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.
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