Dancing was an important aspect of Regency society and a reoccurring theme in Jane Austen’s novels, however there was so much more to learn than just the dance steps. Rules for proper behavior in public as well as the ballroom had been well established before Jane Austen was born. Two popular guidebooks were Rules to be Observ’d at Bath by Beau Nash and Etiquette of the Ball-Room written by Thomas Wilson, the dance master at the King’s Theatre Opera House.
Learning the dance steps and proper ballroom etiquette was not only essential for girls, but for boys as well. One was expected to know and abide by these rules. Balls were social experiences where men and women could interact and enjoy being together without scandal (well, only if you followed the rules).
Some of the rules seem rather obvious while others would leave contemporary society scratching their heads. Rules such as respecting others and dancing neatly (twerking would not have been acceptable) make sense. Whereas, paying compliments to one’s partner was deemed not acceptable.
Jane Austen was a master at introducing the rules and subsequently having her characters break the rules. The following is an abbreviated list of rules that were to be adhered to:
- A gentleman had to be formally introduced to a lady before he could ask her to dance. In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney requires an introduction from the master of ceremonies to Catherine Morland before he may ask her to dance.
- A gentleman was expected to ask available ladies to dance. The greatest offender of this rule is Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, but we won’t hold that against him.
- A lady could not refuse a gentleman’s invitation to dance. If she did refuse, she must sit out all the dances for the rest of the evening.
- At the end of the dance, the lady was to be returned to her chaperone. *This is my favorite rule to break in my writing. It would have been far more exciting to be whisked out into the dark night for a clandestine kiss than to remain in a stuffy ballroom.
- Gloves must be worn at all times. The only exception is at supper.
- It was very bad form for a gentleman to be late in claiming a dance he had previously reserved.
- Making disruptive noises or expressing too much enthusiasm, which disturbs the other guests, ought to be avoided.
- Only officers on duty may wear boots.
- Too many dances should not be reserved in advance of the ball and a couple could only dance two sets with the same partner. Willoughby and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility are guilty of breaking these rules.
- Never attend a private ball without an invitation. Party crashers were not welcome.
Which rule would you break?
About the Author
Alanna Lucas grew up in Southern California, but always dreamed of distant lands and bygone eras. From an early age she took interest in art, history, and travel, and enjoys incorporating those diversions into her writing. However, she believes that true love is the greatest source of inspiration and is always an adventure.
Alanna makes her home in California where she spends her time writing historical romances, dreaming of her next travel destination, spending time with family, and staying up too late indulging in her favorite past time, reading.
Waltzing with the Earl
Believing he is cursed, Tristram, Lord Trevena, the Earl of Longstone, agrees to do just one favor for a friend, to dance with the man’s sister, but the beautiful and headstrong Isabel Albryght will settle for no less than claiming his lonely heart.
A PROPHECY FORETOLD
Raised by her doting older brother, Isabel Albryght grew up cosseted and protected. She enjoyed her life in the country, her books, and her freedom. Then her brother married. Within months Isabel's best friend married. It seemed it was time for Isabel to marry, too. Socially awkward and a bit too keen for most of the ton, Isabel proceeded to have the most horrible season on record…until she was approached by Tristram, the Earl of Longstone.
Two dances. That was all Tristram could offer anyone when considering his family curse, which had taken all he loved in the last ten years, so his promise to the beautiful Miss Albryght’s brother was simply that. The ton would soon see she was a desirable partner, her awkwardness would fade and other young swains would beat feet to her doorstep. But then he held her in his arms, and the delightful Isabel became his beating heart. Headstrong and full of passion, she believed she might waltz them away from Death. She alone could tempt him to try.
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Written content of this post copyright © Alanna Lucas, 2016.