever may come near her. To liken a charming young girl in the prettiest of frocks to a spider is not very courteous; and yet the rôle of spider is what she is forced by the exigencies of ballroom etiquette to play. She must catch a fly, meaning a trousered companion, so as not to be left in placarded disgrace; and having caught him she must hang on to him until another takes his place.
There should be drastic revision of ballroom customs. There is a desperate need of what in local dancing classes was called the Dump, where without rudeness a gentleman could leave a lady as soon as they had finished dancing.
There used to be a chaperon into whose care a young girl could be committed; there used to be the dance card or programme (still in vogue at public balls) that allotted a certain dance to a certain gentleman and lady equally. There used to be the cotillion which, while cruel, at least committed its acts of cruelty with merciful dispatch. When the cotillion began, the girl who had no partnerwent home. She had to. Now, once she has acquired a companion, he is planted beside her until another takes his place. It is this fact and no other which is responsible for the dread that the average young girl feels in facing the ordeal of a ballroom, and for the discourteous unconcern shown by dancing men who under other conditions would be friendly.
For instance: Jim Smartlington, when he was a senior at college, came down to the Toploftys ball on purpose to see Mary Smith. Very early, before Mary arrived, he saw a Miss Blank, a girl he had met at a dinner in Providence, standing at the entrance of the room. Following a casual impulse of friendliness he asked her to dance. She danced badly. No one cut in and they danced and danced, sat down and danced again. Mary arrived. Jim walked Miss Blank near the stag line and introduced several men, who bowed and slid out of sight with the dexterity of eels who recognized a hook. From half-past ten until supper at half-past one, Jim was planted. He was then forced to tell her he had a partner for supper, and left her at the door of the dressing-room. There was no other place to leave her. He felt like a brute and a cad, even though he had waited nearly three hours before being able to speak to the girl he had come purposely to see.
There really is something to be said on the mans side; especially on that of one who has to get up early in the morning and who, only intending to see one or two particular friends and then go home, is forced because of an impulse of courtesy not only to spend an endless and exhausting evening, but to be utterly unfit for his work next day.
One is equally sorry for the girl! But in the example above her stupid handling of the situation not only spoiled one well-intentioned mans evening, but completely finished herself so far as her future chances for success were concerned. Not alone her partner but every brother-stag who stood in the doorway mentally placarded her Keep off. It is suicidal for a girl to make any man spend an entire evening with her. If at the end of two dances, there is no intimate friend she can signal to, or an older lady she can insist on being left with, she should go home; and if the same thing happens several times, she should not go to balls.
For the reasons given above, there is little that a hostess or host can do, unless a promise of release is held out, and that in itself is a deplorable situation; a humiliation that no young girls name should be submitted to. And yet there it is! It is only necessary for a hostess to say I want to introduce you to a charming And she is already speaking to the air.
Each hostess chooses from among the best known young men in society, who have perfect address and tact, a number to act as ushers. They are distinguished by white boutonnières, like those worn by ushers at a wedding, and they are deputy hosts. It is their duty to see that wall-flowers are not left decorating the seats in the ballroom and it is also their duty to relieve a partner who has too long been planted beside the same rosebud.
The ushers themselves have little chance to follow their own inclinations, and unless the honor of being chosen by a prominent hostess has some measure of compensation, the appointmentsince it may not be refusedis a doubtful pleasure. An usher has the right to introduce anyone to anyone without knowing either principal personally and without asking any ladys permission. He may also ask a lady (if he has a moment to himself) to dance with him, whether he has ever met her or not, and he can also leave her promptly, because any stag called upon by an usher must dance. The usher in turn must release every stag he calls upon by substituting another; and the second by a third and so on. In order to make a ball go, meaning to keep everyone dancing, the ushers have on occasions to spend the entire evening in relief work.
At a ball where there are ushers, a girl standing or sitting alone would at once be rescued by one of them, and a rotation of partners presented to her. If she is hopelessmeaning neither pretty nor attractive nor a good dancereven the ushers are in time forced to relieve her partners and take her to a dowager friend of the hostess, beside whom she will be obliged to sit until she learns that she must seek her popularity otherwhere than at balls.
The program or dance-card of public balls and college class dances, has undeniable advantages. A girl can give as many dances as she chooses to whomever she chooses; and a man can be sure of having not only many but uninterrupted dances with the one he most wants to be withprovided she is willing. Why the dance-card is unheard of at private balls in New York is hard to determine, except that fashionable society does not care to take its pleasure on schedule! The gilded youth likes to dance when the impulse moves him; he also likes to be able to stay or leave when he pleases. In New York there are often two or three dances given on the same evening, and he likes to drift from one to the other just as he likes to drift from one partner to another, or not dance at all if he does not want to. A man who writes himself down for the tenth jazz must be eagerly appearing on the stroke of the first bar. Or if he does not engage his partners busily at the opening of the evening, he can not dance at allhe may not want to, but he hates not being able to.
So again we come back to the present situation and the problem of the average young girl whose right it is, because of her youth and sweetness, to be happy and youngand not to be terrified, wretched and neglected. The one and only solution seems to be for her to join a group.
If a number of young girls and young men come togetherbetter yet, if they go everywhere together, always sit in a flock, always go to supper together, always dance with one anotherthey not only have a good time but they are sure to be popular with drifting odd men also. If a man knows that having asked a girl to dance, one of her group will inevitably cut in, he is eager to dance with her. Or if he can take her to the others when they have danced long enough, he is not only delighted to be with her for a while but to sit with her and the others off and on throughout that and every other evening, because since there are always some of them together he can go again the moment he chooses.
Certain groups of clever girls sit in precisely the same place in a ballroom, to the right of the door, or the left, or in a corner. One might almost say they form a little club; they dance as much as they like, but come back home between whiles. They all go to supper together, and whether individuals have partners or not is scarcely noticeable, nor even known by themselves.
No young girl, unless she is a marked favorite, should ever go to a ball alone. If her especial flock has not as yet been systematized, she must go to a dinner before every dance, so as to go, and stay, with a group. If she is not asked to dinner, her mother must give one for her; or she must have at least one dependable beauor better, twowho will wait for her and look out for her.
A young girl who goes to a ball without a chaperon (meaning of course a private ball), takes a maid with her who sits in the dressing-room the entire evening. Not only is it thought proper to have a maid waiting, but nothing can add more to the panic of a partnerless girl than to feel she has not even a means of escape by going home; she can always call a taxi as long as her maid is with her, and go. Otherwise she either has to stay in the ballroom or sit forlorn among the visiting maids in the dressing-room.
Much of the above is so pessimistic one might suppose that a ballroom is always a chamber of torture and the young girl taken as an example above, a very drab and distorted caricature of what a real young girl should be and is. But remember, the young girl who is a belle of the ballroom needs no advice on how to manage a happy situation; no thought spent on how to make a perfect time better. The ballroom is the most wonderful stage-setting there is for the girl who is a ballroom success. And for this, especial talents are needed just as they are for art or sport or any other accomplishment.
The great ballroom success, first and foremost, dances well. Almost always she is pretty. Beauty counts enormously at a ball. The girl who is beautiful and dances well is, of course, the ideal ballroom belle. Butthis for encouragementthese qualities can in a measure at least be acquired. All things being more or less equal, the girl who dances best has the most partners. Let a daughter of Venus or the heiress of Midas dance badly, and she might better stay at home.
To dance divinely is an immortal gift, but to dance well can (except in obstinate cases, as the advertisements say) be taught. Let us suppose therefore, that she dances well, that she has a certain degree of looks, that she is fairly intelligent. The next most important thing, after dancing well, is to be unafraid, and to look as though she were having a good time. Conversational cleverness is of no account in a ballroom; some of the greatest belles ever known have been as stupid as sheep, but they have had happy dispositions and charming and un-self-conscious manners. There is one thing every girl who would really be popular should learn, in fact, she must learnself-unconsciousness! The best advice might be to follow somewhat the precepts of mental science and make herself believe that a good time exists in her own mind. If she can become possessed with the idea that she is having a good time and look as though she were, the psychological effect is astonishing.
When one of the stags standing in the doorway sees a girl dance past whom he wants to dance with, he darts forward, lays his hand on the shoulder of her partner, who relinquishes his place in favor of the newcomer, and a third in turn does the same to him. Or, the one who was first dancing with her, may cut in on the partner who took her from him, after she has danced once around the ballroom. This seemingly far from polite maneuver, is considered correct behavior in best society in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco, and therefore most likely in all parts of America. (Not in London, nor on the Continent.)
At dances organized during the War in the canteens for soldiers and sailors on furlough, the men refused to cut in because they thought it was rude and undoubtedly it is, except that custom has made it acceptable. If, however, it still seems rude to the young men of Othertown to cut in, then they should not do so.
On the other hand, if a girl is sitting in another room, or on the stairs with a man alone, a second one should not interrupt, or ask her to dance. If she is sitting in a group, he can go up and ask her, Dont you want to dance some of this? She then either smiles and says, Not just nowI am very tired, or if she likes him, she may add, Come and sit with us!
To refuse to dance with one man and then immediately dance with another is an open affront to the first oneexcusable only if he was intoxicated or otherwise actually offensive so that the affront was both intentional and justifiable. But under ordinary circumstances, if she is dancing, she must dance with everyone who asks her; if she is not dancing, she must not make exceptions.
An older lady can very properly refuse to dance and then perhaps dance briefly with her son or husband, without hurting her guests proper pride, but having refused to dance with one gentleman she must not change her mind and dance later with another.
A young girl who is dancing may not refuse to change partners when another cuts in. This is the worst phase of the cutting in custom; those who particularly want to dance together are often unable to take more than a dozen steps before being interrupted. Once in a while a girl will shake her head No to a stag who darts toward her. But that is considered rude. A few others have devised dancing with their eyes shut as a signal that they do not want to be cut in on. But this is neither customary nor even a generally known practise.
A lady never asks a gentleman to dance, or to go to supper with her, though she may if she is older, or if she is a young girl who is one of a flock, she may say Come and sit at our table! This however would not imply that in sitting at their table he is supposed to sit next to her.
In asking a lady to go to supper, a gentleman should say Will you go to supper with me? Or May I take you to supper? He should never say, Have you a partner? as she is put in an awkward position in having to admit that she has none.
Since a girl may not without rudeness refuse to dance with a man who cuts in, a man who does not know how to dance is inexcusably inconsiderate if he cuts in on a good dancer and compels a young girl to become instructress for his own pleasure with utter disregard of hers. If at home, or elsewhere, a young girl volunteers to teach him, that is another matter, but even so, the ballroom is no place to practiseunless he is very sure that his dancing is not so bad as to be an imposition on his teacher.
Formal occasions demand strict conventions. At an important wedding, at a dinner of ceremony, at a ball, it is not only bad form but shocking to deviate from accepted standards of formality. Surprize is an element that must be avoided on all dignified occasions. Those therefore, who think it would be original and pleasing to spring surprizes on their guests at an otherwise conventional and formal entertainment, should save their ideas for a childrens party where surprizes not only belong, but are delightedly appreciated. To be sure, one might perhaps consider that scenic effects or unusual diversions, such as one sees at a costume ball or a period dinner, belong under the head of surprize. But in the first place such entertainments are not conventional; and in the second, details that are in accordance with the period or design of the ball or dinner are conventions after all.
On the other hand, in the country especially, nothing can be more fun or more appropriate than a barn dance, or an impromptu play, or a calico masquerade, with properties and clothes made of any old thing and in a few hourseven in a few minutes.
Music need not be an orchestra but it must be good, and the floor must be adequate and smooth. The supper is of secondary importance. As for manners, even though they may be unrestrained, they can be meticulously perfect for all that! There is no more excuse for rude or careless or selfish behavior at a picnic than at a ball.
A public ball is a ball given for a benefit or charity. A committee makes the arrangements and tickets are sold to the public, either by being put on sale at hotels or at the house of the secretary of the committee. A young girl of social position does not go to a public ball without a chaperon. To go in the company of one or more gentlemen would be an unheard-of breach of propriety.
These are often of greater importance in a community than any number of its private balls. In Boston and Philadelphia for instance, a persons social standing is dependent upon whether or not she or he is invited to the Assemblies. The same was once true in New York when the Patriarch and Assembly Balls were the dominating entertainments. In Baltimore too, a mans social standing is non-existent if he does not belong to the Monday Germans, and in many other cities membership in the subscription dances or dancing classes or sewing circles distinctly draws the line between the inside somebodies and the outside nobodies.
Subscription dances such as these are managed and all invitations are issued by patronesses who are always ladies of unquestioned social prominence. Usually these patronesses are elected for life, or at least for a long period of years. When for one reason or another a vacancy occurs, a new member is elected by the others to fill her place. No outsider may ever ask to become a member. Usually a number of names are suggested and voted on at a meeting, and whoever wins the highest number of votes is elected.
Whether in city, town or village, the organization is the same: A small group of important ladies decide that it would be agreeable to have two or three ballsor maybe only onea season. This original group then suggests additional names until they have all agreed upon a list sufficient in size to form a nucleus. These then are invited to join, and all of them at another meeting decide on the final size of the list and whom it is to include. The list may be a hundred, or it may stay at the original group of a half dozen or so. Let us for example say the complete list is fifty. Fifty ladies, therefore, the most prominent possible, are the patronesses or managers, or whatever they choose to call themselves. They also elect a chairman, a vice-chairman, a secretary, and a treasurer. They then elect seven or eight others who are to constitute the managing committee. The other thirty-eight or forty are merely members who will pay their dues and have the right to a certain number of tickets for each of the balls. These tickets, by the way, are never actually sent by the members themselves, who merely submit the names of the guests they have chosen to the committee on invitations. This is the only practical way to avoid duplication. Otherwise, let us say that Mrs. Oldname, Mrs. Worldly, Mrs. Norman and Mrs. Gilding each send their two tickets to the young Smartlingtons, which would mean that the Smartlingtons would have to return three, and those three invitations would start off on a second journey perhaps to be returned again.
On the other hand, if each patroness sends in a list, the top names which have not yet been entered in the invitation book are automatically selected, and the committee notify her to whom her invitations went.
There is also another very important reason for the sending in of every name to the committee: exclusiveness. Otherwise the balls would all too easily deteriorate into the character of public ones. Every name must be approved by the committee on invitations, who always hold a special meeting for the purpose, so that no matter how willing a certain careless member would be to include Mr. and Mrs. Unsuitable, she is powerless to send them tickets if they are not approved of.
With fifty members, each might perhaps be allowed, besides her own ticket, two ladies invitations and four gentlemens. That would make three hundred and fifty invitations available altogether. The founders can of course decide on whatever number they choose. Patronesses can also exchange tickets. One who might want to ask a double number of guests to the First Assembly can arrange with another to exchange her Second Assembly invitations for First ones. Also it often happens that the entire list sent in by a member has already been included, and not wanting to use her tickets, she gives them to another member who may have a débutante daughter and therefore be in need of extra ones.
Other forms are somewhat different in that instead of dividing the expenses between members who jointly issue invitations to few or many guests, the committee of ten, we will say, invites either all the men who are supposed to be eligible or all the young girls, to subscribe to a certain number of tickets.
For instance, dances known usually as Junior Assemblies or the Holiday Dances are organized by a group of ladiesthe mothers, usually, of débutantes. The members of the organization are elected just as the others are, for life. But they are apt after a few years, when their daughters are too old, to resign in favor of others whose daughters are beginning to be grown. The débutantes of highest social position are invited to become members. Each one pays dues and has the privilege of asking two men to each dance. Mothers are not expected to go to these dances unless they are themselves patronesses. Sometimes young women go to these dances until they marry; often they are for débutantes, but most often they are for girls the year before they come out, and for boys who are in college.
At a subscription dance where patronesses take the place of a hostess, about four of these ladies are especially selected by the ball committee to receive. They always stand in line and bow to each person who is announced, but do not shake hands. The guest arriving also bows to the hostesses collectively (not four times). A lady, for instance, is announced: she takes a few steps toward the receiving line and makes a slight courtesy; the ladies receiving make a courtesy in unison, and the guest passes on. A gentleman bows ceremoniously, the way he was taught in dancing school, and the ladies receiving incline their heads.