An 1817 Cheat Sheet for Nervous Dancers

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
April 25 2013 12:15 PM

An 1817 Cheat Sheet for Nervous Dancers

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.'

This 1817 lithograph was a cheat sheet for young dancers, meant to remind them of the etiquette called for in various situations on and around the dance floor. The American Antiquarian Society, which holds this item, suggests that the folds in the paper might have resulted from the sheet being carried around in a dancer’s pocket for easy reference.

The spindly stick figures show the reader how to execute elements, or “figures,” of popular group “country dances.” These dances, which came to the States from England and France and changed from season to season according to the fashions of the time, were made up of a series of familiar “figures,” such as “right and left,” “down the middle,” and “hands four round.” (Today’s square-dancing is a descendent of these 19th-century forms.)

Advertisement

The sheet also illustrates how to stand when asking a partner for a dance, how to sit when engaged in a “tête-à-tête” between dances, and how to position oneself should the partner happen to faint. Because dances were some of the only occasions upper-class young men and women had to socialize, this advice may have been particularly welcome. 

The final illustration humorously suggests the proper posture to use when escorting a drunken friend to his home.

Previously on The Vault: Dance cards from West Point, 1911-1917.

Dance Cheat Sheet

"Asking to Dance," 1817. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 6:30 PM The Tragedies That Have Shaped Canada's Gun Politics
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.