Balls in Victorian England

The weeks of preparation to host a ball were extensive. Some of the details ranged from sending out the invitations, selecting the dances to be played, determining food and beverages, and shining the ballroom floor to a mirrored reflection. If the hostess was successful, all her hard work could make her the talk of the social elite.




The Ballroom


There were details, details, and more details for the hostess to manage to ensure that her ball was a "crush."

A successful ball required that the ballroom had "good ventilation, good arrangement, a good floor, good music, a good supper, and good company." According to The Habits of Good Society, a hostess should "secure a refreshment room, if not a supper room, on the same floor as the ballroom." This allowed for convenient access to refreshments by guests, particularly women who wore elaborate gowns. Refreshment consisted of tea, lemonade, iced sherbet, and cakes.

Dancing was an important entertainment at a ball. Four musicians, including a pianist and violinist, were standard for a private ball. If the hostess had a large ballroom, she could employ a larger band.

Guests attending a large ball would receive a "double card containing on one side a list of the dances; on the other, blank spaces to be filled up by the names of partners." A pencil was connected to the card and presented when the guest deposited her wrap at the cloak room.


The dance to open the ball was always the quadrille*, followed by a waltz. A ball could have as many as twenty-four dances throughout the evening. A "break" intercepted the dancing, usually after the fourteenth dance. This gave everyone the opportunity to stop and eat supper, which in London was about midnight. However, guests did not have a "sit down" supper. Ladies sat comfortably in chairs scattered throughout and her gentleman stood behind her chair.




The quadrille is a French dance that came about in the late eighteenth century. The dance is performed in a square that comprises up to four couples that dance opposite of each other.

Viewed as a "conversational dance," it was a dance that was basically walking. It was recommended that "the first necessity for dancing a quadrille is to be supplied with a fund of small talk."