Manners for Moderns, pt. 5

Here’s the fifth installment in our look at Manners for Moderns, a 1938 etiquette guide for young men. Minding one’s manners at a dance or ball is the topic of this chapter, an especially apt theme, we think, given that we’re entering prom season.



Come, and trip it as you go,
On the light fantastic toe.
— John Milton

We told you, in the chapter before this, how to get your girl to the dance. Now, we’ll give you a few thoughts on how to fit the dance to the girl.

  Learn to Dance!

Everbody ought to know how to dance. But no one ever learned by watching from the door or talking it over in the stag line (the male wallflowers).

In order to master rhythm, which is the fundamental of all good dancing, you can practice by yourself. Turn on the radio or whistle a tune and tap your feet until you feel that you can keep exact time to the music.

Stand up and dance around the room with a simple slide step. Start with your feet together; slide your right foot forward; bring your left foot up beside the right;–hesitate a moment (to the beat of the music); step forward again on the right foot; bring your left foot up beside the right and slide it ahead of the right foot; put your weight on your left foot, bring your right foot up to the left; change weight and slide your left foot forward again; repeat, beginning with the right foot. You might call this a “slide-together-slide” step.

Keep at it until you can slide along without being jerky. Don’t lift your feet from the floor,–slide them! Keep your shoulders and hips steady and pointing forward. Don’t lean or sway your body from side to side. When you feel that you have mastered this step (which you can dance to any dance time), you should call on the services of some friendly girl to help you along.

In dancing position you will take her right hand in your left hand and put your right hand on her back. Place your hand in the middle of her back just about at her waistline or a trifle above. Don’t place your hand way up between her shoulder blades, or down on her hips. It’s hard for her to follow you in either of those positions and she’s bound to feel stiff and awkward.

Stand straight! Don’t bend over her or don’t bend backward so that she is pulled over you.

Don’t grab her so tightly that she has to gasp for breath! On the othe hand, don’t hold her so gingerly that she won’t be able to follow. Bend your left arm at the elbow and keep your left hand steady while you dance. If you hold your left arm out like a poker, you’re likely to poke someone else in the eye. If you bounce it up and down like a pump handle, someone will look for the hayseed in your hair. Look at the arm positions of the best dancer on the floor. He will more, often than not, be an excellent guide to follow.

Just dance along, keep time to the music, in the steps you have taught your feet. Don’t worry about whether or not she’ll follow. She will; that’s her job. When you slow up to avoid another coulple, or turn, a slight pressure of the hand on her back will guide her. When you are going backward, a pressure of her hand on your shoulder will warn you that someone is just behind.

Don’t let doubt of your ability keep you from dancing. It isn’t as hard as it may look. Being self-conscious will make you awkward and clumsy. With just a little practice you’ll be able to step out on the floor with the confidence of a veteran.

After you find it’s easy to lead a girl in the simple slide step, you can practice some new steps, first with yourself, then with the next good dancer you pick.

Don’t be afraid to ask a good girl dancers for pointers and suggestions. She’ll be glad to show you ways and means and you’ll find there’s a lot of fun in being taught.

Don’t Make
Yourself and
Your Partner

After you learn so much that you’re reaching the head of the class, we hope you’ll remember one thing: that no girl likes to be made conspicuous on a dance floor. Exhibition stuff is for the stage! If you do know a lot of fancy steps and are a whizz at tap dancing, please save it for solo work at private parties.

It’s terribly embarrassing for the poor girl if she can’t follow all your elegant and very hard steps. Exhibition stuff is very hard to follow unless partners have practiced it together. Besides, it makes dancing work instead of fun. You may be a marvel at eccentric figures and a Fred Astaure at tossing your partner around and still have the girls groaning when you ask for a dance. Be satisfied to be a smooth dancer who leads well, keeps time to the music, and doesn’t do any steps that a new partner couldn’t follow from the first second.

  How to Get
Along at a

If you are going to a private dance, first of all you must go with your girl and speak to the chaperones or the hostess. When you leave, you’ll look them up again to tell them good night and to thank them for the party.

First and last dances are always with the girl you brought. So is the dance just before supper if that meal is served. No matter how much you like the girl, don’t dance a straight program with her. Introduce her to some of the fellows you know. Pick the good dancers or the most interesting fellows so that she’ll go home with you feeling she was terrifically popular and had a marvelous time. It will be to your advantage, for she will always think of you in connection with a wonderful evening.

Don’t take her to a dance and then leave her to entertain herself. You’re expected to spend part of the evening with her. Especially, if she should suddenly look neglected, you should rush to her side at once.

Standing in the stag line all evening will never make you popular with the ladies. Neither will dancing with none but the two or three most popular girls at a party. For a widespread, long-lasting, guaranteed-complete popularity we suggest a general distribution of your dancing time. Get around to all the girls and use your nicest manners on every single one of them–even Sally’s funny-looking, chubby young cousin from Punkin Center.

Popularity is like a flower. The more you cultivate it the better it blooms! It works like this: Susie Churchmouse says to Cinderella Littlerocks: “Don’t you think Dick Dangerous is a grand person? he always has a smile and a word for everyone.” Cinderella says to Clarice Clever: “Dick Dangerous is really the grandest boy! He’s heaps of fun. Everybody likes him!” Clarice passes it along to Gwen Mazuma: “I’ve been hearing a lot about Dick Dangerous lately. He’s tremendously popular.” Gwen tells the Ontop girls: “We really must have Dick Dangerous at our next dance. All the girls are raving about him.” The first you know, Dick is tops with the world!

So we advise you to dance with as many girls as you can. Cover the field. Many a lad has found himself the center of attention simply because he made himself agreeable to the wallflowers.

Don’t be afraid of being stuck. If that horrible thought should come to you while dancing, don’t let it show. Act as though you were having the time of your life. Beam on her fondly. Laugh as though you were hearing something marvelous. Look at her as though you had discovered the most interesting person at the party. Chances are some other fellow will cut in to find the reason for your good time. It’s certainly better tactics than plodding around the floor with your face looking as though you were in danger of sudden death.

Never, never leave a girl because you’re afraid you’re stuck. Take her back to her escort, if she has one. If not, you might find someone to whom you could introduce her. Failing in that, you’ll have to dance with her yourself, or take her out to admire the moon, or get her some refreshments. Be friendly to her and wear that “I’m having a big time” expression. Remember that she may be a jolly person and darned interesting underneath but may be frightened of the party. You might try to snap her out of it. Lots of so-called wallflowers suddenly blossom into popularity as soon as they forget to be shy and self-conscious.

Rules About
Cutting In

There’s a rule or two about the cutting-in system. Never cut in again just the minute the girl has been snatched from you. Dance with someone else first.

Don’t argue if someone cuts in on you. Let the girl go for the minute. You can cut back later.

Don’t push, shove, grab, or deliver a knockout blow when cutting in. A tap on the shoulder, a smile, or “Please, may I?” is enough of a signal. If the other fellow is so rude he wants to argue with you, the thing to do is to let him have his way. Smile sweetly at the girl (as though you know what to do if he doesn’t) and cut in later when she’s dancing with someone else.

There’s a ceratin amount of etiquette involved when you go to a public dance. Be careful to see if a girl came with an escort before asking her to dance. If she didn’t, it is perfectly proper to introduce yourself and ask for a dance. But if she did, you should ask the escort to introduce you to her. If you don’t know him, you might try to find someone who does. After you’ve danced with an unescorted girl, you may take her back to the place you found her, thank her for the dance, and excuse yourself. Don’t ever leave her standing in the middle of the floor.

Don’t worry about what to say to a girl while dancing. You don’t have to talk at all. Act as though you were so entranced with the girl, the music, and the movement, that words would be out of place. If she tries to talk, you can answer her nicely without beginning a long conversation. Your dancing will be better if you don’t talk.

Never carry a lighted cigarette on the dance floor and don’t smoke in the dance hall unless it seems to be the general practice, and even then, it’s a questionable social practice. Go outside if you must smoke. Lighted cigarettes carried around while dancing are a fire hazard and dangerous to the hair and clothing of the other people on the floor.

Loud talking, boisterous laughter, and kiddish cutting-up are out of place at any public dance. Do your wrestling and boxing outside. You should remember your good manners just as much at a public dance as at a private party. Don’t forget that everybody in the hall will be forming an opinion of you whether they know you or not. Very frequently rowdy actions reflect on all of your associates, your family, and your organization. And sometimes you may find that you wish you had made a good impression on some of those strange people! The nicest girls seldom like roughnecks.

At a dance where punch or refreshments are served you should see that your girl is provided with everything she wants. It is up to you to get the refreshments for her.

After finishing a dance with a girl you should always thank her graciously for it. Give her the impression that she’s almost a second Ginger Rogers. She will go back to her companions or escort pleased about you and anxious to tell the world that she thinks you’re practically perfect. Take her back to her seat and chat with her for a few minutes. If you have a partner for the next dance, you can excuse yourself when the music starts.

For your conversational line review the suggestions we gave you in “Party Lines” and “Two by Two.”

At a public dance don’t try to force a name or address out of a girl. Lots of girls go to public dances because they like to dance and not because they’re hoping to pick up a date. If you’d like to take her home, you can tell her so, but you won’t get anywhere if you try to force yourself on her.

Practice all of your manners all the time so that she’ll feel you are a gentleman. If she knows she’s talking to a gentleman, she may give you a date. A good public dance rule is treat all the girls as though they are the nicest in the world.

  A Bit of

Practice your dancing at every chance–by yourself and with a partner. Learn to feel the music so that you keep time without thinking about it. And polish your manners so they shine as bright as the lights. Then forget about yourself and think about helping the girls have a good time. You’ll be a credit to any dance and you’ll have a grand time at every one. Go to it!

<< Read Part 4 of Manners for Moderns | Read Part 6 of Manners of Moderns >>

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