What if I Galop When I Should Have Deaux Temps?
Dances and Balls
Canadians have always loved to dance.  To the First Nations, most dances were spiritual in nature, giving thanks to the Great Spirits in times of plenty, or seeking support in times of famine.  They held a banquet and dance before going into battle, or as part of a wedding ceremony or funeral

The rhythm of the dance allowed them to get in touch with their spirituality and sensuality; and interpretative dances told the stories of their past or predicted their future.

In the early seventeenth century, when the Europeans first became interested in the fur trade, they found the Canadian dances both titilating and appalling, since they were almost always performed naked; but to the Canadian people; who were not ashamed of their bodies; it was as natural as breathing.
Dancing was also an enjoyment shared by most of the European Immigrants, and dinners and balls became a refreshing way to pass the  long winter months.  They held dances at the end of a bee, at weddings; or simply for the sake of a dancing itself.

These public dances were an opportunity for members of all social classes to meet and mingle, and people often travelled miles to attend them. Young mothers brought their babies and handed them to any onlooker when asked to dance.   In 1842, N.P. Willis writes in Canadian Scenery:

"The dance is the amusement of which they are passionately fond. No inn is considered worthy of the name, unless it be provided with a spacious ballroom, which is called into requisition as often as convenience will permit. Intellectual recreations have not hitherto attracted all the attention which they merit. Mr. Talbot, during a residence of five years, never saw above two individuals with books in their hands; and, in one case, it was a medical treatise consulted for health"
Large dances were held wherever there was a 'ballroom', usually above the local tavern; smaller dances at home, and the more formal balls by the officers at the local garrisons.  They were so popular that a young man could actually purchase a subscription, allowing him to attend a winter series of dances.

As early as 1822, a traveller remarked on our passion for dancing in a letter home. "
Our scouts informed us, that they had found in the cabin four or five Canadians, dancing to a sleeping fiddler, whose music ceased as soon as they awoke him" (Canadian Scenery) 
Dances were attended by young and old, and it was not uncommon to see parents and their grown-up children dancing in the ballroom.  The 1912 Canadian Antiquarian & Numismatic Journal, describes these social events:

"At Niagara, as in all parts of Canada, they are much attached to dancing. During winter, there are balls once a fortnight. These entertainments are not like many English Assemblies, mere bread and butter billets, where nothing is to be met with but cold tea and vapid negus, but parties at which the exhausted dancers may recruit with a substantial supper, and extend their diversion beyond the tame limits of eleven, and twelve o'clock, hours at which a company only begins to enter into the spirit of amusement.  On my first entering the assembly at Newark, I felt much surprised at the gay appearance which presented itself. Feathers, trinkets, and all the paraphernalia, which distinguish haughty dames of Britain, were visible".
Music for these events was usually provided by the military bands, local players or a single fiddler;  paid from a collection taken during the evening. Small dances were known  as "sprees.', or "hops" and many had a "caller-off"; who was the master of ceremonies; and controlled the movements of the square dances.

Popular favourites to keep the Canadian people jumpin' and a jivin' were:  the Soldier's Joy, the Money Musk, Pop Goes the Weasel, Sir Roger, and the Virginia Reel; Scottish and Irish reels, the four-and the eight-in-hand, polkas and mazurkas, jigs and hornpipes. Watzes did not become popular until the mid-nineteenth century and in 1857
The Ball-room Guide and Complete Dancing-Master, could be purchased for fifty-cents. 

This invaluable book gave instructions for "bows and courtesies", as well as lessons for the Quadrille, Redowas, the German, the Schottische, the Galop, the Deux Temps, the Varsovienne, and the Hop.
Of course dancing was not the only reason to attend a ball, since the suppers, or "collations",  at these events were usually very elaborate, with enough food to sustain the dancers until dawn. In 1883 John H. Young writes in Our Deportment, Paris, Ontario:   "the table is made as elegant as beautiful china, cut glass and an abundance of flowers can make it.  The hot dishes are oysters, stewed, fried, broiled and scalloped, chicken, game, etc., and the cold dishes are such as boned turkey, boeuf a la mode, chicken salad, lobster salad and raw oysters".

In 1857;
Complete Rules of Etiquette, had this to say on the subject, followed by comments from other sources:
Rules to be Observed at Fashionable Dancing Parties or Sociables.
"A gentleman should never attempt to step across a lady's train. He should walk around it."

"No gentleman should ever go into the supper-room alone, unless he has seen every lady enter before him." 

"When dancing a round dance, a gentleman should never hold a lady's hand behind him, or on his hip, or high in the air, moving her arm as though it were a pump handle, as seen in some of our cities but should hold it gracefully by his side."

"Draw on your gloves (white or yellow) in the dressing-room and do not be for one moment with them off in the dancing rooms. At supper take them off; nothing is more preposterous than to eat in gloves."

"When an unpractised dancer makes a mistake, we may aprise him of his error; but it would be very impolite to have the air of giving him a lesson."

"Unless a man has a very graceful figure, and can use it with great elegance, it is better for him to walk through the quadrilles, or invent some gliding movement for the occasion.
"The master of the house should see that all the ladies dance. He should take notice particularly of those who seem to serve as 'drapery' to the walls of the ball-room and should see that they are invited to dance."

"If a lady waltzes with you, beware not to press her waist; you must only lightly touch it with the open palm of your hand, lest you leave a disagreeable impression not only on her ceinture, but on her mind."

"Dance quietly, do not kick or caper about nor sway your body, but let your motion be from the hips downward. Do not pride yourself too much on the neatness of your steps, lest you be taken for a dancing master."

"When a lady is standing in a quadrille, though not engaged in dancing, a gentleman not acquainted with her partner should not converse with her."

Hints on Etiquette
Esther Flloyd
"The difference between a dance and a ball, like that between an informal and a formal dinner, is chiefly one of size, though there may be a great difference, too, in the matter of expense. The larger entertainment is almost necessarily the more costly, and a ball may be an occasion of the most lavish expenditure. Indeed it is expected to be. The word 'ball' is in itself pretentious. But the most elaborate entertainment, with dancing; when given by private persons is not called a  'ball' on the invitation cards.

"They may be either in the, 'Request the pleasure' or the 'At Home' form.  In the latter, the word 'Dancing'  appears in one of the lower corners of the card. Even if the private dance is given at a hotel or club, the invitations may read, 'At Home.'

"The first requisites for a successful dance are a good floor, which implies plenty of room, as well as perfect smoothness, and good music.  Two orchestras are desirable, or an orchestra in two sections, in order to have the music continuous.  The word 'orchestra,'  however, is another pretentious word, and a simple 'music' will do, but it must be good of its kind, with the 'lilt and go theatre' essential to dance music. The piano, violin and cello make a good combination, and at a small tea dance, the piano alone may be used. 
"People have even been known to dance to 'machine made' music.  There are other requisites equally important. As there can be no dance without dancers,there should be 'plenty' of girls who dance well, and plenty of dancing men, so that, if possible to prevent it, no girl may be without partners.  At the modern dance as distinguished from the great and rather, oppressively elegant ball, 'dancers' means young men and women.

"The 'refreshment'  part of the entertainment may be either a sit-down or a buffet supper. A
dance is a full dress occasion.  Women wear their handsomest evening dresses. Hair ornaments and head-dresses are common. The hightopped combs now in fashion are appropriate if becoming to the individual. A young girl's costume may be as pretty and dainty as possible, but should not be over-rich, nor should she wear showy jewelry.   A man should not wear jewelry at all, in the usual sense. Cuff links, studs and a permissible ring, should be plain and inconspicuous.

"No young girl should go to a dance unattended, or with a masculine escort alone. Her mother or some chaperone should go with her to a public ball, and at a private dance she must at least be accompanied by her maid. The rule of chaperonage is somewhat relaxed in the case of a subscription dance, where the patronesses giving the dance are supposed to act as chaperones, and is virtually unobserved in the smaller towns where 'everybody knows everybody'.
"In these little places, and many of the larger ones, the program or dance card may still be in vogue, but in all the chief cities,  programs are now unknown at private dances, and partners are obtained by means of 'cutting in,'  which is practically snatching the lady from her partner's arms. This is, on the face of it; rather a caveman performance, but no one seems to be 'called out,' 'called down,' or otherwise 'called' on account of it.  A somewhat tyrannical custom, apparently; for both sexes.

"A girl is considered rude who refuses to change partners when someone cuts in, and unless someone does, a man must dance all night with the same girl, or else the girl herself must risk being without a partner; a woeful plight in a ballroom; by voluntarily stopping. This naturally makes the men shy, so that girls are more likely than formerly to be without partners."

Light on Dark Corners Toronto - 1894
PUBLIC BALLS - The church should turn its face like flint against the public balls. Its influence is evil, and nothing but evil. It is a well known fact that in all cities and large towns the ball room is the recruiting office for prostitution.

THOUGHTLESS YOUNG WOMEN - In cities public balls are given every night, and many
thoughtless young women, mostly the daughters of small tradesmen and mechanics, or clerks or laborers, are induced to attend "just for fun." Scarcely one in a hundred of the girls attending these balls preserve their purity. The men,  the most desperate characters, professional gamblers, criminals and the lowest debauchers. Such an assembly and such influence cannot mean anything but ruin for an innocent girl.

VILE WOMEN - The public ball is always a resort of vile women who picture to innocent girls the ease and luxury of a harlot's life, and offer them all manner of temptations to abandon the paths of virtue. The public ball is the resort of the libertine and the adulterer, and whose object is to work the ruin of every innocent girl that may fall into their clutches.

THE QUESTION - Why does society wonder at the increase of prostitution, when the public balls and promiscuous dancing is so largely endorsed and encouraged?

WORKING GIRL - Thousands of innocent working girls enter innocently and unsuspectingly into the paths which lead them to the house of evil, or who wander the streets as miserable outcasts all through the influence of the dance. The low theatre and dance halls and other places of unselected gatherings are the milestones which mark the working girl's downward path from virtue to vice, from modesty to shame.
Love and Romance Home Page
Being a Woman Home Page
Uniquely Canadian Home Page
Victorian Canada Home Page