Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Head of the Hall

The first thing to ascertain before attempting a Quadrille, is "the head of the room." Many persons suppose that the head of the room is where the music is located. This is an error. The head of the room is generally at that part of the room opposite, or farthest from the entrance door. But where the entrance door is upon the middle of a side of the room, then custom determines, which end, to the right or left of the entrance door, is the head of the room; for the head of a room is never upon the side,--and the orchestra is frequently upon the side of large ball rooms--indeed, some orchestras are built directly over the entrance doors; and the head of the room in such cases, (when the orchestra is not upon the side,) is generally understood as being directly opposite the end on which the orchestra is built.
-- William B. De Garmo, The prompter, New York, Raymond & Caulon, 1865.
When you attend a ball for the first time, the head of the hall is fairly easy to recognize by the behavior of dancers. Contradance sets form from the top, with the first couples standing near the head of the hall and new couples joining on the bottom of the set. Quadrilles sets form, and the caller usually reminds everyone of which couples are which. Couple dances, such as the waltz and polka do not depend on knowing the head of the hall, since they follow the line of direction, anti-clockwise around the room.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Ball Gown from the 1860s

This is one of my all-time favorite ball gowns. The fabric is very special, so there is no need for fancy decoration. You can see the features that are absolutely necessary in a ball gown of this era: the close fitting bodice, low neckline, short sleeves, and full skirt. It even has the lace bertha along the neck edge. This is not always seen in extant ball gowns because the lace could be un-stitched and used on a different garment. If you want to take a closer look, go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gloves in the ballroom

One thing that most 19c etiquette books agree on is that one should wear white gloves in the ballroom. Some allow for white or light colored, some add the caveat that gloves are, of course, removed for eating.

The universal admonition can be attributed to the fact that it is clear and simple. Gloves. White gloves. As the publishers of etiquette manuals were plagarizing their little hearts out, they were all sure to pick up on the simple rule.