Thursday, August 21, 2008

How to Walk Across a Ballroom

If you analyze the precepts laid down by etiquette you will find that for each there is a perfectly good reason. Years ago a lady never walked across a ballroom floor without the support of a gentleman's arm, which was much easier than walking alone across a very slippery surface in high-heeled slippers. When the late Ward McAllister classified New York society as having four hundred people who were "at ease in a ballroom," he indicated that the ballroom was the test of the best manners. He also said at a dinner—after his book was published and the country had already made New York's "Four Hundred" a theme for cartoons and jests—that among the "Four hundred who were at ease," not more than ten could gracefully cross a ballroom floor alone. If his ghost is haunting the ballrooms of our time, it is certain the number is still further reduced. The athletic young woman of to-day strides across the ballroom floor as though she were on the golf course; the happy-go-lucky one ambles—shoulders stooped, arms swinging, hips and head in advance of chest; others trot, others shuffle, others make a rush for it. The young girl who could walk across a room with the consummate grace of Mrs. Oldname (who as a girl of eighteen was one of Mr. McAllister's ten) would have to be very assiduously sought for.

How does Mrs. Oldname walk? One might answer by describing how Pavlowa dances. Her body is perfectly balanced, she holds herself straight, and yet in nothing suggests a ramrod. She takes steps of medium length, and, like all people who move and dance well, walks from the hip, not the knee. On no account does she swing her arms, nor does she rest a hand on her hip! Nor when walking, does she wave her hands about in gesticulation.

Some one asked her if she had ever been taught to cross a ballroom floor. As a matter of fact, she had. Her grandmother, who was a Toplofty, made all her grandchildren walk daily across a polished floor with sand-bags on their heads. And the old lady directed the drill herself. No shuffling of feet and no stamping, either; no waggling of hips, no swinging of arms, and not a shoulder stooped. Furthermore, they were taught to enter a room and to sit for an indefinite period in self-effacing silence while their elders were talking.

Older gentlemen still give their arms to older ladies in all "promenading" at a ball, since the customs of a lifetime are not broken by one short and modern generation. Those of to-day walk side by side, except in going down to supper when supper is at a set hour.

At public balls when there is a grand march, ladies take gentlemen's arms.

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