Saturday, 23 May 2015

Dancing in Bath 1792

A letter from Elizabeth Canning to her mother dated Tuesday, December the 11th 1792 when she was about 16.

"they took me to the Rooms last night but for the novelty of the thing, I should have thought it very stupid. I saw a good many faces that I had met before, among the rest Mrs Smith and one of the Miss Scots, who is turned into a Mrs Mc Somebody, to the great delight of her Mama, my three Aunts, played cards, & were  successful the little one brought home her Louis D'Or, Jassum [sic] you, I was very much amused looking over the Table of Cassino [a card game of the type known as fishing], at which Aunt Fan played, and observing the faces & vexation of the losing party. We came home at ten O'clock - tomorrow I am to go to the undress Ball."

The ball Elizabeth attended at the Lower Rooms was the first of the new Fancy Balls an innovation designed to combat the decline in attendances at the Cotillion Balls of the previous decade and an increasing resistance to the rigid dress codes. Fancy Balls were, in Georgian terms, much more relaxed occasions Ladies could appear in hats or make any other elegant fashion statement they pleased, short of actual fancy dress costumes. Fancy balls started with a country dance, after which there was one Cotillion only, and then tea – after tea, a country dance, one Cotillion only and the evening ended with more country dances, and the Long Minuet famously illustrated by Henry Bunbury.

The term undress ball is a nickname given by the company to the new Fancy Balls and is a joking allusion to their not being Dress Balls.

The Fancy Ball at the Upper Rooms 
Thomas Rowlandson
Dress Balls where formal occasions which commenced with Minuets before moving on to Country Dances. Dancing ability and the ability to get the technical details and formalities right where key to admission to the beau monde in the eighteenth century particularly at big formal assemblies. The minuet was the ultimate test of those skills. The minuet was a couples’ dance where the couple performed before the assembled audience and other dancers who were continually assessing their skills; everything from how they entered the room, their deportment and how they executed the steps through to how the gentleman handled his hat. The dress code was strict with women wearing lapetts and hoops, special servants were provided to help them change for the country dances.

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