As part of the upcoming Durango Heritage Celebration this October, we have just received formal invitations to attend a Grand Victorian Ball. The theme of the ball will be “150 Years: Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.” Although all forms of Victorian and Edwardian dress will be permitted, I suspect that there will be a fair number of hoop skirts on the dance floor this year. Gent’s will of course be wearing tuxedos, or vintage-style military uniforms.
Victorian balls were always grand affairs, but the rules of etiquette might be a bit different than we assume. To begin with, a gentleman does not dance the entire evening with his wife or companion, but only for the Grand March (which begins the ball) and the Last Waltz. Upon arrival, each lady and gent receive a dance card – a small booklet with a tiny pencil attached. Before the music begins, the gent would have requested a dance with several ladies. Unless she has already accepted an invitation for a dance with someone else, she should not refuse a request. A lady might NEVER ask a gent for a dance!
No lady would leave the ballroom unaccompanied. A married lady might have one or more other married ladies with her, and an unmarried lady would have her mother or someone to represent her mother accompany her. Likewise lady should also not cross the ballroom unaccompanied.
Gents would always wear white gloves, and ladies would wear white gloves, or gloves dyed to coordinate with her gown.
Most of the dances are “cued” or “called”, much like a square dance is called today. (Many square dance moves are derived from Victorian dance steps) Quadrilles (involving two couples) and marches were greatly favored, as well as waltzes and reels.
At Durango, there is a special afternoon learning/refresher dance session for those of us who are unsure of the correct moves.