Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage by Emily Post, New York and London, Funk & Wagnalls Co, 1922/37.


Ballroom Etiquette

A ballroom is still the one background against which men as well as women of good breeding must behave with almost exaggerated formal decorum. Ladies do not and women must not sit with crossed knees. A lady must not loll back against her chair. Properly she doesn’t even lean back against it at all. Neither a man nor a woman can smoke in a ballroom without destroying the distinction of the whole assemblage.
But even so, an onlooker at any modern ball is apt to be impressed with the utter gracelessness of the young people who walk across a ballroom floor. The athletic young woman of today 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 can walk across a room with grace is rare.

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 today walk side by side, except when going to supper. At public balls, when there is a grand march, the lady always takes her partner’s right arm.


A Public ball is a ball given for a benefit or charity. A committee makes the arrangements and tickets are sold to the public, either at hotels or at the house of the secretary of the committee. A young girl of social position does not go to a public ball without a chaperon. To go alone in the company of one or more ‘escorts’ would be an unheard of breach of propriety.


Don’t walk across a ballroom floor swinging your arms. Don’t talk or laugh loud enough to attract attention, and on no account force yourself to laugh. Nothing is flatter than laughter that is lacking in mirth. If you only laugh because something is irresistibly funny, the chances are your laugh will be irresistible too. In the same way a smile should be spontaneous, because you feel happy, and pleasant; nothing has less allure than a mechanical grimace, as though you were trying to imitate a tooth-paste advertisement.