Read more writing about set dancing in the Set Dancing Anthology, New Articles, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4.
To DancersCorrect conduct is nowhere so essential as in the dance room. A slight lapse, there, is magnified and becomes a serious matter.
If you have doubts on any question of behaviour, consult this volume of Do's and Don'ts. It epitomises the whole subject of Dance Etiquette in the fewest possible words.
I What You Must Know About DancingWhen going to a dance, get there in good time and don't be late.
If you are meeting friends mind you don't keep them waiting.
Choose your dress to accord with the occasion and, whatever else you do, do groom yourself carefully. A slovenly get up at a dance is unpardonable.
Though you should be immaculate, you must not be startling. If you are specially noticeable, there must be something wrong with your attire.
A lady will not bleach her face with powder and make her lips a deep scarlet. She may use powder and lipstick, but only sparingly.
Highly-coloured finger-nails can appear very revolting. A tinge of colouring is allowed, but finger-tips that look as though they had been dipped in blood are a mark of the savage.
Too high heels to shoes suit very few people and they are usually a danger. When wearing them, a slip often means a sprained ankle.
Gloves, for ladies, are coming back into fashion and it is a good fashion.
A vague whiff of good perfume is refreshing, but don't use scent lavishly or people will think you need it as a disinfectant.
On arriving at the hall, a gentleman should conduct his lady to her cloakroom and meet her at the same spot a few minutes later. The lady should not have to wander into the dance room by herself.
If it is a private dance, the first thing on arriving in the room is pay one's respects to the hostess. Don't dance before this duty has been performed.
Having arrived and, with the whole evening before you, make up your mind to enjoy yourself. If the floor is gritty, don't notice it: if the band plays antiquated tunes, don't mention it: if the dancers are a poor lot, don't worry about it: and if the catering is bad, don't grumble about it. If your favourite partner is with you, that is everything.
Dancing is an artistic pastime in which those who take part should attempt to be graceful. Therefore:
Don't be rowdy.
Don't jostle the others.
Don't be over-energetic.
Don't be noisy.
It can be a jolly dance without any of these excesses.
There is no necessity to be a good dancer. In fact, people fight shy of perfect dancers. As long as you can do the steps and keep in time, that is all that is expected of you. Of course, an excruciating dancer who cannot keep off his partner's toes is fought shy of, also.
When dancing with a strange partner, don't be dumb. There are plenty of things to talk about - the atrocious weather we have been having, what we did or are going to do at Christmas, the last run we had on the car and other simple themes will all help to fill in the moments.
When dancing with a favourite partner, don't be hilarious. You must not laugh and talk so that other people hear you. To do so is a sign of bad manners.
When dancing with a boisterous partner, don't let yourself go all out. If you steer in and out of the stream and cannon into others, you will be regarded as a nuisance.
When dancing with your wife or husband, do not wear an expression that seems to say: "This is a duty."
Of late, we have seen men, who ought really to know better, smoking cigarettes while actually dancing. If this is a habit that is on the up-grade, it ought to be firmly put down at once. Not only is it objectionable to puff smoke over one's partner, but there is the danger of fire and burning.
After a dance, a couple should not separate in the middle of the floor. It looks really bad, if one goes one way and the other another. The gentleman should stroll with the lady to her seat and converse with her for at least a moment or two. Then, he can excuse himself and depart.
A gentleman who take a lady for the dance immediately before the interval is honour-bound to see that she has some refreshments. If he prefers not to give her this attention, he must not have that last dance with her.
Only the most energetic people take part in all the dances. Therefore, a gentleman can very well go and sit out with a lady who is not dancing. But it is generally understood, when ladies are greatly in excess of the men that the men do not sit out more than necessary. It is their duty to help out the M.C. as much as they can and not spend their leisure standing round the buffet.
If you want to be rude to a partner, mop your forehead and wipe round the inside of your collar directly the dance is finished. This will show her in the plainest possible manner that you have found her a burden.
Good dancers make all their movements from their hips downwards, while the upper part of the body is erect and more or less stiff. The lady places her left hand on her partner's right arm, fairly close to his shoulder. He holds her securely by opening his right hand and placing it flat on a point a little below her left shoulder blade. Then, he extends his left arm and holds it on a level with his chin, while she extends her right arm and holds his hand. This is the starting position of all modern dances.
In this opening chapter, the outstanding "do's and don'ts" of dancing are given. In the following sections, the whole subject is dealt with in detail.
II Going To A DanceDo remember that a dance at the present time is not so much a social function as a recreation. Go to it gladly, and with every intention of having a good time. Go in the spirit of Byron's lines:On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined!Don't run away with the idea that you can not make dancing your hobby because it is too expensive. Like most other amusements it is, in this respect, what you like to make it. Often you will find that some of your jolliest and best evenings haven't cost you the price of a seat at the cinema. If you are keen on it you will soon find means of economising on less pleasurable pursuits.
No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet,
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
Do drive away any idea that you are too old to dance. Such a time does not come until you are absolutely laid on the shelf, and your only method of progression is by means of a bath chair. As long as you can do a round of golf, play a game of bowls, or do a four mile walk, you can still claim to be classified as A1 for dancing. Remember, too, that it is health-giving and invigorating, so don't give it up until you definitely become C3.
Don't, my dear young lady, refrain from such an enjoyable pastime because you have no male friend to accompany you. No longer is woman subject to man for the opportunity to enjoy herself. Nowadays, not only is it permissible for a girl to go with a gentleman to a public dance without a chaperone, but it is quite the correct thing for two girls to go together, without any mere man or elderly female relative to shield them from danger. Consequently thank your lucky stars that you live in these more enlightened days, find a girl companion, and go off together with the intention of having a really good time.
Don't be shy about dancing and put for ward the plea that you dance so badly that you really couldn't perform in front of other people. To do this is to show conceit, because your objection is based on the fact that you think others are watching you. Try to realise that they are fully engrossed in their own partners and their own affairs, and are probably taking less interest in you than if you were making your first efforts at swimming. You didn't learn to dive by standing on the edge of the bath. Dive in before someone pushes you in.
Don't try to make others believe that you dislike dancing if you are a healthy-minded man with a respect and an admiration for the other sex. If you are this, read the following lines of Whittier's and see if they do not make you accept the first dance invitation that comes your way:And beautiful maidens moved down in the dance,Do get out of your mind, also, that because you are somewhat clumsy and awkward in your movements, or are ill at ease in society, that dancing is a closed pastime to you. As a matter of fact the position is entirely the reverse, since dancing will give you poise and teach you how to hold yourself properly, and with that will come, in a great measure, a loss of that self-consciousness that is now your principal trouble.
With the magic of motion and sunshine of glance;
And white arms wreathed lightly, and tresses fell free
As the plumage of birds in some tropical tree.
Do refrain, however, from going if you are not fit, and particularly so if you have a cold coming. The close proximity into which you are brought with your partners will almost certainly pass on the infection. On the other hand don't stay away because you are simply feeling tired or glum after a hard day in the office. The exhilaration of the music and the rhythm of the dance should soon drive away the tired feeling, while the blues will quickly disappear in an atmosphere in which it is impossible for them to live.
Don't feel annoyed if the girl whom you are accompanying to a public dance wishes to pay for her own ticket. In these days many girls earn quite as good salaries as men, and they like to feel that they are independent and can join with them in any recreation on terms of more or less equality. Moreover many girls rightly appreciate that to pay for two is often a heavy strain on a man's finances and cuts down by half the opportunities of enjoyment that they might have together. If the girl insists in this matter, smile, comply with her wishes, and thank your lucky stars she is so sensible.
Do be careful not to go in for a heavy meal before a dance. It isn't good for your digestion and probably in a short time you will find yourself more inclined for sleep than exercise.
Don't arrange to go with a lady to a dance, no matter how informal it may be, and promise to meet her in the hall. If you are going together it is your duty to call for her at her home or to meet her at some convenient spot and, then, escort her to the place. To suggest anything less than this is an insult.
Do take care not to be late in arriving, especially at a private dance. Above all don't be one of those persons who pride themselves on the fact that they never get to a dance until everybody is there and "things have got warmed up." To do this is colossal selfishness, since someone must do the warming-up, and there is no reason why you shouldn't take your share of it.
Don't stand at your escort's elbow while he pays the taxi, but move on into the building and wait for him just inside.
Don't, if you are a party, have an argument on the pavement outside the building as to who shall pay the taxi. Arrange among yourselves that one shall pay and that you will have a settlement later. One of the most annoying persons that one meets in the world is the one who wishes to pay for the others and to let all know that he is doing so.
Don't forget, finally, that to dance well is one of the best passports to society. Most communities are only too glad to find a place for the good dancer with gentlemanly manners.
III Giving a DanceTo give a dance requires some knowledge of the rules. The hints set out in this section may help you to avoid making mistakes.
Don't attempt to give a dance in your own home unless it is well adapted for the purpose. As a rule, unless the affair is restricted to a very few people, it will be found more convenient to hold it at an hotel or some public hall. This course has the additional merit that it is then easier to put the refreshments into the hands of a caterer and thus obviate the dislocation of your whole household.
Don't think it necessary to run into a lot of expense as regards providing refreshments. If you are holding a small, private dance you may, if you so desire, provide a sitting down meal, but this is not normally expected and a well-furnished buffet is all that is really necessary. If your dancing is good, and things are going with a swing, you'll find that there is not even much call on that.
Do, however, remember that dancing is thirst provoking, so take care that there is plenty of cup of some description or other.
Do remember that if you put the catering and decorations for your dance into the hands of a professional caterer that you should ascertain exactly what is included in the estimate that he furnishes. Unless care is taken in this matter there is a tendency for so many extras to creep in that your bill will be very much larger than, you anticipated.
Don't omit to allow for tipping. This may run to anything up to ten per cent of the bill, but if you don't do it there is more than a possibility that the service will not be as satisfactory as you would have wished.
Do take every care that your cloak room accommodation is adequate. Don't forget to supply the men's room with a strong clothes brush in order that they can brush off the powder, while, if you have no maid in the ladies' room, see that 'besides toilet accessories it contains needles and thread and such like articles for small repairs.
Do, after settling on your room, take 'great care that your invitations are neither too numerous nor too few. For a room to be over crowed naturally spoils everyone's enjoyment, but one that is not full enough has somewhat the same effect on those present as a thinly filled theatre has on the actors. Find out the capacity of your room (that given by the owner of the hall can usually be reduced a little), allow a percentage, according to your popularity, for those who cannot accept, and then send out your invitation cards on that basis.
Do be careful to send out the invitations for your evening at least two or three weeks in advance, and don't make the mistake of sending some about a week after the others. Try and get them all in the same post. If there is an appreciable space of time between the two despatches the recipients of the second lot will think they have only been asked to fill up the places of those who have refused.
Don't forget that for the ordinary dance the invitation cards should be worded somewhat as follows, the name of the person for whom it is intended being written in the top left hand corner.
Mr. and Mrs. John Brown
request the pleasure of your company
on October 1st at 8.30 p.m.
Do be careful when sending these out not to include the sons of the family on the card sent to the parents. Custom has laid down that each of them should receive a separate card, but daughters' names can be added on that sent to the parents.
Don't forget that where an invitation is in the third person, the reply should be in the same form.
Don't omit to give your personal and close attention to the floor. Satisfy yourself that it has no cracks or uneven places and carefully supervise the polishing of it.
Don't forget that, unless your guests are all young people, it will be necessary to have a card room for the seniors. Incidentally, keep an eye on this room during the evening and drag out those young fellows whose duty it is to be on the dance floor.
Do make an endeavour, if you are giving the dance for your own sons or daughters, that the majority of the guests shall be of their generation, not yours. If you don't you may find that the card room is in greater demand than the dance room and from the point of view of the young people the affair will be voted slow.
Don't get the idea that if you want to give your young people a pleasant evening things must be done on a grand scale. The cheery little informal affair where you roll up the carpet and clear the furniture out of the drawing-room is often more appreciated than the one where you go to a lot of expense. It's always possible to be a great deal happier on cider than on champagne cup if your company is right.
Do be careful, if you are invited to a private dance, not to commit the only too common offence of delaying your acceptance or refusal for several days. Remember that the giver of the dance must know well in advance how many people to expect, so be considerate and, so far as you are able, send the required information at once. Remember also that by delaying your reply you lay yourself open to the suspicion that you are waiting to see if anything more interesting to you turns up.
Don't forget, also, that the first duty of guests after they have got rid of their wraps is to greet the hostess. This lady is usually standing near the door of the dance or reception room, with her husband a little further in, and he in turn welcomes the newcomers.
Don't make the mistake of holding up your host or hostess in conversation if there are other guests behind you waiting to enter. Say a word of greeting and then pass on, and if you have something that you particularly wish to say, find an occasion for saying it later.
Do remember also that at the earliest opportunity each male guest should ask his hostess for the pleasure of a dance. The same courtesy should also be tendered to any daughters of the household or any special guests staying in the house.
Don't repay the kindness of your host and hostess, by failing to use with proper care their furniture and belongings. Don't put your half-smoked, but still burning, cigarette in some cherished flower pot, or on the top of a piano. Although it would seem unnecessary to emphasise this point, there have been recently, even in so-called good society, only too many examples of the neglect of this rule.
IV Dress, Etc.It is dreadfully disconcerting to arrive at a dance and find that you have not dressed properly for the part. This section will help you to avoid making mistakes.
Don't make the great mistake of over dressing. If in doubt a girl should always make for simplicity. A simple and becoming dance frock, well made, will never be wrong.
Do remember, my dear young lady, that to be dressed well is not always a matter of great expense. Taste and suitability will achieve what money is often powerless to do.
Don't run away with the idea that richness in dress is always essential or to be desired. In the case of a young and pretty girl, as we have already said, simplicity should be the keynote, since richness only detracts from the personality of the wearer. Be yourself rather than a frame on which to hang rich attire.
Don't refuse to go to a dance which you know you would enjoy because you've only got "that old frock". Bear in mind that a dance is an excellent form of enjoyment, not a dress parade, and that your partner will be much more concerned as to how you dance than with what you wear. Besides, although that frock may be old to you, remember that it isn't so to other people.
Do be careful not to go in for extremes in dress since these more or less date themselves. The startling frock, which is the very newest thing to-day, will in six months time shout its age. If you can only afford an occasional frock for dancing, don't let it be of the conspicuous kind which calls attention to itself every time it reappears. By so doing you give yourself away badly.
Do bear always in mind the well-known rule that refinement in dress is generally associated with refinement in manners.
Don't forget, my dear sir, that the dress of the gentleman should always accord with that of the lady who is accompanying him. If she is wearing full evening dress it will be incumbent upon him to don tails and a white waistcoat, but if she is only wearing semi-evening dress then it is permissible for him to turn up in a dinner jacket.
Don't omit to don full evening dress for all official or very formal functions. For the ordinary evening dance the dinner jacket, or in the case of the lady a dance frock, is quite sufficient. If you are in doubt, however, it is better to go in tails since it shows more respect.
Don't go to a formal or official dance without white kid gloves. While the wearing of them has of late years fallen much into abeyance, the man who is considerate of the ladies will still use them, since a hot hand pressed against it does much to injure the freshness of the very delicate material of which some dresses are composed.
Do take care not to wear a black waist coat or black tie with full evening dress, and don't in any circumstances wear a made up tie. The latter is one of the things that are simply not done.
Don't make the mistake of overdressing for the ordinary dinner dancing at hotels and restaurants. In the case of the ladies afternoon dresses with hats, or informal evening frocks without hats, are equally admissible.
Do be careful not to go to a formal tea dance, held for some specific purpose, in a lounge suit. While this garb is all right for the ordinary informal dance, the more formal one calls for the morning coat, dark striped trousers, white shirt, stiff collar and black shoes.
Do remember that the correctly dressed man never wears coloured socks with evening dress, neither does the lady wear stockings of a colour that brings her ankles too much into prominence.
Don't forget that in the case of a young lady or a young man the wearing of much jewellery is now considered vulgar. This is the privilege of the dowagers to counter balance the loss of their youthful charms. In the case of a man, it should be restricted to the wearing of one good ring, while studs, etc., should be as small as possible.
Do refrain from using an undue amount of scent or powder, especially if it has a strong and pungent odour. A delicate perfume, faint and elusive, is always charming, but few men care for the heavy, unnatural atmosphere with which the scent addict surrounds herself.
Do also, in turn, my dear young man, remember that many girls intensely dislike the smell of spirits. By all means "have one" at the end of the evening, if you so wish, but show your consideration by abstaining till then.
Don't make up on the dance floor and, whether male or female, don't produce a comb there unless you wish to be considered a rank outsider. The proper place for all that of thing is the cloak- or dressing-room.
Don't use rouge too freely. If you are having a good time and enjoying yourself you'll find your cheeks are glowing quite sufficiently.
Don't run away with the idea that blood-red nails and lips will add to your charms in the ballroom or elsewhere. They won't. At the present time they are largely the sign of the demi-mondaine, while their vivid colouring is apt to turn your partner's thoughts to accidents and casualty wards.
Do be careful, for the sake of all those with whom you come into contact, that no pins, other than those of the safety variety, are used in your dress. A nasty scratch across the hand is not an inducement to your partner to ask for further dances, not to mention the possible consequences. Also don't wear pendants or strings of beads that are likely to catch in the dresses of other people as you pass them in the dance.
Don't look daggers at any poor unfortunate individual who has torn your frock. He may have been clumsy, but of course it was accidental, and doubtless the thought of the crime he has committed will render him miserable for the whole evening. Don't add to his punishment by scowling at him but smile bravely and assure him that it really doesn't matter.
Do be careful not to wear clothes of any description that are too tight for you. This warning especially applies to collars and shoes. Nothing perhaps is more ludicrously pathetic than the red-faced individual mopping his heated brow and then running his linger round inside his collar in the vain attempt to reduce the pressure it is exercising on his neck. See that you have perfect freedom of movement if you would dance gracefully and comfortably.
Do also be most particular about your shoes. On the one hand shoes that are even a little bit tight for you (ladies please note) may render you hors de combat before the evening is over, while if they are too loose they will ruin your dancing and may possibly give you blistered heels. Do pay more attention to them than you would even to your dress or suit, and let them be the one article of your clothing on which you do not economise.
Don't omit to pay particular attention to your stockings or socks. Don't use a pair which have been badly or very much darned unless you want your feet badly rubbed. Take care also that the length of the foot is correct, for if too short the effect may ultimately show itself in your toe joints.
Do take care if you are going to a fancy dress dance that you do not adopt a costume that, while it has the merit of being striking, is totally unfitted for a dancing kit. You may be much admired in your sable coat of mail as the Black Prince, but the girls won't tumble over each other to secure you as a dance partner, while as regards sitting out - well, you can imagine!
Don't also adopt a character that is quite foreign to your personality and appearance. If you are only five feet two inches, and of mild and peaceful demeanour, it is not advisable to turn up as a brigand or a trooper of the Life Guards.
Don't, if you have walked to the dance forget and walk into the dance room with your trousers turned up. As one humorous writer points out, your doing this may be looked upon by your hostess as a reflection upon the floor.
Do be careful, my dear young lady, that in putting on your stockings you have seen that the seam at the back is quite straight. It is perhaps in itself a very small matter but neglect of it will sometimes ruin a girl's whole appearance.
Don't use so much powder on your arms that it comes off on your partners' coats, giving them the appearance of having just emerged from a flour mill.
Don't discuss the clothes of others either to your own sex or to your partners. Miss Brown may be wearing a dowdy old frock, but that is her own business. Moreover, one never knows the secret history of other people, and it may be that that brave little person is economising in every way in order to give the maximum of assistance to some needy relative. Stick to the rule which is good in every phase of life and when you can't say anything good about a person, say nothing.
Do, dear lady, as far as possible keep those charming loose and wayward curls under restraint. In the mass they are indeed delightful, but stray specimens on his coat are not welcomed even by your most devoted admirer.
V MusicDo take care that if the majority of your dancers are young people that your music is modern, catchy and has some zipp in it. Don't treat modern youth to the style that is more appropriate to elders of the Edwardian age, but on the other hand give the latter, if they are present, an occasional look in.
Don't, however, go to an extreme and include in your programme the type of vulgar jazz music which forces dancers into jerky half steps and permits of the introduction of variations that are far from being desirable.
Don't make the mistake of having several loud-toned instruments in a small room. For a small and intimate dance a good gramophone, or for a larger room a radio gramophone, is all that is necessary.
Do be careful that you don't become one of those persons who blame the band every time they get out of step. While the musicians may not be of a first class order they are probably better exponents of their art than you are of dancing. Further, to be constantly grumbling in such a matter will not be conducive to your partner's enjoyment.
Don't supplement the efforts of the band by roaring out the chorus of any popular air that they may play. The others present have come there to dance, not to listen to your vocal efforts, and the probability is, that your partner is not anxious to have the attention of the whole room directed towards the two of you, nor does she desire to have some raucous chorus bawled into her ear.
Do take care to be reasonable in your demands for encores. While the orchestra will feel grateful at your appreciation of their efforts you must remember that they are working while you are playing and that they are quite tired enough already. The person who persists in asking continuous encores is not thinking of the musicians but of obtaining a repetition of something he likes. In other words it is not so much appreciation as greed and a lack of consideration.
Don't make a request to the orchestra to play some particular piece of music that you like or to change one kind of dance for another. You must realise that other persons may have wishes as well as yourself and that they have an equal right to be considered. The most that you can do in such a case is to make your request to the M.C.
VI ConversationIt is so easy to say the wrong thing. This chapter will give you a great deal of good advice on the subject.
Don't make the mistake of trying to keep up a continuous conversation while you are dancing. It may be, and probably is the case, that your partner is one of those persons who like to surrender themselves entirely to the rhythm of the music and dislikes conversation as interfering with this. You will often find that the person who, while dancing, answers your observations in monosyllables, and whom you have put down in your mind as destitute of conversation, becomes, the moment the music ceases, quite a brilliant conversationalist.
Don't criticise one partner to another. You never quite know who's who and you may be running down one person to his or her nearest friend or a close relation.
Do refrain from telling your partner at once that dancing makes you giddy or, if you are of mature years, that it gives you countless aches and pains. She is there to enjoy herself, and you are there to help her to do so, not to make her feel that you are enduring something in order to be polite. If you are really not feeling fit for dancing you should go home as soon as possible.
Don't treat your partner to comparisons between the present dance and some former one which you attended, and, more particularly, don't enlarge on what jolly partners you had there. Comparisons are always odious, but in such a case your partner will find them additionally so.
Do endeavour as far as possible to select topics of conversation with your partner that have to do with current events of general interest or that you know will interest her. Don't make the mistake of imagining that everyone holds the same views that you do (though of course they are the correct ones), but feel your way before you touch on anything personal or controversial.
Do endeavour at the end of the dance to pay your partner some little compliment on either her dress or her dancing. As her partner it is your duty to see that she enjoys herself while she is with you, and a few words of praise on one of these two subjects frequently make all the difference to a girl. Further, by so doing, provided you don't go in for fulsome flattery, you go up very much in her estimation.
Do be careful not to enthuse too much on the dancing of some other girl in the room. There are none of us entirely free from jealousy, and your partner may look on your continued remarks as a disparagement of herself.
Don't make the dance an opportunity of making love. There is a time and place for everything, and it certainly should not be difficult to find a more suitable occasion. Moreover, don't forget that you haven't eyes in the back of your head and that there is every possibility of your being overheard.
Don't try to be cheaply humorous as, for example, going up to the refreshment buffet and calling "shop." To do anything of this kind is only to announce to all present that your early training left much to be desired.
Do be careful not to monopolise all the conversation during the interval between dances. Although doubtless you are very entertaining your partner would probably like to get in an occasional word.
Don't let your only conversation be an argument as to whether or not a certain step is correct. If you are of the male sex it is your duty to give way, whether you are right or not. Moreover, what does it matter? The dance and the enjoyment of it is the main thing.
Do refrain from making other dancers the target of your wit. No matter how funny they may appear, or how comic their dancing, good taste lays down that comment should not be passed. Moreover some of those at whom you laugh may be close friends of your partner while others may even be laughing at you. Don't forget that you cannot see yourself as others see you.
VII IntroductionsThis is an important subject and some of the details are imperfectly understood. Are you sure you know all you should about them?
Do bear in mind that in public dances to which entry is obtained by payment it is not usual for the M.C, to make introductions. It is therefore quite permissible for any gentleman to approach a lady to whom he has not been introduced and to ask for the pleasure of a dance.
Don't forget, at the same time, if such lady has a male companion in attendance it is only courteous on your part to recognise his position, and to address him first with some such remark as: "Do you mind if I ask this lady for the pleasure of the next dance?"
Don't forget the distinction as regards introductions between the public and the private dance. In the latter, save in exceptional cases, it is not permissible to ask a lady to dance unless you have been introduced to her, such introduction being usually made by some member of the family. On the other hand if you see a lady sitting out, and no one is available to introduce you, it would be permissible to go up to her and ask for a dance. If she doesn't care to give you one she can always refuse.
Don't let your introductions be of the cheap and nasty variety. No wife, although she may smile, likes, for example, to be introduced to your friend with: "Oh, Brown, meet the wife!"
Don't be casual. Although you are a friend of both parties you won't remain so long if you introduce them with: "Come here, Jack; this is Dolly."
Remember to follow the fixed rule that a gentleman is always introduced to a lady in some such form as; "Miss Jones, may I introduce my friend Mr. Williams?" Similarly a younger man is always introduced to his senior, and an unmarried woman to a married one. This rule may be waived, however, where there is some marked difference in social position. Similarly a bachelor should always be presented to a married man unless there is a distinct difference in age or position.
Don't be content with introducing two people and then rushing away and leaving them to themselves. Try before leaving to give them a subject in common if it's only to remark that one of them is an excellent dancer.
VIII The Dance Floor - Things That Are DoneThis is one of the most important sections of the book. It tells you exactly how to conduct yourself correctly while dancing.
Do remember that little deeds and little actions often count for very much in this world, and that nowhere does a man show more plainly whether or not he has the true instincts of a gentleman than in the ballroom.
Do be careful to take a lady back to her seat at the end of a dance or, if the occasion demands it, go with her to the refreshment room. No matter who or what may claim your attention, this duty is incumbent upon you.
[check in book] Do bear in mind that practically the first rule in dancing is that the gentleman should accommodate his steps that are too long, since yours will be normally longer than hers. This done, it is the [lady's] duty to follow, leaving the steering of the course, as well as setting the step, to him. Do see that you are the first to apologise in the case of a collision, even if it was the other party who was at fault. Also, however angry you may feel, don't glare at them when they apologise but try and smile. It should be your endeavour always to promote the harmony of the evening, not to upset it. Do take care that your apology in such a case is not of the cursory type that is an insult in itself. There is a type of person, sometimes to be found at dances, whose "Sorry" is less acceptable than his silence.
Do your best to make any dance which you may attend a success by looking as if you enjoy every item of it to the full - even if you don't. This is a tribute which courtesy demands that you should pay to your partner, and it is also a debt that you owe to those who have invited you.
Do take care that if you have to take two ladies to a dance that you pay them equal attention. To attempt to differentiate will almost certainly tend to spoil the pleasure of one - if not both. Of course if one of them is a particular friend, it may be a little hard on you, but the other if tactful will probably take good care that you don't lose by it. In any case you won't lose in the eyes of either of them by this unselfish act.
Do remember that while any lady you have brought with you has the first claim on you attention, courtesy also has a general call upon you. In deference to this, it is your duty to pay a certain amount of attention to girls who have no man in attendance, and therefore don't omit to ask the wall flowers for one or two dances. Enjoy yourself and try to give enjoyment to others. Remember also that many a girl while not being exactly pretty is often a divine dancer.
Do, as far as possible, steer your partner round the outside of the room, keeping near to the wall. This will at least render you immune from bumps on one side, since other couples can only pass you on the inside.
Do make it your endeavour always to get to a dance at the advertised time and don't delay in getting on to the floor soon after the music starts up for each item. Someone must be first, and why not you? Don't imagine that by so doing you will be the observed of all. Everyone else is too much occupied with their own affairs and their own partners to notice you. Moreover, how can you expect a dance to go off with a swing if the dancers are not prepared to come along until the music is half finished.
Do remember that it is your duty and your privilege to have any interval dance with any young lady you may have brought with you, and then to take her down to supper or to the refreshment buffet. If you haven't brought a lady, then ask one who is also unattached. Be careful, however, not to ask any lady who has been brought by another man, since the privilege is his and he may resent your attempt to deprive him of it.
Do remember that, if your partner displays certain little peculiarities in her dancing, it is your duty as one of the male sex to give way and to humour her as far as possible. Don't argue as to how any particular step should be made but ascertain her idea and try to follow it. Don't forget noblesse oblige.
Do realise that the dance floor is one of the places where a sense of humour is a most valuable asset. If you are the fortunate possessor of it you will there find plenty of scope for its use, and in so doing will turn things that might otherwise have been irritating into material for smiles or laughter.
IX The Dance Floor - Things That Are Not DoneThis is a very important part of the book. It may help you to avoid committing some glaring faux pas.
Don't forget that it is no longer correct to offer your arm to a lady when entering the ballroom or when crossing the floor to return to her seat. The old idea that she was a clinging dependent being who could not move unless hanging on to the arm of her escort is apparently now gone for ever.
Don't, if you have been refused a dance by one lady, at once ask another who may be sitting next to her. It is only human nature that the second will feel that she is being used as a stop-gap. Smile pleasantly, retire, and try your luck elsewhere.
Don't, when engaged for a dance, keep a lady waiting, but join her before the band commences to play. To come along after the dance has commenced does not imply that you are eager for the honour.
Don't dance in such a way that the cheeks of yourself and your partner almost touch. This is nothing more nor less than a form of public love-making and as such is both silly and objectionable. Moreover, beware of the tell-tale powder and stray hairs of a pronounced colour.
Don't dance with your eyes on the floor. The moment you do this you lose your poise, and more often than not it is followed by a sagging of the knees which turns your performance from what should be the poetry of motion into something akin to the gyrations of a bear dancing on its hind legs.
Don't keep your partner in conversation or linger until the dance is half over before you take the floor. If your partner is a keen dancer, he or she will be fuming at this waste of the precious minutes.
Don't air your superior knowledge and try to persuade your partner who only knows simple steps to join you in some thing more advanced. It is almost certain that it won't be a success and you will have spoiled her enjoyment for that dance, or perhaps for the whole evening, if, by so doing, you make yourselves conspicuous.
Don't dance as if you were going through a painful ordeal. Dancing has always been a medium for expressing delight and joy, so why endeavour to make it otherwise? Don't lose sight of the fact that the pastime has proved itself to be both healthful and vitalising, so give it a fair chance to exercise its beneficial effects upon you.
Don't stick out your left arm when dancing as if it was a ship's yard arm. The practice is by no means pretty, and if the room is somewhat crowded you won't travel far before there will be disaster.
Don't think that if you are afflicted with that unfortunate disease, snobbery, that you can carry it into the ballroom. Although you may stand high in the social world, and can claim to be a dancing star, you won't stand a chance against the nicely-mannered, happy dispositioned person whose family is just ordinary and whose dancing is only of the moderate class.
Don't, during the dance, be constantly looking round to see what your friends are doing, and, even greater crime, don't adopt the practice of hailing them across the room. Give your whole attention to your dancing and your partner.
Don't take a lady to a dance - especially if it is your wife - and then leave her altogether and go off with others or to the card room. In the event of her failing to secure sufficient partners it is your duty to remain and, dance with her yourself. To put the matter in plain words, you have to consider the lady before you consider yourself.
Don't dance from the waist up but from the waist down. All progressive movement should be from the hip downwards, with the weight of the body on the ball of the foot. Balance is undoubtedly the greatest factor in dancing and it has been laid down by that prince of teachers, Casani, that "you should be able to do all modern ballroom dances with your arms stretched out at right angles to the body and maintain the same distance between finger-tips and the floor throughout the dance. A dipping or lifting of the arms at any time reveals an error of movement."
Don't lean over each other nor away from each other, and don't go in for what are vulgarly called "neck holds". This is quite as bad as "cheek rubbing". For the correct hold the gentleman's arm should encircle his partner's waist so that his hand rests lightly just beneath her right shoulder blade, while her left arm should be placed round his right shoulder with fingers resting just below the base of the neck.
Don't indulge in the objectionable practice of holding your partner tightly. If you do this, apart from its bad form, you cannot preserve the light and graceful position which is essential to good dancing.
Don't, on the other hand, go to the opposite extreme and hold your partner too lightly. If you do this you will find it impossible to steer her through the crowd. The gentlest of pressures with the guiding hand should be quite sufficient to turn her in any direction that you desire.
Don't endeavour to attract attention to yourself and partner by introducing eccentricities into your method of dancing. Above all avoid as you would the plague any suggestive movements. You may succeed in your desire to get people to look at you but it doesn't follow that their glances will be those of admiration. There is also the possibility, perhaps not very remote, that your partner will not appreciate that sort of thing and will soon announce that she would prefer to sit out the rest of the dance. Moreover, remember that the true gentleman always conforms to the customs and usages of the society in which he finds himself and does not attempt by any act or deed to show superiority.
Don't always make for the centre of the floor and think that you are clever in so doing. As far as you possibly can, cling to the side, keep going with the crowd and steer clear of the centre.
Don't presume in your fancied superior knowledge to act the part of instructor to your partner, unless she requests you to do so. Even then be a little careful, for some girls have a keen sense of humour and will accept your teaching with all apparent humility while at the same time their know ledge of the art is ten times greater than yours.
Don't forget that, while with the disappearance of the chaperone life has become much simpler and freer for young people, it has made it the more incumbent on their good taste that they should act in a manner which society has laid down as correct. Every care should therefore be taken by both sexes that liberty is not allowed to degenerate into licence.
Don't adopt a style of dancing that requires that you and your partner should have the maximum of room. If this is necessary for you it would appear advisable for you to dance outside rather than inside. Further, don't take up the centre of the room and show off variations not yet practised by others. Such actions will not tend to make you popular and you and your partner may soon find yourselves in splendid isolation. Unless you are out for notoriety, follow the old advice and while in Rome do as the Romans do.
Don't go in for either too long or too short steps. The proper step for dancing is the natural one as used in walking and the only deviation from this is in the case of exhibition dancing.
Don't, let the fact that you can't get the partner you want colour your conduct towards your other partners for the whole evening. In your younger days this would have been known as "sulks" and probably cured by a little healthy chastisement.
Don't suggest half-way through a dance that you should sit it out or go outside to get a little fresh air. You must give your partner the credit of having as much perception as yourself, and he or she will be quick enough to see that your request is based on the fact that you are not enjoying yourself. Stick it out unless you are feeling faint or ill, but in that case don't dance the succeeding item with some other partner and display every sign of keen enjoyment.
Don't forget that if you have booked or promised a particular dance to a person it is a gross breach of etiquette to cut it or forget it. Bad as the first of these two is, the second is almost equally so, since it implies that the dance in question had so little appeal for you that it did not remain in your memory. If compelled to leave a dance for illness or some other sufficient cause before completing your engagements, seek out, if possible, those to whom you are engaged and apologise.
Don't, my dear young lady, look jealous and glower at everyone because your husband is having a good time with the girls. Given that a man has a happy disposition, is courteous to women of good appearance and dances well, most girls will be only too glad to have him for a partner, even though he is a good many years older than they are. Consequently, don't call them "minxes" in your mind, but remain happy in the thought that he is yours and that a little harmless fun with the rising generation will tend to keep him young.
Don't count your steps aloud while you are dancing. This is an excellent plan to follow when you are practising but if done in a ballroom is very likely to upset your partner.
Don't get into the bad habit of kicking out when passing one foot either before or behind the other. This is dangerous to others and quite unnecessary, since in good dancing the toes should be kept pointing downwards, and all movements should be of a gliding nature rather than that which entails a lifting of the foot. If you want to kick your legs about the best place for that is the football field, not the dance room.
Don't, dear lady, lean on your partner and don't hold on tightly to his arm with your left hand. He may be a very nice boy but that is hardly a reason for using him as a lifebuoy. To place your hand lightly on his shoulder will give you all the support that you require, while perhaps an occasional slight pressure will convey all that you would like to say.
X After the DanceDon't omit, if you are holding a dance in the winter, to provide hot coffee or hot soup for your guests on their departure. If the evening is cold they will greatly appreciate this little attention.
Do be careful, if attending a private dance, to make your adieu to your host and hostess before leaving and to thank them for the pleasant evening they have given you. If you are compelled to leave before the conclusion of the dance, do this as unobtrusively as possible and then get away quietly in order that your exit may not lead to a general departure.
Don't, if you are the hostess, press any guest to remain longer when it is quite evident that he wishes to leave. By so doing you place him in an awkward position, for if he does accede to your request it is a tacit admission that he has had enough of your entertainment but had felt compelled to give way to your request.
Don't be one of those persons who always leave during the last dance in order to get their coats and wraps quickly. If everyone followed out this practice there would soon be no last dance, and indeed no dance at all. An extra five minutes, unless you are catching the last train, is surely not all important.
Don't come out of a hot room on a cold, wintry night and then stand on the pavement saying "Good night" until you are stone cold. There is no surer way than this of getting pneumonia, as the writer of these notes has found for himself by personal experience.
Do be careful not to make any undue noise on leaving the dance room and emerging into the public street. Don't stand around laughing uproariously, or shout farewell greetings from half-way down the street. Don't, also, do something which is even worse, and that is, drive off with a salvo from your motor horn. Remember that there are quite a number of people in the vicinity who are asleep and who will not exactly thank you if you 'wake them up. Be considerate and give a thought also to the tired mothers whose little ones you may arouse.
Don't worry if at the end of the first dance of the season you experience a burning feeling in the soles of your feet. This is soon put right by dusting with a little talcum powder. If, however, you prefer to avoid this discomfort by using preventative measures, dab the soles of your feet for a few nights before commencing dancing with some cotton wool soaked in methylated spirit.
Don't think that you are too old for dancing if you feel a little stiff in the joints on the morning after. This usually only occurs after a long interval of non-dancing and is soon cured by a few simple physical exercises such as bending and stretching the knees, rising on the toes, etc.
XI GeneralDo remember that even if you've had a few lessons and put in a whole season at a Palais de Danse you are not by any means a dance expert. You may be, and probably are, a very good dancer, but to be an expert is only attained by continuous training and practice.
Don't, once you have learned, ever give up dancing. It is a form of exercise and recreation that you can keep up long after you have had to give up others. In addition it is a wonderful rejuvenator and a great factor in keeping down that surplus flesh that so often shows itself in middle age. Don't forget that to dance is to be happy, and to keep happy is to live long.
Don't be content with just knowing how to dance a little, but go a step further and learn how to dance well. You wouldn't be content to play golf without having some proper lessons from a good exponent of the game. Get a good teacher, do a fair amount of practice, and you will find that your enjoyment has been doubled.
Do take steps to learn to dance if your wife is fond of it. If you are unable to join with her in this recreation half the pleasure will be lost to her. Moreover, in order not to drag you to something in which you cannot fully participate, she will often feel compelled to stay at home when she would love to be dancing.
Do try to avoid as far as possible dancing in stuffy or ill-ventilated rooms. In view of the fact that dancing calls for increased action on the part of the respiratory organs, to do it in good air will have a very beneficial effect but if the air is impure the result will be very different. If ever you get a fagged out or depressed feeling following a dance, look for the cause in the atmosphere of the hall.
Don't spend all your evening in the card room playing Bridge and then complain next day that dancing, so far from exhilarating you, leaves you flat and worn out. Be honest and give the true cause.
Don't think that to look bored at a dance is the correct thing. If you do you are hopelessly out of date since this went out of fashion at the end of the Victorian period.
Don't forget that there is no pastime that will give you ease of manner and make you sure of yourself so well as dancing. To attain this, however, you must have acquired a knowledge of social customs and made courtesy a very part of your being.
Do be careful not to take a girl to a dance club of shady repute or one of which you know nothing. There are dance clubs and dance clubs, and while some are of unimpeachable reputation others are merely a cloak for drinking during unlicensed hours. An appearance at the police court is not the best ending to what should have been an evening's enjoyment.
Don't run away with the idea that dancers are born, not made. Like every other sport or pastime, you won't get into the front rank without practice. If you really wish for perfection of style you must first go to a good teacher and then practice on every possible occasion.
Don't forget in your endeavour to dance well that modern dancing is based on a walking step and that consequently every thing is done on the ball of the foot, not on the toes.
Do take some pains in deciding in what matter you will learn to dance. Remember it forms a big factor in your social education. Don't book a course of lessons with the first instructor you come across. Take one or two sample lessons first to see if he is the type of instructor that seems to grip you, and if he is, then go ahead. Perhaps in dancing, more than anything else, it is the personality of the teacher that makes for success with his pupils.
Don't be content with dancing yourself but convert your friends to it. If all the world were dancing there would be no need for defensive treaties of the League of Nations.
Do take care not to get overheated, (which, if you dance properly you never should) and then go and sit in a draught or outside until you not only get cool but even chilled. Cool down in a rational manner by all means, but don't be led away by the beauty of the night, or that of your partner, and keep her sitting still until either or both of you have sown the seeds of a heavy cold, if not something worse.
Don't also, if you are heated, attempt to cool yourself by consuming large quantities of so-called cooling drinks whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic. You wouldn't do it if you were taking a long walk on a hot day, so why adopt a different procedure in this case? Moreover, if your thirst is great, and your drinks are of an alcoholic kind, well, 'nuff said!
Don't put forward as an excuse for not dancing that you are too clumsy, too shy or can't afford it. If you are the first of these, dancing is the best remedial treatment that you could possibly obtain; if you are the second then it's time you were cured of such a childish complaint; and, as for the third, we have already dealt with that elsewhere in this booklet.
Don't run away with the idea that you can become a really good dancer by just watching others. Good dancers are made, not born, and in the course of obtaining your instruction by this picking up method you may form bad habits which it will take a long time to eradicate. Get a good and correct foundation by having a few lessons and then build on that.
Don't think that it's necessary for you to learn a number of steps before you can make an appearance in a ballroom. If you know half a dozen well, that will carry you through quite satisfactorily, and will be far better than twenty badly executed.
Don't get hold of the idea that you can only dance with certain partners whose step you think suits yours. This, of course, much restricts your enjoyment as you can not always hope to secure your particular partner, and it is, as a matter of fact, quite wrong, since, if you make the effort, you will find that it's quite easy to suit your step to that of most people.
Don't, in becoming dance minded, be come also absent minded. Remember that society always expects certain things of you, and it is your duty to see that she does not expect in vain. Don't be so anxious always to get for your partners those who dance well that you entirely neglect those who are not so far advanced. Bear in mind that at the outset everyone has to learn, so be kindly and give some of the novices an occasional turn.
Don't let the unco guid make you believe that dancing is in any way wrong. The individual who can see danger to their morals in man and maid joining together in a healthy exercise has a singularly warped mind. Are we not exhorted in Psalm CL, 4, to praise God with the timbrel and dance? Are we not told that David danced before the Lord with all his mind, and in his song of praise for his deliverance, Psalm XXX, does he not emphasise the fact that God has turned his mourning into dancing? Surely it must be a very narrow type of mind that cannot realise that it is equally possible to dance to the glory of God as to sing to it.
The complete text of the small book Do's and Don'ts for Dancers, anonymous, published by Universal Publications, London, 1936
May 1894 - I was twenty one; just about to go to my first really big ball, and in Dublin too.
The Sackville Street Club was to celebrate its Centenary; a ball was to be held at the Rotunda in three weeks' time, and a wonderful new floor was to be laid down for the occasion.
I was to get a real ball dress, and it was to be made in Dublin at a Court dressmaker's; not by a country dressmaker or at home, as would have been the case if the dance had been a private one.
My mother and I had talked it over and had come to the conclusion that white suited me best in the evening, and, as I was always happy in a dress of that colour, white satin was decided upon.
So one day we drove into Dublin to visit Miss Maurier, the Court dressmaker in Suffolk Street. I felt more and more excited as we walked up the steps of the red brick Georgian Mansion which she had converted to its present use by clapping a brass plate inscribed with her name on to the heavy front door.
She opened the door to us herself, ushered us into what must, I suppose, have been at one time the drawing room, and enquired our needs.
She was a smart, sharp-eyed dark woman of middle age, whose natural hair had been reinforced by a curled fringe that covered her forehead, and she was dressed in a very tight fitting black robe, bountifully upholstered. Her bosom was studded with a host of shining pins. She reminded me of a pouter pigeon, with pins where the feathers should have been.
She affected a superior air which made me want to giggle. Knowing that we had come from the country she was inclined at first to patronise, but when my mother told her that we were going to the Sackville Street Club Ball her manner became decidedly respectful, agreeable, and even kind, and she quickly disappeared to seek out a length of suitable material for the dress.
Waiting alone, save for my mother, in the one-time drawing room of that old Dublin house, I stood by the high window and looked out at St Andrew's Church opposite. The walls of the church, surprisingly here in the heart of Dublin, were clothed with shining dark green ivy, and I could see the pale green leaves, scarcely yet escaped from their pinkish sheaths, of the trees that stood within its iron railings.
I was interested in this church, for I knew that within it my father and mother had been married twenty three years before. I felt sorry that my poor father would not be present to see me at my first ball.
I thought what a lovely bride my mother must have been; as even now I thought her lovely, and at the thought of her I turned, and saw her, and felt how her presence matched the atmosphere of that stately room.
Stately it still was, with its ceiling covered with strange flowers and birds amongst which Cupids disported themselves, exquisitely fashioned years ago by some master craftsman. The splendid old Adam chimneypiece was made of marble; once white, now mellowed to a rich amber, and streaked with veins of pink and brown. A mirror topped it and ran the length of it, set in a frame of dull-gleaming gold. Those were all that remained of a former magnificence, but both the room with its noble proportions and my mother, shared in common a quality of enduring loveliness.
My reflections were interrupted by the return of Miss Maurier. For a moment she broke the spell. She seemed out of place, with her tight black robe and her plumply protruding pin-studded bosom: but the gorgeous length of satin which she brought with her and draped along the back of a grey velvet-covered couch transported me to fairyland.
It seemed to my young eyes like a dream come true. I cannot now adequately describe it. It was of a white which was not a white, but, as it fell there in lovely folds, shimmered with shades and gradations of light that I had never seen on land or sea. Parts of it, as the sun struck through the dusty window, took on a deep pearly hue; other folds reminded me of lilies of the valley. So it seemed to me on that May morning.
I felt that I could have hugged Miss Maurier, pins and all, but she gave me no opportunity, and advancing with professional aplomb bade me remove my outdoor clothes so that she might take my measurements. As I took off my spring coat and skirt I noticed that she scrutinised the label inside the collar. Happily it bore the name of Switzer. I detected a twitch of relief on her exacting features.
I stood in front of the long glass awaiting her ministrations. I was wearing a white petticoat with a deep flounce of crisp embroidery at the bottom. This bottom flounce almost reached my ankles, and, if Miss Maurier with her tight swelling bosom reminded me of a pouter pigeon, my petticoat gave me the appearance of a fantail pigeon as it lowers its snowy tail.
I saw myself in the mirror, a girl of medium height, her white petticoat topped by a little bodice. She held herself erect, but not stiffly so: to the great credit of Miss Trellis and her deportment lessons. Her hair, thick and glossy, was rich brown in colour, gleaming here and there with auburn lights, and dressed high on the crown in soft curling rolls. It was brushed away from a white brow in natural waves which swept upward to meet the rolls on the crown. Her ears were small and well shaped, her face a slightly rounded oval, her eyes a clear hazel brown, shining at this moment with excitement and happiness, her brows dark and finely pencilled, her nose straight, with a slight rise in the bridge, her mouth small and her chin firmly rounded. Her complexion was fair, and as the colour came and went, tinted with a soft pale rose. Her neck, above the low-cut bodice, was shapely and white, her arms firm, with small wrists and long-fingered slender hands; her ankles slim and her feet small.
Gazing on this girl and knowing her to be myself, I contemplated the reflection, if not proudly, at least with satisfaction. I was not a beauty according to the standards of those days but, with the youthful bloom on my cheeks and the light of happiness in my eyes, I saw no great fault to find.
Miss Maurier, busy with the tape-measure, condescended to remark that my figure was good, but when she discovered that my waist measurement was twenty-one inches, her black eyebrows flew aloft and she asked my mother if madam did not think that her daughter's waist ought not to be drawn in at least another two inches. My mother, who preferred that her daughter's health should not be sacrificed to the dictates of fashion, did not think so, and soon the measurements were completed.
Then we chose the design of the dress. How beautiful it was going to be! Youthful, with a little Court bodice cut low at the neck both back and front; it was to fit lightly to the figure, the sleeves slightly puffed, to make the waist appear smaller; stately too, with a long gored skirt rucked round the hem, which would touch the floor at all points and flow out at the back into a short train; soft and fresh, with a trimming of exquisite cloudy French gauze about the top of the bodice and sleeves.
Miss Maurier had finished for that day, and, after requesting another fitting in three days, graciously bowed us off the premises.
Next I must buy gloves and shoes, so we turned into Grafton Street and made for Brown and Thomas's. On the way a woman with a baby in her arms came up to us offering to sell lilies of the valley. My mother gave her a shilling for a little bunch, and, as is the way in Ireland with such encounters, we passed on amidst a shower of blessings for ourselves and our children's children. 'May the hairs of your head turn to candles to light you on your way, and May the Holy Virgin bless you and yours.'
We passed by Switzers, the windows full of summer costumes; gloves, stockings, lace and parasols all in the latest fashion; then crossing the street we entered Brown and Thomas's.
We had been known there since the time I had been carried in, an infant in my long clothes, and as we passed through its doors, dark in contrast to the sunlight of the street, the same porter who had stood there for years greeted us. 'It's a fine morning, ladies,' he beamed.
The same shopwalkers still walked, or stood about, clad in their long black frock-coats. They seemed to have been there always; grave elderly men, reverent in their bearing, conscious of fulfilling a high and important task. The same girls were there too, quietly dressed in black, and always so polite and attentive. I chose a pair of white satin shoes with high heels and a pair of long white suede gloves that would reach my elbows; my mother bought a similar pair for herself and our shopping for that day was finished.
We lunched at Mitchell's. To lunch at Mitchell's in those days was to meet half of Ireland. We entered the white doorway with the Royal Arms blazoned above it, and went up the single broad step past the half-moon counter, into the narrow room of the restaurant. It was cool in there after the brilliant sunshine outside. We ordered cutlets, breaded, and with a delicious sauce; for Mitchell's then could cook them in a manner unrivalled by any chef in Europe. I ordered a glass of iced water; my mother took some white claret, and, as we ate and drank, we listened to the hum of conversation around us, and watched the people.
Families up from the west were easy to recognise. The men, tall and spare, wore easy-fitting suits of Galway or Donegal tweed; their wives were highly bred looking women but mostly with very weatherbeaten faces; their daughters long of limb and graceful of figure, with perfect peach complexions, dewy eyes and shining hair. These people were up in Dublin to buy their summer clothes, to attend the Punchestown Races or watch polo in the park. They would not be seen again until Horse Show Week. They probably spent more on these two occasions than they did during all the rest of the year but they did their spending lightheartedly, and there was about them an infectious sparkle and gaiety. The shop was full of the soft musical lilt of their voices and what with the aroma of good cigars lit by the men as they went out, and the smell of good food, and the scent of the pheasant-eye narcissi that filled the vases on the tables, Mitchell's was a pleasant place on that summer day.
We seldom went there without seeing some celebrity. One day it might be the Gore-Booth sisters, today it was Maude Gonn, that strangely beautiful eccentric woman, a member of the Land League. She was unusually tall, and wore a loose-fitting dress that bared to view her long graceful neck: this at a time when it was the fashion to wear high collars. She was at a tiny table opposite us. She sat there sipping iced water and eating nothing, the long drooping plume of her hat almost touching her shoulder. Sometimes she sat thus for hours in the same attitude, her long hand, with an enormous Egyptian scarab ring on her first finger, supporting her cheek; her great gazelle-like eyes staring pensively into space. Round the corner, at the end of the room, 'Tall Agrippa', Mitchell's only waiter, bent over some important client with a wine list in his hand. He was a lean, gaunt man over six feet and wore side whiskers. We always avoided the tables at which he waited. We rarely touched wine, except when my mother was tired, as she was today, and if we refused it he would direct upon us a glance of the most withering scorn. Save for him the restaurant was served entirely by waitresses who wore tiny black aprons, and black corded bows on their heads. As we were leaving we met an old friend of my mother's, a Colonel Nolan from Roscommon. He was a sturdy old gentleman with a cast of mayflies round the band of his tweed hat, and very gallant.
When we parted from him he pinched my cheek, and said to my mother, 'This young lady, unless I am mistaken, will soon be leaving broken hearts in the County and running off with a soldier!'
That I thought, would suit me admirably; since from the age of three I had always said that I would marry a soldier. Perhaps it was because I saw so many of them riding in the Park - Lancers, Hussars and Dragoons. Their brilliant uniforms attracted me. Presently we found ourselves in Stephen's Green. Why we went there I could not tell you, unless it was that, even when we were in Dublin, wherever there were flowers or water or trees, there, sooner or later, my mother and I would be sure to go. It was cool in the green, by the water. A multitude of foreign ducks were disporting themselves, diving, then coming to the surface and shaking the glittering drops off their feathers.
Lilac, white and mauve, was still in bloom. We could smell its delicious perfume. Later we went to Morrison's Hotel in Dawson Street to engage a room for the night of the ball. Morrison's was an old-fashioned hotel with a large square hall. It had once been the town house of the Duke of Leinster. The Fitzgerald crest, a monkey hanging from the bough of a tree, was still in place above the doorway. A pet monkey had once saved a Fitzgerald child from being burnt to death.
Appended to the crest were two mottoes in the Gaelic tongue. The first was the battle cry of the Fitzgeralds; the second Cend mile Failte read when translated 'ten thousand welcomes'.
I do not know if this was also a Fitzgerald motto, or whether it had been added by the hotel management as an inducement to guests.
John, the hall porter, a large dignified man with mutton-chop whiskers and a blue frock-coat with silver buttons, escorted us to the office where we were told that I could not be given a room to myself, as the hotel would be full that night, but that if I did not mind sharing one with another young lady the matter could be arranged. As the other young lady turned out to be my own cousin, Clare Brandon, who was to be one of our party, I had no objection. We had tea in the Athenĉum Club. This, a mixed club, was housed in an upstairs room of the hotel. Although it was May there was a bright wood fire burning in the grate, but the windows were open. We took two vacant chintz-covered chairs at a small table near one of the windows. We could see out over Nassau Street into Trinity College Park, and over the high stone wall of the College, with its spiked top. Peeping over it, and into the College grounds themselves, were laburnums and lilac and hawthorns, pink and white.
Around the room, in armchairs, sat ladies, mostly elderly. There were one or two girls like myself, looking shy and self-conscious in these august surroundings. A few bearded clerics of the Church of Ireland, read the Church Times, or, behind their wives' backs, surreptitiously studied the advertisements in the ladies' papers or surrendered themselves to the charms of actresses in the pages of the Tatler.
One of these gentlemen, recognising my mother, rose to have a word with us. I remember that he spoke with a peculiar nasal drawl.
After tea it was time to go home, and, when the page announced that the car was waiting, we went down, and out into the street. Martin, in his top hat and fawn-coloured livery was sitting hunched up on the box of the car, as he always did when feeling shy or in a strange place. He excused himself for not getting down. He had to keep a tight hand, he said, on Sheila the mare.
'She went mad entirely crossing O'Connell Bridge, m'am.'
She certainly looked restive. John helped us up, tucked the rugs comfortably under our feet, and in a moment we were off on our long drive home. We turned to the left into Nassau Street and past the cab stand at the end where some bulbous-nosed old cabmen were taking the air outside their cabs and keeping a weather eye open for fares: then past the gateway of Trinity College, with its porter's lodge and the porter, in his velvet hunting cap and bottle-green coat, coming out with a bundle of letters; past the National Bank and past the pillared portico of the Bank of Ireland, with its two scarlet-coated sentries.
Down Westmorland Street and we were approaching Carlisle Bridge, or O'Connell Bridge, as Martin preferred to call it. He began to think hard of Sheila. 'Begob, m'am, I hope she isn't going to take a lep into the Liffey!' I gave him a poke with my umbrella, for I did not want him to frighten my mother, but with the procession of trams, cabs and vehicles of all kinds pouring over the bridge there was not much room for the mare to try any antics. She was soon safely across and spanking along at a fine pace.
We turned off along the quays with the turgid Liffey Waters flowing on our left. That evening they were less like pea-soup than usual, for recent rain had swollen and freshened them, but even so we had to hold our handkerchiefs to our noses.
It was hard to imagine this as the same river that flowed further inland in silvery loveliness beneath the trees of Celbridge.
On our right were the familiar shops: Turbetts the wine merchants, Drummond's big seed shop, Carson's paint shop, Butler's antique shop, with Sheraton and Chippendale chairs piled in the windows, Ross's Camp Furniture and Hiring Establishment for Officers' Quarters, Stewart's famous boot shop, and many others. Soon the grey Four Courts, and after that sordid little hotels; family hotels by name, far from homely in appearance; public houses; women with black shawls round their heads coming out of them, some carrying white-faced babies; a big Roman Catholic church; more shops - small shops now, and dingy lodging houses, or houses with 'Apartments To Let'.
The road widened, and became less congested. We saw soldiers kicking a football on a green space in front of the Royal Barracks, and in the background the barrack square and the grey mass of barrack buildings. From Guinness's Brewery on the opposite side of the Liffey floated a heavy malty smell not unlike burnt coffee.
On we drove. Across a wide bridge we could see St Vincent's Hospital and King's Bridge Railway Station, then along Park Gate Street with the red buildings of the Soldiers Home, kept by Miss Sandys, on our left, and, on our right, Murphy's Livery Stables where we had put up the car that morning.
Then through the heavy iron gates into the Park, and, thank goodness, we were out of Dublin at last! Up a rise past the People's Gardens, laid out in beds of bright geraniums, heliotropes and white Paris daisies, and past the turning to the Zoological Gardens. We could hear the lions roaring for their evening meal. This always recalled to me the passage:
The lions roaring for their prey do seek their food from God.
Past the Wellington Monument, and the statue of Lord Gough. This moved Martin to comment.
'Would ye tell me, m'am, how any sane man could make a statue of a horse and lave out the tongue?'
A troop of cavalry passed us, coming home from their exercises, white plumes bobbing on brass helmets, accoutrements jingling, horses champing bits and tossing their heads. Bowling up the great straight road of the Phoenix Park we could see the polo ground, the Viceregal Lodge, the Under-Secretary's Lodge, and the cricket grounds. Opposite the Viceregal Lodge there was still the bare patch from which the grass had been worn away where Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr Burke had been murdered.
A cross, set in the ground, now marked the spot. An old woman sat there, selling as souvenirs pieces of earth from off the spot, and little cakes, out of a basket, marked with crosses. The Phoenix Monument stood in the centre of the main road of the Park. We did not continue in that direction but turned off to the left on to a narrower road where deer browsed on either side of us: lovely mild-eyed does with their fawns running beside them and great stags, pulling down bunches of young shoots from the trees. Presently we came to a gate. A woman in a pink sunbonnet opened it and curtsied, and we were passing the wall of Lord Iveagh's demesne on our left, and on our right strawberry gardens.
Out through another gate, and we had left the Park behind us. We passed Castleknock Church and Vicarage, and then the College, long and white, with big windows. Students in long black cassocks crossed the road in front of us. Now we were in the country, with large country places on either side of the road, and from my side of the car a fine view of the Dublin Mountains. Six miles from Dublin we reached the level crossing of Clondillon Station and bumped over the sharp little bridge across the canal.
We were nearly home, a long green tunnel of a road with over-arching trees and deep ditches filled with hart's tongue and male ferns; then; for a mile or so, broad blue-grey grass verges and high hedges, until at last we had Rebelsfield land on either side of us, and the garden walls and house came into view.
From the back avenue four milch cows were coming out for the night on their way to a field opposite. The herd and his dog followed them. The great beech trees met high over our heads like a vaulted cathedral roof. We swung through the gate, our wheels crunching up the gravelled avenue. Sarah stood waiting on the hall door steps.A fortnight later Martin came back from Clondillon Station with a huge white dress box. Written in gold across one corner were the words: 'Maurier - Court Dressmaker'. I carried this box up to my room. My fingers trembled with excitement as I undid the string and the rustle of many folds of tissue paper whispered in ears like the voice of a fairy godmother. When at last I took out the dress I could only gasp at its beauty.
I did not try it on that afternoon, but after showing it to my mother packed it away again. On the following day at half-past three the Clunagh women were coming along to see it, and I would put it on then.
When the time came I carried it down to the old nursery where I still always went on exciting occasions, and Sarah laid a large sheet on the floor to prevent the dress from being soiled.
Then she helped me into it and I had to be hooked up the back. Fortunately Miss Maurier, in spite of her talk of narrow waists, had left me an inch or two in which to breathe. I put on a pair of silk stockings - not my best ones, they must not be touched until the evening of the ball - and, with the stockings, the little white French shoes which I had bought in Dublin. The dress fitted perfectly. My mother and I were more than satisfied. Then Sarah went down to bring up the women.
In they came: Mrs MacCarthy, poor Mrs Ryan, who had lost her baby, Mrs Sullivan, Mrs Conolly, Mrs Toole, wife of our ploughman Danny, and old Mrs Kelly who seldom left her cottage except for events of major importance. They stood, all six of them, just inside the door, their mouths open, their eyes marvelling, and loud were their praises.
'Well now did ye ever see the like of it? Sure it's a grand dress ye have on entirely, Miss Rosemary, and may the Saints bless ye and send ye a good husband.'
They inspected it from every angle. Mrs Toole even touched my neck to be sure that it was quite real. She was not used to the sight of white flesh rising from out the splendour of satin and gauze. When at last my mother decided that I had been on exhibition long enough she told them that the cook had tea waiting for them in the kitchen, and down they went, to spend a good hour gossiping together.The day came at last. We were to be a small party, but we knew that we should meet others at the ball. Our party consisted of my mother, Clare Brandon, her brother Maurice, Captain Pomeroy FitzUrse, my stepfather, and myself. How Pomeroy FitzUrse came to be included I cannot remember, but I am sure that it was not through any suggestion of mine. I could hardly stand the sight of him. Fortunately there was Maurice to fall back on. He may not have been much to look at, but he was such a gentleman and always kind and considerate, and he never fussed me. Whenever he took me to a dance he gave me flowers, and, at Christmas, big baskets of chocolates. Afterwards I used the latter for work baskets. He was a good companion and always ready to take me anywhere. I liked him, and he, perhaps, more than a little liked me. As for Pomeroy he would make a good cavalier for Clare, I thought, and indeed she told me afterwards that she had found him quite charming, so there is no accounting for tastes.
We went into Dublin after tea, by the four-thirty train from Clondillon: my mother, my stepfather, and myself. We reached Morrison's Hotel in a cab just before half-past five, accompanied by our dress boxes and portmanteaux. We had two hours before dinner. We needed every moment of it. The ball was to begin at nine o'clock.
Clare was due to join us in the hotel at any moment. Maurice was putting up at the Gresham Hotel, and would meet us at the Rotunda, Captain FitzUrse would drive in from the country. I helped my mother to unpack and persuaded her to lie down until it was time to dress. Then I went to the room which I was sharing with Clare so that I might unpack my things.
I found waiting for me a glorious spray of Damask roses, of the deepest red, with a heavenly perfume. Maurice had sent them. There was no limit to his kindness. Poor Maurice! I knew that he really cared a great deal for me. He seemed satisfied for the time being with the little I had to give, but I thought, rather wistfully, that I would never have any more to give him than I had now.
However we were going to enjoy tonight, and the future seemed a long way off, so I gaily put on my dressing gown and went to have a bath. It was a splendid bath, the sides all encased in well-polished shining mahogany and the water really hot. I always liked really hot water. Its stinging sensation braced me. As I lay enjoying it I heard a banging of boxes and dressing cases next door. Clare had arrived. When I returned to our room I found her looking hot and flustered.
She remarked that I was lucky to have reached the hotel with time to spare for a bath. She had spent the last hour in the clutches of a hairdresser in Stephen's Green.
I stared at her. 'Why ever did you go to him?' 'To have it shampooed,' she wailed. 'Good gracious!' I exclaimed. 'Don't you know that people don't have their hair shampooed before a dance? It might fall down! I had mine done days ago.'
'I know, but I thought I would just go and have it titivated. I don't think I quite like the result, though. Have a look, please.' I looked and did not like the result at all. Her hair was piled on top of her head, as we then wore it, but in a series of tight little snail-like curls which to my eyes looked dreadful.
'What on earth shall I do?' she gasped. 'Take it down,' I said, 'and brush it out hard. Then we will see about doing it up again.'
Meanwhile I filled the basin with cold water, and, adding a few drops of eau-de-cologne, bathed my face and neck; this brought a refreshing coolness after the steaming bath. Then I lay down on my bed and watched Clare struggling with her hair. It had almost fifty hairpins in it. Poor girl! it was a fiasco.
Suddenly she turned very white and I thought that she was going to faint. Highly concerned I handed her a glass of water, and when she had recovered I set to work on her pretty brown hair. Between us we got it up again, this time in a graceful roll on top of her head, and held in place by some amber-coloured tortoise-shell pins. I still had my own to do. Fortunately it was in a good humour and, with no trouble, I swept it well up at the back, and, like Clare, I secured it with tortoise-shell pins, but of a darker colour than hers. Then I put on my silk stockings and, after that, my shoes. I always took care to put on my shoes during the early stage of dressing. I had taken to heart the story of a certain Countess, who, at one of the Court balls, stood up to lead the Quadrille with an Earl of high degree clad in all the sparkling glory of her magnificent gown and tiara, and stretched forth a dainty foot, only to find that it was shod in an old red felt bath slipper.
I looked at the clock. It was half-past six. We had still more than an hour before dinner and we were over the worst. Clare had recovered and we were both laughing and talking gaily. Soon we reached the stage of putting on our dresses, and hooked each other up with infinite care. Mine I have already described; Clare's was a deep cream colour with gorgeous old lace at the shoulders. I twisted some pearls through my dark hair and Clare put something in hers. I clasped the single row of pearls, given to me by my mother, round my neck, fastened the red roses in the gauze of my dress just where the neck and shoulder meet, and put a drop or two of scent on my hair and on my tiny cambric handkerchief. Then the lightest dusting of powder on our faces and necks, and we were ready.
We looked at ourselves in turn in the long wardrobe glass and beheld a pair of ordinary girls transformed into two very grand ladies. Before leaving the room we laid out in readiness on our beds our long suede gloves, our fans of white ostrich plumes, and our cashmere silk cloaks bordered with swansdown. Then we admired each other, and once more stood in turn in front of the glass, curtsying before it, and giggling, and our dresses flowed out around us.
We went to my mother's room. She was fastening in her dress a spray of Marshal Neil roses, so fragile in appearance that it hardly seemed possible for them to hold together.
A black satin dress fell from her in gracious lines; a diamond star glittered in her hair. She smiled at us in a way that seemed to eclipse the beauty of her costume and the brilliance of the star. If she had come in sackcloth she would still have been beautiful.
She kissed us both; and we went down to dinner. Our table was by a window facing on to Nassau Street. The window was open for it was a soft warm night. As we dined we could hear the traffic of the city and the clip-clop of horses' hooves outside in the street. At half-past eight we rushed up to our room for a final look at ourselves. Another dusting of powder on our faces, a last little drop of perfume behind our ears and we were ready for the strenuous task of putting on our gloves. This took us at least five minutes, for the gloves were tight, and so long that they came up over our elbows. Almost breathless with the exertion of this and with the excitement of the occasion we put on our cloaks, snatched up our fans, and hurried down to the cab.
Off we rumbled round the corner of Dawson Street, and into Nassau Street. It was still quite light but the lamps were all lit in the streets and it was quieter now, there was less traffic and fewer people about. Grafton Street as we passed it was almost empty. We drove down Westmorland Street and over Carlisle Bridge; then as we entered Sackville Street we could see ahead of us the traffic bound for the ball, lines of cabs and carriages streaming towards the Rotunda. We came up with them and had to go much slower. We passed Nelson's Pillar at a snail's pace.
In another five minutes we had arrived. There was a long wait until the carriages and cabs in front of us emptied themselves of their occupants and moved on. It was now nearly nine o'clock, but we did not worry; the night was long. Presently we drew near to the entrance. An awning was stretched across and a red carpet laid down. Maurice and Pomeroy FitzUrse were waiting for us in the vestibule. Pomeroy advanced to meet us with a little rush and was very gushing. Maurice pressed my hand with a quiet smile. We went to titivate ourselves in the cloak room; then joined the others upstairs in the lobby that opened on to the semi-circular gallery of the Round Room.
I was filled with wonder when I saw this completely round ball room with its high domed ceiling. Above us a myriad lights flashed and sparkled from the great glass chandeliers suspended from the dome. Their glittering pendants scintillated with every colour of the rainbow. Between them hung baskets of flowers brimming over with delicate white roses, narcissi and lilies of the valley, asparagus and maidenhair ferns, sweet-scented tuber roses, stephanotis and long trails of smilax. Below us the guests, three or four hundred of them, were assembling. I exclaimed with delight at the beautiful dresses, all colours of course, though many of the girls, I noticed, wore white like myself. The men were in the regulation black and white, but the stewards wore in their buttonholes blue and silver rosettes of the Club colours. The floor was polished to the last degree, and on a dais, the front of which was a bank of greenery and flowers, Liddell's famous band was beginning to tune up. We watched them for few minutes, then went down to the ball room. The opening bars of Thine Alone clashed out; in a moment the glorious waltz was in full swing and Maurice and I were gliding in among the dancers. The floor was so perfect that I felt as if I were dancing on air. We went on till the end of the waltz when the band finished with more clashing chords. The first dance of the evening had finished and my first ball had begun.
After that it was a happy dream, bright with incident and amusement and splendour. Maurice found me a seat in an alcove amidst white lilies and pink tulips, and he opened my fan and admired the soft feathers and began to fan me. I thanked him for his roses, and he replied that he only wished be could give me roses all of our lives. This made me nervous and I began hastily to point out our acquaintances among the beautiful women and handsome men who were slowly promenading, or, like ourselves, sitting out. I looked at my programme. It was all silver and white, with a tiny white pencil and silver tassel, like the programme of Cinderella on her magic night. Soon the band began again with the strains of Linger Longer, Lucy. I consulted my programme; my next partner was Pomeroy FitzUrse. In a moment he came to claim me and we swung out into the room.
I say swung, because he was much taller than I, and at times almost swung me off my feet, but he danced beautifully, not with the short little steps of his ordinary gait, but with a swing and lilt which was bold yet graceful, and he steered with skill, allowing no one to bump into me, for which a girl is always grateful. There was little conversation between us until we sat out, and then it was he who did the talking.
'What a simply divine dress you are wearing . . . how becomingly you do your hair . . . what superb roses you are wearing . . . ah! There is your dear mother . . . how divinely she dances . . . how perfectly sweet she looks tonight.'
All these flatteries were uttered with an easy and polished assurance, but his eye roved constantly in quest of other enchantresses whom he did not take long to spy out. 'Why, there is Mrs Johnson-Massey a most adorable woman . . . so distangay . . . and that fascinating Dulcie O'Malley, such an engaging creature . . .'
Tiresome man, how he chattered! Fortunately, the music of a polka drove him off to find another victim, and I found myself dancing with a Major Nicholson to whom my stepfather had introduced me. A dull, heavy man, I thought, until he told me how he had brought over kangeroos from Australia and hunted them in the County Meath.
Then the majestic lilt and flow of the Blue Danube. I was not booked for this dance, but when the music began Arthur Fitzgerald, without so much as looking at my programme or troubling to see if I was engaged for the dance, put his arm round me and steered me into the middle of the room before I knew what was happening. He was the most beautiful dancer that I had ever met in my life; it was a pure joy to be in his arms, and we danced every step of the famous waltz to the very end.
I was in a daze when at last we stood still; so much so that we had to sit out for the next half hour. To sit out with Arthur was always an exciting experience. He had a way with him which was irresistible, and he had nice dark hair and deep blue eyes which might, as we say in Ireland, have been 'put in with sooty fingers'. Before we parted I fear that he kissed my hair and the tip of the ear nearest to him, and he would not let me go until I had promised him another dance.
With Maurice I danced the best of all the polkas.Can't you see me dance the Polka,Off we stamped to its lively refrain, and Maurice, usually so quiet, woke to life with a vengeance. His coat-tails flew and my satin dress flounced and swayed until by the time it was over I was quite exhausted and very hot, and both Clare and I, thinking that in another moment our hair would be tumbling down, retired to the cloak room for repairs.
Can't you see me cover the ground,
Can't you see my coat-tails flying,
As I twirl my partner round.
Not long after I came face to face to face with young Desmond Quinn. He was escorting a lady called Maggie Moriarty who was nearly old enough to be his mother. He had been going about with her for years. Nobody knew why.
The moment he saw me he looked as if he meant to embrace me. This was his habit with every girl he met. He had already attempted it with me, but I had given him a bang on the nose, to the delight of my Uncle Rodney who was staying with us at the time. I consented now to dance a waltz with him and Maurice had to dance with Maggie. Desmond was nimble on his feet because he was always going to dances, so we got along happily, but he told me that I was a standoffish girl, to which I replied 'only when necessary'. That annoyed him. However he secured for me some iced lemonade, which I badly wanted, and promised to behave if I would sit out with him. I consented, but Maurice, catching my eye, brought Maggie over and the two of them sat on chairs within a few feet of us, while Desmond looked as black as thunder.Who all my partners were I cannot now remember. I suppose that I did not find them all equally interesting, nor they me! Some I remember clearly; others remain no more than the glimpse of a face to me, and the snatch of a tune. I danced with a handsome young High Church clergyman whose gold crucifix shone out on his dark waistcoat. His manner was at first quiet and aloof, but he soon warmed up to the strains of the music and became quite gay. We had met before at tennis parties, and had mutual friends. I danced with one or two young Militia officers; with a Trinity College medical student; with a solicitor, and with a young engineer. I danced with my stepfather. He danced well and was looking very distinguished that night in his black and white evening clothes.
At midnight we went in to supper. While our party was assembling, I found my mother waiting happily on a settee between my stepfather and an old Colonel Nolan who had turned up from somewhere to join us. He had one of her Marshal Neil roses in his buttonhole and was looking mightily pleased with himself. We made our way along the curving passage to the Pillar Room.
Ball suppers in those days were banquets. The tall marble columns which ran all the length of the Pillar Room were decorated with creepers and flowers; brilliant silver and glass shone and sparkled on the table. Piles and pyramids of delectable dishes awaited our consumption. With our fresh country appetites unspoiled by cocktails or tobacco we did not despise them; bowls of lobster salad; rounds of cold beef; a leg of lamb; a huge turkey, boned and truffled; chickens; and a giant ham garnished with golden crumbs and filled with lacy pink cutlets in aspic; a splendid salmon lying on a silver platter with its own coat of silver mail, garnished with sprigs of feathery green fennel, creams, jellies and trifles; grapes and pineapples; high dishes piled up with early strawberries.
A waiter brought us clear soup in silver plates, followed by salmon, and by bottles of champagne reposing in ice-buckets. All the waiters in Dublin seemed to be there; we even saw 'Tall Agrippa' from Mitchell's.
Pomeroy was loud in his praises of some 'heavenly little Perigord pies' which he had discovered.
More people crowded into the room. We saw two well-known titled ladies. The first, plump fair and fifty, followed by her distinguished husband and her three sons and daughters, fussed and cackled like a hen marshalling her brood. The second, a tall tired-looking red-gilled woman, was very like a turkey. She walked as a turkey does through stubble, lifting her feet high at each step and grasping with one hand the train of a black dress that had seen better days.
Her two daughters followed her, tall, beautiful girls with good figures. The trio had already attended the Castle dances and all the functions of the season, for their dresses, which were both fashionable and expensive testified to this, and looked sadly in need of a visit to the cleaners.
Three Meath women stopped at our table to have a word with us. Mrs Johnson-Massey, the object of Pomeroy's admiration, and two of the Clondillon hunting set, Mrs Sykes and Mrs Brocklehurst. They knew it was my first ball and they were all very gracious. Two of them you could not have missed in the grandest of assemblies. Mrs Johnson-Massey because of her brilliant buttercup yellow satin dress, cut low down to the waist at the back - a daring style for those days - and Mrs Brocklehurst, because of her striking looks, the great knot of red-gold hair gathered at the nape of her neck, and her magnificent dark blue eyes and wide shoulders; but I admired Mrs Sykes as much as either of them. She had not the bold beauty of Mrs Brocklehurst or the brilliance of Mrs Johnson-Massey, but I admired her neatness and her slim figure. Her hair was dressed in the same tight rolls that she wore out hunting. Her blue eyes had the same distant look in them that one sees sometimes in a sailor's eyes.
The champagne kept going round and Captain FitzUrse still nibbled at a Perigord pie, but I wanted to get back to the ball room and so did Clare. So I kicked Maurice under the table, and my satin shoe which I had been balancing on my toe for some time fell off. Maurice stooped down to put it on again and as he did so had the impudence to stroke my ankle, remarking to my mother, 'As Rosemary's feet seem to have begun dancing of their own accord, do you mind if we take the floor again?'
A Pas de Quatre was beginning, and Maurice and I danced it with a lightheartedness which our glass or two of supper champagne had done nothing to lessen, and as soon as that was over the band played another waltz, Love's Golden Dream, and we danced that too. Maurice was beginning to look wistful. I hoped that he was not going to become sentimental, so I suggested taking a stroll round instead of sitting out. It was then that I renewed an old acquaintance. While we were meandering through the corridors Maurice exclaimed, 'By Jove, will you excuse me, I see a friend over there and he seems to be alone. May I introduce him?' He came back with a slim dark man whose face was tanned brown. He presented us to each other. I did not quite catch the name. Captain Merston, it sounded like, but I could not be sure. That wretched champagne, I suppose. The Captain bowed. I noticed his eyes, dark greyish blue with black lashes. Maurice would have continued the introduction, but a massive woman swept down on him and bore him off, leaving me alone with the Captain. We chatted for a moment. He had not long returned from West Africa. Someone had offered him a ticket for the ball at the last moment, and here he was. As he spoke I was puzzled. There was something familiar about his face. I felt that I ought to know him. I wished that I had caught his name properly when Roger introduced us. Out of politeness I did not care to ask him point blank.
He requested the favour of a dance, so I took the floor with him for the next waltz. He danced well; perhaps a little faster than I was used to. He twirled me round in a determined manner as though it were more of a duty to be got through than a pleasure. When it was over we sat out.
I felt shy with this man, particularly as I felt that I ought to know him, and he did not help matters by seeming to have very little to say. I tried to make conversation. I asked him the name of his regiment. He said that he was not in the army now, but that he was attached to the Lagos Constabulary. I asked him if the climate of Lagos was bad. He said it was. All the time that we were talking I could see that he was puzzled about something. He kept staring at me until I became more and more embarrassed. Then suddenly he startled me by exclaiming, 'Extraordinary! The child in the red dress!'
'I am scarcely a child,' I answered stiffly. He smiled and said nothing more. I sat there more puzzled than ever, wondering what in the world he could mean, but, as I wondered I was beginning to understand.
Far away in the back of my mind it seemed as if a little picture was forming itself. A picture framed in the blue of the sea and sky of a day in early summer. A grey-eyed boy stood before me, his dark head uncovered to the sun, his bare legs brown. He had stood there and said, 'My name is Robert. I like your red dress. I will marry you when I grow up.'
It all came back to me. The sun-tanned Captain beside me was Robert Erskine of Castle Erskine, near Ballinrogue. How could I ever have forgotten him? How could I have forgotten? Yet that was simple enough. I had seen him afterwards once or twice on the very few visits that we paid to Castle Erskine, but he had grown into a typical adolescent schoolboy, no longer interested in me, or any other of my sex, and the picture of us on the strand at Malahide faded in the end from my mind.
Now he was grown man and a soldier, and it touched me that he should have been the first to remember. He had certainly not changed for the worse. He was handsome. I liked his blue-grey eyes and his straight dark moustache; and I thought his nose quite distinguished! His evening clothes fitted perfectly and his hands were brown like his face.
We paused in the suddenness of our discovery; he rather seriously, I startled and amused. To me at least it was most exciting.
But the pace of the ball could not wait; the band thundered out Ta ra ra Boom deay, and Arthur Fitzgerald came to claim his polka, and I did not see Robert again that night.
Arthur was more dashing than ever. I imagine that during that dance I soared to the climax of enjoyment. What a lovely ball it was and how it had more than fulfilled my wildest expectations; and the unexpected had come to add just that touch of perfection; fancy meeting Robert!
The band boomed Ta ra ra Boom deay, ta ra ra Boom deay, and the floor was light beneath my feet and my heart yet lighter.
I danced other dances after that, until, at half-past two in the morning I found myself sitting out again with Maurice, almost too tired to dance and thoroughly happy. A Quadrille was due to begin, in which the elderly people would take part. Until that began we decided to rest. My roses still retained their delicious scent, and Maurice asked if he might have one to keep, so I picked out the freshest of them and put it in his buttonhole.
The band was tuning up for the Quadrille, and the more elderly Club members were assembling to join us. I saw my mother coming and my stepfather, and Colonel Nolan. I thought for the moment that Pomeroy FitzUrse must have succumbed, but no; there he was with some 'adorable' lady on his arm. Arthur Fitzgerald too, and Clare with a young doctor, and Desmond Quinn with Maggie Moriarty; they were all coming.
The band struck up the Mikado. We took our places, the men facing the ladies. The men advanced, bowing gracefully to their partners, and we went through the usual figures. When it was over we danced a Mazurka, and after that another waltz or two, until soon it was nearly four o'clock. I thought my shoes must be nearly worn through. I examined the one on my right foot, but it was as sound as a bell, if a little soiled.
The lilacs had begun to droop. Mr Liddell looked as if he would not last much longer. He was as white as a sheet. Presently everyone, young and old, took the floor. The music of John Peel rollicked through the great round ball room. Maurice put his arm round my waist, and we all flew round the Gallop feeling now as if we wanted to go on forever.
I felt as fresh as in the beginning. John Peel always had that effect on me. It was grand. My feet flew, and I no longer felt the floor under me. Then the band stopped, and in a moment, started again. They were playing God save the Queen. The ball was over.
We drifted reluctantly away. We drank hot coffee and ate sandwiches in the Pillar Room; then went upstairs for our cloaks. As we came out onto the gallery from which we had first looked down on the ball the grey dawn was creeping through the windows behind us, making the lights of the chandeliers seem dim.
Outside, under the awning, we shivered in the morning air. It was five o'clock. Our faithful cabman was waiting. 'I didn't come earlier,' he remarked, 'as I thought by the look of yez ye'd be among the last out.' Colonel Nolan smiled farewell. Pomeroy FitzUrse rushed up at the last moment to thank us for a 'divine night.' We said good bye to everyone, and away down Sackville Street we rumbled in our cab. We dropped Maurice at the Gresham Hotel; he would meet us later in the day at the Leopardstown Races. As we crossed Carlisle Bridge the sun was rising, but we were stifling yawns.
At Morrison's the night porter let us in, and we climbed the wide staircase to the first floor. Clare and I kissed my mother good night, or was it good morning? Then we went to our room. We looked in the glass. We were rather pale now, and my damask roses had begun to fade. We unhooked one another's dresses, and they fell about our feet like full-blown flowers. We lifted them and put them in the wardrobe. We took down our high piled hair and brushed it and twined it into soft loose plaits. We put on our long white night dresses, and bathed our faces with cold water. We got into bed, the sun peeping through the lace curtains of our window. Almost before our heads touched the pillows we were asleep.
Mary Hamilton, a chapter of her book Green and Gold, published in 1948 by Allen Wingate, London
The Set Dancing Anthology continues in Volume 3.
Read more writing about set dancing in the Set Dancing Anthology, New Articles, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4.
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
087 939 3357 mobile
+1 410 504 6000 North America
+353 76 602 4282 elsewhere
+353 87 939 3357