5 Rules of Dance Etiquette from Long Ago

Not only did your social life depend on it, but how you acted at a ball could influence whether or not your next business deal was going to happen, whether you might make a favorable marriage, and, even, your acceptance into society. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, while wealth was important, it was etiquette that was crucial. Here are some of the rules of the dance!


  1. Asking your partner to dance. A gentleman was never too forward, too sure of himself or cocky. He kept a respectful distance between him and his desired partner. The bow was mandatory and a gentleman always asked for his lady to “honor” him by becoming his partner. This was accomplished with great decorum and was never done in haste.
  2. The answer. The woman was also bound by the rules of etiquette. She was expected to accept the invitation unless she had previously committed to dance with another partner. If she needed an excuse, the only acceptable one might be that she didn’t know the steps to that particular dance. She was expected to take to the dance floor with her head held erect and beautiful posture – without affectation or boldness. Before the dance started, she would curtsy to her partner. Remember that balls were her opportunity to seek an advantageous marriage and her behavior would be judged.
  3. The performance. The gentleman was expected to know how to perform the dance – which was likely listed on the dance program. If he couldn’t dance correctly, his partner would be put in an awkward position if he made a mistake. Unthinkable!
  4. Another dance? Possible, but it was considered bad manners for a man to dance with the same woman more than 4 times. More than 4 dances would show an informality that was simply not acceptable.
  5. The invitation. Again, this was a matter of etiquette and invitations to formal balls were accompanied by a dance card that clearly described what each dance would be. There was room for the lady to write in the names of her partners and the dance cards were usually designed to be a souvenir of a wonderful evening of dance!


Today asking a woman to dance is most likely a pretty casual affair although we hope good manners still reign. Dance is still a wonderful way to meet people and socialize. Man or woman, your performance on the dance floor is most likely going to be noticed. If you would like to be the most polished dancer on the floor, consider the opportunity to meet new people, have fun and get every step right with dance lessons from Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Chandler. It will give you the confidence to know you CAN dance!