gestures and customs mandated by social dancing were uniform and precise,
they additionally took on a new dimension as a sort of secondary
language. Due to the inefficiency of communication, language
carried with it diverse implications.
What a New
England merchant could have said regarding a particular dance might have
had a certain meaning and impact among his peers, while Southern
plantation owners might have derived an entirely different meaning from
lithograph "Asking to Dance" provides hints for the social
dancer. Note the apparent folds in this item; was it perhaps carried in a
pocket for easy access and then could be just as easily tucked away?
CLICK ON ANY SECTION OF THE
IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT OR
HERE FOR THE ENTIRE ITEM
O f the Society’s extensive resources, the
sheet music collection is one of particular interest to a scholar of
dance. Not only does the pictorial sheet music collection contain
wonderfully designed scenes depicting everything from the music performers in the background,
to couples talking quietly in
the corner, but they also provide a glimpse into the arena of balls. This image of
the Tremont Quadrilles features
the interior of the Tremont Dining room at the Tremont Hotel in
Boston. Additionally, the sheet music collection provides an
unparalleled opportunity to see where specific dance movements would take
place over the course of a song. View the first, second, third and fourth pages of the Tremont
Quadrilles and note where dancers are provided directions to their next
Because of the
of language, dancing as a social institution became an increasingly
powerful tool. The 1817 illustration above "Asking to Dance" served as
a reference guide of dance figures and steps which made it easy for
attendees to avoid ballroom blunders.
the institution of social dance,
a man or woman could make use of his or her accessories to imply certain
phrases to others in the ballroom. So as not to seem brazen and
uncouth, flirtation between men and women was carried out by careful
handling of ballroom accessories including handkerchiefs, fans, parasols,
and gloves. Gestures made with these objects sent out clear yet
delicate messages, as they did not attract the attention of
By simply twisting a
handkerchief in her right hand, a lady could communicate to an interested
gentleman her love for another man; not a word would pass between the two
parties, and the gentleman could move on without feeling the sting of
By holding her gloves with
the tips facing downward, a lady could illustrate her wish to be
acquainted with a particular gentleman. A lady could imply her
distaste for a gentleman by drawing her fan through her hand or, with a
parasol, she could instruct a gentleman to get rid of his company by
folding it up in his presence.
This detail from
"The Taylor Polka"
illustrates a couple participating in non-verbal dance. Note the
accessory in her hand. The above detail is a scene within a scene,
exemplary of the subtleties and layers of social dance.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE TAYLOR
A detail from "The Taylor Polka" where a man and
woman attempt to disappear from the larger party only to become center
stage for the music cover.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE TAYLOR POLKA
The grand balls, seasonal
masques and elaborate private dinner parties were also opportunities for
one to become acquainted with possible mates. For the upper classes,
these events afforded the only acceptable means of meeting a partner and
were therefore understandably highly anticipated and
Balls were also one of the only
arenas where non-verbal flirtation was not only acceptable, but practiced.
In the detail on the left from "The
Taylor Polka" a couple escapes the dancing in the
ballroom to share a moment alone.