mandag den 30. september 2013

Tip Toe Gallantry - the Rules of a Ball

Louis XIV's reign saw the emergence of court balls on a completely new level since they were now also a perfect for making new acquaintances or advancing - but only if you remembered the court etiquette while enjoying yourself. When Louis XIV was a young King it was custom that one ball was held every week; when France was at war the number of balls rose to give not only the people but other countries the impression that France was indeed grandiose and plentiful. Just imagine how much money went to furnish yourself with a fashionable new gown! This continuing stream of balls also meant that more dances were introduced and if you wanted to stay ahead you have to learn them all. Consequently, it became custom for courtiers to learn between 2-4 new dances every year!


  • Those who could be invited to a court ball hosted by the King was those who held the Honours of the Court whereas those who had the Honours of Versailles would rarely be seen at these social gatherings - if ever!


  • When the ball was to be held was up to the King alone to decide just like the ball begun by the King himself. He would do so by rising which meant that no other courtier could remain seated - unless they had a specific arrangement with the King - which made it the perfect opportunity to began the dancing.
  • The first type of dance was a so-called danse à deux (dance for two) and could be a gavotte, a branle or the very popular menuet
  • The dancing was always performed in a very specific order; first the King and Queen would dance during which the courtiers were expected to stand. After them it all came down to precedence again so the Dauphin and Dauphine would most likely be next followed by other blood relatives to the crown. Meanwhile the dancers would be scrutinized thoroughly by those who did not dance.

  • These were just some of the very basic rules. Others also count these specific ones; notice that the etiquette was decided by the gender of the courtier which meant that women did not follow the same rules as men (just to make it even more complicated):

  • Whenever a lady arrived at a ball she was expected to turn her body towards the hostess, smile and make a short - yet witty - remark. A man was to bow before his female host and also make a short remark. 

  • Likewise you did not just go over and talk to someone you did not know. In order to be introduced to new people a lady would be asked whether she wished the introduction and could only be introduced by the host/hostess or her companion - a woman always had a companion at balls. If the unknown guest was a woman the lady would do as she had done with the hostess. However, if it was a man it depended on whether he was married or not. If he was then she ought to make a nice comment and if he was not to smile and repeat his name when introduced. Gentlemen who were introduced to an unmarried woman it was necessary for his companion to ask the lady first (imagine how awkward it was when she said no...). Then the strangers could meet.

  • Before a dance were to begin it was always the gentleman who asked the lady to dance - the other way around was unthinkable. Once again the gentleman must first ask the lady herself or her companion for permission. The positive thing was that the risk of being stood up was next to none since it was considered a promise by the gentleman and as such his honour depended on his keeping it. When the dance is over the gentleman would offer his arm to the lady and then lead her to a seat where she would "free" him from his promise of a dance so that he could make another.

This looks like a private ball

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