Dancing at Balls and Assemblies

Thomas Wilson, the famous Dance Master at the Kings Opera House, London, in his 1812 edition of The Complete System of English Country Dancing containing all the Figures Ever Used in English Country Dancing etc in the chapter entitled The Etiquette of the Ballroom give details of how dances were chosen.

In his experience, they were chosen , or “called” by the ladies (sometimes in consultation with their partners) attending a ball.

To render this chapter of more general utility, some directions will be given for regulating the calls and a correct and graceful performance of all species of dancing as now generally introduced…

It is requisite here to observe, that in the following sketch, the minutiae of the duties of the conductor or of the Company comprising a ball have not been entered into, nor are any of the bye-laws and rules belonging to any private or particular Assembly given, being confined only to the etiquette of such public and private Balls where the persons composing the company take their places in accordance to their number. At Court and some other select balls and Assemblies places are taken according to precedence….

On entering into the ball room each Lady intending to dance must be presented by the Master of Ceremonies with a ticket, on which is inscribed the number of her call( in some companies it is sometimes found convenient to give numbers to Gentlemen instead of the Lady: this seldom occurs in fashionable parties) according to which they afterwards take their places in the Dance. The first lady is entitled to Number 1, the second to number 2 and so on. These numbers should be placed in a conspicuous place and remain there till the Dancing is finished, to prevent any misunderstanding respecting situations in the Dance; for no one can claim a place without displaying their ticket…

After the Ball has opened( should there be an opening dance) it is the duty of the Master of Ceremonies to call up and place the company in couples according to their numbers , beginning with No.1 at the top, No. 2 next and so on in succession till all the numbers that were given out are called up; that is, to the highest number, which will be placed at the bottom of the set.

Any Lady or Gentleman altering their number or not producing it when called for must stand at the bottom of the Dance or Set they belong to.

No couple ought to refuse to stand up directly the Dance is called as it shews great disrespect to the Lady who calls it.

Should any lady lose her number on application to the Master of Ceremonies she should be furnished with another according to which she must take her place in the Dance.

Ladies and Gentlemen without partners should apply to the Master of Ceremonies whose place it is if possible to provide them

Any couple wishing to retire early should deliver their number to the Master of Ceremonies that he may know such a couple is absent when the numbers are called up

The couple about to call the Dance should inform the Master of Ceremonies of the Tune and Figure that he may give directions to the different Sets( if more than one) and direct the band accordingly; the tune should be played once over before the Dance commences.

The Master of Ceremonies can object to any call that affords a reasonable ground of complaint, such as length or difficulty of Figure; but the couple whose call is rejected, have the liberty of calling another Dance less objectionable, and more suitable to the ability of the company

Should any couple after calling a Dance find themselves incapable of performing it, they may call another; but if the same difficulty occurs in the second call the Master of the Ceremonies may transfer the call to the next couple and place the couple so failing at the bottom of the Set.

When a dance is finished the Master of the Ceremonies should give the signal to the leader of the band to leave off, to prevent any unnecessary noise or clapping of hands.

No person should leave the room or even sit down before the Dance is finished unless on some very particular occasion; and not then without first informing the Master of Ceremonies

No person should leave the room immediately after they have had their call, without the Dancing is conclude for the evening as it evinces great disrespect to the Company.

No Dance ought to be performed twice the same evening.

Such persons as may dislike any dance that is called instead of interrupting the performance or endeavouring by any means to have the same altered should retire to their seats.

No person is entitled to two calls the same evening( unless in their turn with the others) without the permission of the Master of Ceremonies.

After a dance is called no person is allowed to change or alter the Figure in any manner whatever.

Should any Lady after calling a dance, which is not objectionable to the Master of Ceremonies, find it too difficult for the company, she may be permitted to change it for one less difficult; but not to lead off again form the top without permission of the master of Ceremonies.

When the Ball commences the company should not leave their places or rest till after the second Dance. Should the Sets be short they may Dance three dances before they rest. During the remainder of the evening it is the business of the Master of Ceremonies t direct the company as to the proper time for retiring

Pages 260-9,as above.