Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920

An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920 – http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dihtml/dihome.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What were some dances in England during the 1710s?
  • How and when did Irish dance start in New York City?
  • What were the expectations of a 19th Century lady asked to sing or play the piano?


From the website,

“Dance manuals can tell us important things about how people lived in past eras. For example, the illustrations and, later, photographs not only illuminate how people dressed, but demonstrate body carriage. These books highlight the importance of knowing the most fashionable dances and detail grand balls, private gatherings, and other social events that included dance, thus describing the importance of dance (or lack of) in any particular era, as well as how to appropriately spend leisure time. In addition, each era has codified rules of etiquette, specific gender roles, as well as codes regarding acceptable behavior toward one’s partner while dancing. Dance manuals are an excellent source for this type of information. And, of course, the manuals detail the steps and dances–in many cases, dances that were popular before the advent of photographs or film. Many manuals also contain music to accompany the dances. All of this information is helpful to anybody who wishes to recreate (often called “reconstruct”) dances of the past or to better understand the evolution of popular social dance.”


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