Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > An American Ballroom Companion

Back to Collection Connections

[Detail] Cover of "How to Dance," 1878

Collection Overview

An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920 presents a collection of over two hundred social-dance manuals at the Library of Congress. Along with dance instruction manuals, the collection includes a significant number of antidance manuals, histories, treatises on etiquette, and items from other conceptual categories. Many of the manuals also provide historical information on theatrical dance. Together, these artifacts illuminate the manner in which people have joyfully expressed themselves as they danced for and with one another.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Colonial Settlement, 1492-1763
  • The American Revolution, 1763-1783
  • The New Nation, 1780-1815
  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection.

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Subject, Author, or Title.

For search tips specific to the collection, see Searching the Collection.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.


U.S. History

These materials provide information on the art form's history and its growing popularity in conjunction with the rise of the American middle class. Topics represented in this collection include the use of dancing manuals in teaching physical education and etiquette, and opposition to dancing in the form of legislation and anti-dance literature.

Anti-dance Literature

From the early days of the American colonies to the early days of rock and roll, dancing has often been associated with immoral thoughts and actions. Many religious leaders throughout United States history have opposed dancing on moral grounds. A search on antidance yields a number of pamphlets condemning ballroom dancing for the feelings and actions it incites. One early example of anti-dance literature comes from Jacob Ide's 1818 sermon, "The Nature and Tendency of Balls," in which Ide criticizes the expenses associated with balls and dancing's "tendency to excite a vague, indiscriminate love of company" (page 15).

A more direct accusation of the corrupting influence of dancing appears in Reverend George Heckmann's "Dancing as a Christian Amusement." This 1879 treatise proclaims, "dancing is one of the propelling forces which plunge men and women down to profligacy, ruin and death," (page 24). Heckmann acknowledges that he has not danced himself but he knows that his criticism of dancing is accurate because it is based on observation and common truths:

I know it from confessions made to me. I believe it from my knowledge of our poor, passionate nature . . . I know it from remarks made and eyes feeding upon the forms of those in the dance whom we would never have looked upon but with purity, respect and honor . . . I know it from the reason many have given . . . for the intense love they have for the dance.

page 25

One member of the anti-dance movement, however, had a great deal of personal experience with dance as an instructor. T.A. Faulkner's descriptions of the evils associated with dancing in "From the Ball-Room to Hell" (1892) and "The Lure of the Dance" (1916) feature accounts of former students who were "ruined" by dance. One example from his second pamphlet reads:

She had also met the fate many others do on the way home from some dance, where their character is weakened by coming in close contact with the opposite sex while dancing . . . With a look of reproach . . . she said: "Mr. Faulkner, when you close your dancing school and stop the business which is sending so many girls by swift stages on the straight road to Hell, . . . then, sir . . . have you the right to ask me to reform. . . ."

page 11

  • What accusations do the writers of anti-dance literature make against dancing?
  • What definitions of morality are these accusations based upon?
  • Why do you think that people who opposed dancing associated so many dark emotions and situations with it?
  • What other sorts of social activities have been disparaged for being immoral in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
  • Why do you think that dance is so often associated with questions of morality?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the accounts of religious leaders who did not participate in dancing and that of Faulkner who was a dance instructor? What kinds of language do these religious leaders use? What are their specific objections to dancing? What motivates their objections? How does each person's background affect your evaluation of his arguments?


Dance Hall Legislation in the Flapper Era

As anti-dance literature attests, dance halls were often sites for public drunkenness and lewd behavior. A search on dance hall yields accounts of incorrigible behavior and various attempts by local governments to control these venues in the early twentieth century. "The Public Dance Halls of Chicago" (1917) notes that most dancers conducted themselves well until around 11 p.m. when revelers began to show the effects of alcohol:

Men and women become intoxicated and dance indecently such dances as "Walkin' the Dog," . . . "The Stationary Wiggle," etc . . . It is not uncommon at certain dances to see between twenty and twenty-five couples between the ages of sixteen and twenty years, very much intoxicated. At one dance the investigator saw four young boys sitting at a table with forty-eight bottles of beer between them;

The Public Dance Halls of Chicago, page 4

Such occurrences throughout the country prompted many cities to introduce laws restricting the events in and around dance halls. "Dance Halls. Ordinances Governing the Conduct of Public Dances and Dance Halls, City of Buffalo" feature the Common Council's 1914 requirements to license these venues, maintaining the right for any police officer to shut down a dance "whenever any indecent or immoral act is committed, or whenever any disorder of a gross, violent or vulgar character takes place therein, with the knowledge or consent of the owner or lessee, or his agent, or other person in charge of the dance,"(page 5).

A 1929 federal study, "Public Dance Halls, Their Regulation and Place in the Recreation of Adolescents," noted a steady increase in such local legislation since 1914. This growing effort "may be attributed to the fuller recognition of the social factors involved in this type of amusement . . . or . . . it may be the direct result of conditions arising out of the demand for excitement and the consequent increase in the number of dance halls following the war years," (page 9).

Although the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution banned the sale and transport of alcohol in the United States in 1920 (and was not repealed until 1933), this 1929 study described various state penalties for public intoxication at dance halls:

Illinois makes it unlawful for any known . . . intoxicated person to be present in a public dance hall. Wisconsin specifically prohibits the presence of intoxicated persons or the use of intoxicating liquors in the dance hall or on the premises, whether the hall be licensed or not under provisions of any local or county regulation. Ohio prohibits the presence of intoxicated persons or the use of intoxicating liquors. In Oregon, as a condition in the applicant's bond, no intoxicating liquors are allowed in or about the dance hall.

page 8

  • Why do you think that the demand for dance halls increased after World War I?
  • Why do you think that riotous behavior was a common occurrence in dance halls?
  • How do the incidents described in these studies compare to those chronicled in the anti-dance literature?
  • Do you think that local legislation of dance halls was adequate to control such events?
  • What other ways might be used to deal with lewd behavior and public drunkenness?
  • How effective would you expect the anti-dance literature to have been in controlling the "evils" of dancing? How would you have reacted to such literature?
  • Why do you think that local governments were interested in prohibiting alcohol even in the midst of a federal ban on alcohol?


Instruction Books for the Rising Middle Class

The interest in ballroom dancing grew with the middle-class population of the late-nineteenth century. Many books in this collection targeted this growing audience, offering an opportunity for people to learn how to dance without having to take private lessons. "How to Dance" (1878) announced that it offered a solution for people who were too bashful, too poor, or too busy to have private dance instruction: "For the benefit of that large class, we have gotten up this book, at a great expense of labor and money" (page 3).

In addition to explanations of popular dances, guides such as "Beadle's Dime Ball-Room Companion and Guide to Dancing" (1868) included rules of etiquette and other social lessons. In a discussion on etiquette, "Beadle's Dime Ball-Room Companion" explains that society is on its best behavior in the ballroom: "Every thing there is regulated according to the strictest code of good-breeding . . . it is indispensable that the etiquette of the ball-room should be thoroughly mastered," (page 5).

This guide and others such as "The Dancer's Guide and Ball-Room Companion" (1875) also include a glossary of dancing terms to guide novices through the "always bewildering [instructions that] are often rendered . . . in French," (page 26). "The Perfect Art of Modern Dancing" (1894), on the other hand, was part of a series written specifically for women that focused on the benefit of learning proper homemaking skills. (Other titles in the "Perfect Art" series included lessons on canning and preserving food and on nursing and nourishing invalids.)

Other books on the market did not disguise the anxiety surrounding proper behavior in the form of dance instruction. Mrs. John Sherwood's "Manners and Social Usages" (1887) focused solely on the proper behavior that would help to alleviate middle-class concerns:

There is no country where there are so many people asking what is "proper to do," or, indeed, where there are so many genuinely anxious to do the proper thing, as in the vast conglomerate which we call the United States of America. The newness of our country is perpetually renewed by the sudden making of fortunes, and by the absence of a hereditary, reigning set. There is no aristocracy here which has the right and title to set the fashions.

page 3

  • What is the appeal of these books to a middle-class audience?
  • What are the benefits of a person learning to dance in his or her own home? Can you think of any potential problems with this sort of instruction? What else do these books offer the middle class?
  • How did a glossary of French dancing terms contribute to the edification of the middle class?
  • How do these books characterize their audience in terms of money, time, or culture?
  • What other forms of instruction were offered to the middle class?
  • Can you think of any contemporary books or guides that offer similar services?


It Takes Two Cultures to Tango: The European Influence on American Dance

In teaching the steps and etiquette of ballroom dancing, several instructors emphasized its European origins. The 1848 manual, "Powell's Art of Dancing," claims that American dancing only improved in large cities in the first half of the eighteenth century while Europeans dramatically developed their art: "Who that has ever visited many of the European countries but must remember with delight the perfect ease, beauty and grace which the people of that country have arrived at, while we become disgusted with the awkward attempts of persons in this country who try to dance" (page 7).

This sense of European superiority also influenced American dance innovations. Professor Brooks' "The Ball-Room Monitor" (1866) speculates that dances originating in the United States were often endowed with European names and histories to give them a sense of authenticity (page 5):

According to such representations, there is nothing can be stamped with the imprint of Christian civilization on its frontispiece, but that which is imported from Paris or London. I, for one, will stand up in defence of our native inventive genius against the world. Our people are equally as able, and in many things far surpassing those foreign gems of aristocracy, in producing almost everything that is grand, useful, or beautiful, in the arts and sciences.

page 6

Frank Clendenen's "Treatise on Elementary and Classical Dancing" (1903) echoes Professor Brooks' defense of American originality and argues that it is impossible to compare Americans and Europeans because of fundamental cultural differences. He does point out, however, that American dance instructors often suffer from a lack of patience: "Europeans are never in a hurry, Americans always are . . . it is indisputable that we have teachers of this country equal in every respect to foreign teachers" (page 9.

Even with competent American instructors and original American dances, however, Europeans were still recognized as being at the forefront of high culture. For example, the "Handbook of Ball-Room Dancing" (1920) describes the way in which the tango swept across the world: "The dance craze came on the world very suddenly, but became so powerful, that even the tragic years 1914-18 failed to kill it. Beginning with the Paris restaurants and salons in 1911-19, it immediately migrated to London and New York" (page 9).

  • If Powell is correct, why do you think that dance in the United States only improved in large cities?
  • Why do you think that dances migrated from France to England and, finally, to the United States?
  • What does the name and origin of a dance have to do with its performance or popularity? Why do you think that many Americans sought "foreign gems of aristocracy" in ballroom dancing?
  • Do you agree with Frank Clendenen that Americans tend to be in a hurry? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think that so many Americans felt that Europeans were more culturally advanced?
  • Do you think that it is possible for one country to be culturally superior to another?
  • How does this sense of American inferiority relate to the statement in Mrs. Sherwood's etiquette book, "Manners and Social Usages," that "[t]here is no aristocracy here which has the right and title to set the fashions"? Who does "set the fashions" in the United States?


American Contributions to the History of Dance

Although Europeans were considered the originators of dance culture, a number of innovations took place in the United States. One example is featured in "Jig, Clog, and Breakdown Dancing Made Easy" (1873) when the author proclaims, "Jig Dancing is peculiarly an American institution and had its origin among the slaves of the southern plantations," (page 1).

The complex rhythmic patterns of jig dancing were a precursor to the influences of ragtime at the end of the nineteenth century. As the Special Presentation, "Western Social Dance: An Overview of the Collection," explains, "Ragtime had become a popular American style of music . . . that flourished between 1890 and World War I . . . [and] . . . ushered in an era of expressive ballroom dancing, with dances that did not need formal training but which encouraged individualism," (page 7).

The growing interest in these dances prompted Albert Newman to proclaim in "Dances of Today" (1914) that it was an era in which a rebirth of dance (and the human heart) was occurring: "And youth was reborn in the hearts and bodies and minds of men and women of all ages, and the transformation wrought is marvelous--in nothing so much as in the near elimination of non-dancers,"(page 16).

A search on modern dance produces Newman's guide and other works such as Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle's "Modern Dancing" (1914) and Caroline Walker's "The Modern Dances, How to Dance Them" (1916).  These manuals provide directions and diagrams for ragtime-era dances while this collection's Video Library contains examples of dances such as "The Castle Walk" and "The Maxixe."

  • How do these ragtime-era dances differ from their European predecessors?
  • Do you think that these dances could have originated somewhere other than the United States?
  • What is distinctly American about ragtime dance?
  • Why do you think that these dances appealed to people who were otherwise "non-dancers"?
  • Why do you think that ragtime-era dances "did not need formal training but . . . encouraged individualism"?
  • How do you think that ragtime-era dances influenced future dance?


Critical Thinking

The materials in An American Ballroom Companion, ca. 1490-1920, provide an opportunity to assess the role of ballroom dancing in American culture through skills of comprehension, analysis, and interpretation. Dance manuals, related legislation, and anti-dance literature allow for an understanding of dancing as both a form of physical education and childhood recreation in the early-twentieth century. Video clips, illustrated instruction manuals, and guides chronicling the history of dance can be used to discuss how dancing has evolved as an art form and as a reflection of modern culture.

Chronological Thinking

The Special Presentation, "Western Social Dance," offers insight into the history of European ballroom dancing from the Renaissance through the early-twentieth century. This resource can be used in conjunction with the collection's Video Directory to see how dance styles changed over time.

Manuals such as "The Dance, Ancient and Modern" (1900), "A History of Dancing" (1906) and "Dancing Made Easy" (1919) also provide brief accounts of earlier culture and the art of dancing. Many of these guides, however, might be accused of romanticizing the past. For example, in "The Dance, Ancient and Modern," dancing is theorized to be "the first diversion of primitive humanity" with early men and women "forgetting for the moment the cares of the morrow . . . to charm away the profound ennui of cavern life," (page 5). Despite the occasional subjective account, these manuals provide enough information with which to create a map documenting the progression of dances across the world.

  • How did different dancing styles travel across the world?
  • How do changes in dance reflect changes in fashion? How do changes in fashion influence changes in dance?
  • What other factors have influenced dance and caused it to change over time?
  • Why do you think that some dance manuals described the past with terms such as "primitive humanity" and "profound ennui of cavern life"?
  • What might such characterizations suggest about the influence of the modern era upon some people's understanding of the distant past?
  • How might such characterizations be a reflection of dance culture?


Historical Comprehension: Physical Education

Engaging children in regular physical activity became a standard public-school policy in the early twentieth century. Physical culture, the predecessor of physical education, grew in prominence among late-nineteenth-century educators of "female gymnastics" such as walking, riding, and dancing. These exercises provided female students with physical activity and often refuted popular notions of proper behavior for young ladies. Manuals such as "Coulon's Hand-Book" (1873), also include discussions of exercises with weights and elastics.

In the twentieth century, instructors continued to emphasize the athletic value of dance. "The Perfect Art of Modern Dancing" notes, "Physiologists have for many years regarded dancing as one of the finest of gymnastic exercises, and declare it to be superior to all others in its beneficial effect upon the carriage and manner," (page 1). "Dancing as a Means of Physical Education," on the other hand, supported dancing as an educational exercise and a "safeguard against the evils of over mental education," (page ).

Frank Clendenen extended these arguments favoring the athletic value of dance in "The Art of Dancing" (1919) when he declared that the victory in World War I was due to American efficiency and physical excellence:

The world of today needs stronger men and women--men and women who are 100 per cent strong. We have just won the greatest war known in history, a war that was won by efficiency, and physical excellence. Realizing this to be a fact, let us ask ourselves if we are all in the proper condition physically? Are our schools properly preparing our sons and daughters for our daily battles? . . . The writer believes that much good can be accomplished by our Dancing Masters teaching our children corrective exercises and insisting that the public schools instruct the child in Nature Exercises and Esthetic Dancing.

page 7

Such sentiments were echoed in the adoption of physical education into the United States' education system. Some schools, however, allowed unhealthy competition to diminish the overall benefits of their physical education programs. In the 1929 study, "Public Dance Halls, Their Regulation and Place in the Recreation of Adolescents," a survey of recreation programs for children identified one of the hazards of league competition when educators sought to field championship teams in their programs and "The physical director in [one] city said that he could not promote an adequate program of physical education in the schools because he had to produce winning high-school teams or he would lose his job," (page 39).

  • Why did schools incorporate physical education programs into their curriculum?
  • What changes in gender and social roles in the late-nineteenth century might have made this possible? How might the perceived benefits of physical activity have, in turn, contributed to these changes?
  • What was the role of dance in the establishment of physical education for children, and for females, specifically?
  • What does a child gain from a team sport that he or she might not acquire in an individualized activity?
  • Do you think that the pursuit of a team sport is worthwhile if it threatens to reduce the experience of other students in a school?
  • How have the reasons for including a physical education component in school curriculum changed with time?  Is physical education still considered a "safeguard against the evils of over mental education?" Is it still valued as a preparation for daily and military battle?


Historical Analysis and Interpretation

This collection's Video Directory contains seventy-five short films of dances from a variety of time periods, from the Renaissance to the Ragtime era. These films provide an opportunity to analyze dance and interpret how it reflects history and culture. Compare dances created in different historical eras using the films and the Special Presentation, "Western Social Dance," which provides a brief contextual background for the dance manuals in this collection. Survey this presentation, sample a variety of the films, and answer the following questions.

  • To what kind of music is each dance performed?
  • Who is participating in each dance? Individuals? Couples? Groups of individuals or of couples?
  • Where do you imagine such dances might have been performed?
  • How do you think it would feel to participate in or perform each dance?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe each dance? Formal or friendly? Conservative or whimsical? Elegant and lyrical, or rhythmic and percussive? Controlled or spontaneous? (Create a drawing or painting that captures the overall feeling of the dance.)
  • What kinds of social and gender roles might the dances reflect? How do the dancers relate to each other? What do these interactions suggest about how people were expected to behave in public?
  • What do your answers to the preceding questions suggest about the values of the times and places from which the dances originated? Do the dance manuals from these times and place reflect the same values as the dances and their music? Does the clothing of each period reflect these values? How?


Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision Making: Dance and Recreation

Many members of the anti-dance movement believed that the social vices often associated with dancing were extremely dangerous to children. In "The Lure of the Dance," former dance instructor T.A. Faulkner described how boys and girls interact after encountering one another at a dance:

Like a bird charmed by the glittering eyes of a serpent . . . the young man thinks he has fallen in love with this girl . . . It is then . . . that he realizes what it is to be a man . . . he tries to resist, but the temptation is too strong for him. The struggle is soon over . . . and against the convictions of his own conscience he finally yields to his desires, and when he leaves the girl his views of womanhood have undergone a complete change, never to be the same again.

page 36

Concern for children's welfare at dance halls is reinforced in the 1929 study, "Public Dance Halls, Their Regulation and Place in the Recreation of Adolescents," which reports that government inspectors found it difficult to involve parents in their children's recreational activities -- even when the children were under the legal age of attending a dance hall: "An inspector who had difficulty in gaining the cooperation of the mothers of girls said: "About 50 per cent . . . knew they were going to public dance halls and wanted to 'trust' them, etc.; the other 50 per cent were ignorant of their daughters' whereabouts," (page 32).

The study also included an account of children attending "closed hall events" where men who could not find partners at public dances hired girls to dance with them. In one city surveyed, girls were not allowed to work in these halls until they were 18. In another city, however, "no age limit seemed to be enforced and the girls were extremely young . . . Boys were usually not found in two cities where these halls were visited; but in a third city the majority of the 200 dancers were under 21, and many of the boys looked to be about 17," (page 34).

The study also claimed that many children attended these events because it was the only available source of recreation "to many farm boys and girls who came to the towns . . . to large numbers of young people who were working in industrial centers . . . and to many city boys and girls whose parents through poverty or ignorance made no provision for the social needs of their children," (page 1).

  • Do you think that stopping children from attending a dance might keep them from falling in love and struggling with personal temptation?
  • What is a parent's responsibility in letting a child learn to dance or attend dances?
  • Do you think that there should be an age limits fordances?
  • How would you reprimand children who violated the rules prohibiting children from "closed hall" events?
  • Do you think that children should be prohibited from attending dances even if it is their only available social activity? Do you think that other activities should be made available to these children? If so, what activities?
  • Do you think that parents should restrict their children from attending "adult functions"?
  • Do you think that parents are involved in their children's activities? Do you think they should be involved?
  • Can you think of any locations or events about which similar concerns are voiced today?
  • How do you spend your recreation time?
  • Do you think that you would want (or would have wanted) more or less parental involvement in your activities? Why?


Historical Research Capabilities

Many of the guides in this collection provide an opportunity to investigate the proper techniques and manners of the people who engaged in social dances. A detailed examination of proper etiquette is available in pieces such as "The Dancer's Guide and Ball-Room Companion," which explains that proper etiquette in such situations "embraces everything relating to giving, attending, and returning balls," (page 3). This includes selecting the appropriate wardrobe:

Young unmarried ladies should wear dresses of light materials . . . There is no restriction as to colors, except that they should be chosen with reference to the wearer . . . Flowers are the proper ornaments for the head and dress . . . Jewelry should be very sparingly used; a single bracelet is quite sufficient for those who dance.

page 7

"The Gentleman and Lady's Companion," on the other hand, features a section dedicated to listing the "ill manners" that should be avoided by both men and women, including:

Omitting to pay proper respect to company, on entering or leaving a room; or paying it only to one person, when more are present. Entering a room with the hat on, and leaving it in the fame manner. Setting still on the entrance of your instructor, strangers or parents. Omitting the proper attention, when waited on by superiors.

page 22

The materials in this collection also provide an opportunity to learn about a number of specific dances. For example, a search on country dancing results in manuals such as "The Complete System of Country Dancing" and "An Analysis of Country Dancing." These instructions can be complemented with video clips of how the dance is performed by browsing the collection’s Video Directory.


Arts & Humanities

An American Ballroom Companion, ca. 1490-1920, provides materials with which to do several create visual projects as well as to study examples of non-fiction. Guides with detailed descriptions and numerous illustrations provide a captivating starting point for creating costumes based on historical and literary figures. Illustrations, descriptions, and the collection's short videos can be used to understand the expressive nature of dance and to create a dance of one's own. The collection also contains both a drama and cautionary tales that can be used to study social criticism, while guides for instructors provide the opportunity to examine the process of teaching.

Having a Ball

The guide, "Masquerades, Tableaux and Drills" (1906) provides detailed instructions for a number of once-popular activities, such as holding a ball, creating a tableaux or living picture, and performing drills. In addition to providing an interesting look at forms of entertainment before the advent of film and television, this guide can provide the basis for any number of creative projects that can be combined with the study of history or literature.

The section on "Children's Tableaux" suggests creating scenes in which children dress up as characters from fairy tales or nursery rhymes. This idea can be modified. Participants can choose a character from a fairy tale or fiction and write about why they chose the character and how they will create a costume that conveys the identity and significance of the character. The culmination of the project can be a fairy-tale ball, or some other similar event at which participants wear their costumes.

Another possibility is to hold a Martha Washington Ball. These February 22 events feature "the ladies dressed in the Martha Washington and other costumes of the eighteenth century . . . and the gentlemen in the Continental and Revolutionary costumes," (page 12). After researching some eighteenth-century historical figures, choose one person and write an explanation of his or her accomplishments.

  • Why did you select this person or character?
  • How will you express this person's unique identity through a costume?
  • How do you think that this person would have behaved at a ball?


Create a Dance

Like any art form, dancing allows for the creative expression of ideas. Arabella Moore's "The Dance, Ancient and Modern" (1900) briefly describes the various religious and secular purposes of dancing throughout history. While discussing contemporary dances, Moore describes the Polka Mazurka as expressing "sentiments of sweetness and tenderness. It is full of elegance . . . its slowness has something aristocratic about it, even a little haughtiness. The waltz has more passion, but there is grace also in the undulating and gliding Mazurka," (page 27). An example of the Polka Mazurka is available in this collection's Video Directory.

Photographs in Mrs. H. A. Foreman's "Illustrated Portfolio of Artistic Dancing" (1894) demonstrate that dancers express themselves through their wardrobe and facial expressions as well as their steps. This idea is reinforced in Carl Van Vechten's portraits of Dame Alicia Markova in a variety of costumes and dances in the American Memory collection, Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964.

After reviewing these examples, create a dance and a costume that express a specific idea, feeling, or theme.

  • What is the feeling that you are trying to express?
  • What steps and movements in your dance convey that feeling? How?
  • How do your costume, makeup, and facial expressions convey that feeling?


Drama as Social Criticism

Thomas Wilson's play, "The Danciad" (1824), is a discussion, in verse, on the "state of ball-room dancing" and offers an opportunity to understand how a drama can be a medium for social criticism (page i). From its dedication "To teachers of merit, (particularly those at whose request "The Danciad" was composed, and who are most capable of deciding how far the author has done justice to the subject)" to its extensive footnotes, Wilson's "The Danciad" offers a critique of the London dance scene in the early nineteenth century (page 3).

In one scene, a character named Jemima announces that she knows some dancers "on and off the stage" and many of the alleged "Dancing Masters" are frauds: "These mean impostors bring to disrepute, / This polite art, and teachers of repute. / Nothing like science do they teach or know, / They are quacks in dancing, which I'll plainly show" (page 6). An accompanying footnote provides insight into Wilson's creation of this character in its description of the casting requirements for the role: "It appeared requisite . . . that this lady should possess confidence, together with experience and abilities . . . [to expose] . . . the deceptive pretensions and impositions of various self-created and self-entitled 'Professors of Dancing,'" (page 5).

  • How does Wilson's depiction of the early-nineteenth-century dance culture characterize that culture?
  • Why do you think that Wilson was critical of "self-entitled 'Professors of Dancing'"?
  • Why do you think that Wilson wrote the "The Danciad?"
  • Do you think that writing in verse helps or hinders his play?
  • How do the footnotes add to your understanding of the play?


T. A. Faulkner's Cautionary Tales

T.A. Faulkner's anti-dance guides, "From the Ball-Room to Hell" (1892) and "The Lure of the Dance" (1916), feature the ruined lives and assorted evils associated with dancing. "The Lure of the Dance" is actually dedicated to Faulkner's own sister, who "died a victim of one of these human vultures infesting the dancing schools and ball rooms of our land," (page 6).

Faulkner peppers his rhetoric with questions such as, "Would you like your parents, your friends, and people for whom you have the highest respect and whose favor you wish to secure and retain, know what your thoughts and feelings were while engaged in the dance?" (page 25).

He also vividly describes scenes in which children succumb to the temptations that surround them. In one example, a young woman goes to dinner with a young man she just met at a dance:

She hears her companion order a bottle of wine opened . . . One glass and then another, and the brain . . . is whirling and giddy. The vile wretch . . . whispers in her ear many soft and foolish lies . . .

The wine has done its work.

When she awakens next morning, it is in a strange room . . . [H]e who has brought all this upon her has promised to right the wrong by marriage . . . but such trifles as this he thinks nothing of; it is too common an occurrence about the ball-room. Days grow into months, and now added sorrow fills her cup . . . She is to become a mother, and the girl cries out in bitter anguish, "My God; what shall I do; must I commit murder! Oh! that I had never entered a ball-room."

page 71

  • What does Faulkner's starting his book with a dedication to his sister contribute to the overall effect of the tale?
  • Does Faulkner narrate the story from the perspective of the man or woman? What does this viewpoint contribute to the overall effect of the piece?
  • Who is Faulkner's intended audience?
  • How does Faulkner's work compare to that of religious leaders who were part of the anti-dance movement?
  • How does this work compare to Wilson's play in its ability to affect social change?



Although the majority of dance manuals in this collection are designed for beginners, some instructors developed guidelines for others to teach dancing. Frank Clendenen offers two guides that provide instructions for instructors with the "Treatise on Elementary and Classical Dancing," which offers technical basics and "The Art of Dancing; Its Theory and Practice," which promotes the physical benefits of dancing.

Other guides in this collection address more practical matters that are often associated with teaching. C.H. Cleveland's "Dancing at Home and Abroad" includes information about selecting a building for teaching dance, choosing music, monitoring student progress, and managing balls. Horatio Grant's "How to Become Successful Teachers of the Art of Dancing . . .," on the other hand, suggests how to open classes and conduct private lessons. Grant also offers details such as the distinction between how men and women learn in dance classes: "It has been my experience that gentlemen have more trouble in acquiring the art of dancing . . . from the fact that they have to gain the knowledge of guiding their partners . . . but if both are accomplished dancers, the gentleman is not conscious of leading the lady," (page 5).

  • Imagine that you were going to teach someone a skill that you are good at (drawing, telling a joke, reading, etc.). How would you explain the steps involved in the skill? Write out a list of steps.
  • Imagine that you were helping this person teach a third person this skill. What would you add to your instructions?
  • What do you think makes a good teacher?
  • What do you think makes a good student?
  • How do these guides for instructors differ from the manuals written for beginners in their presentation of dancing?
  • How else might potential dance instructors gain this information?
  • What information might an instructor want that is not available in these guides? What potential situations are not discussed?
  • Do you think that these guides would help someone become a successful dance instructor? Why or why not?