On the nights of full moon, the carriages and horses's hooves
clattered over the cobble stones towards inns and assembly rooms
where subscribers danced the night away. The subscribers were
often a mix of the social classes in the country. The noble families
usually had enough room at their houses in which to hold balls.
It was the mixture of social classes at the assemblies and inns
that led to the establishment of Almack's. The class of people
participating at a previous subscription assembly had deteriorated
so badly that many mothers no longer felt their daughters were
Almack's protected itself against such deterioration by putting
the vouchers in the hands of a group of patronesses who scrutinized
the applicants and ruthlessly weeded out those they thought inadmissible.
Almack's was very conservative as to dances. They limited to
English contra dances and Scottish reels.
There had been a country dance called a waltz before the couple
waltz came to England. Byron said it came in 1811. The haut ton
held waltzing parties in the morning and danced waltzes at private
It isn't known when the Waltz was first danced at Almack's. It might have been Princess Lieven who introduced it there , though the English aristocracy was dancing the waltz before she arrived in England. in late 1812.
The waltz was controversial. There was an editorial in the newspaper expressing outrage that the Prince Regent had allowed the waltz to be danced at one of his balls.
It is hard for us to learn exactly what about the waltz was so
Byron's satirical poem referred to embraces on the dance floor,
and Sir H.E. went further:
What! the girl of my heart by another embrac'd?
What! the balm of her lips shall another taste?
What! touch'd in twirl by another man's knee?
What! panting recline on another than me?
To which someone made reply:
Sir H.E. thinks each Waltzing Miss
From every partner takes a kiss.
Then O! how natural the whim
That makes them loath to dance with him.
There have been several debates about the waltz and it is always
being discussed on lists dealing with Jane Austen and regency
research. Three people will each have a picture of a waltzing
couple and insist that her illustration is the correct one.
Did the man put his hands on the woman's waist? Did he hold
her only by one hand while holding the other hand in the air?
How did they hold each other?
I found a book of the 1850's Lowes Ball-Conductor and Assembly
Guide published in Edinburgh. The directions cover quadrilles
and other dances, but what I found most interesting was the section
on "Waltzing." After saying that the waltz came from Germany,
Lowe gives four different ways in which the couple stand where
they place their hands.
- "The Demi Sautien Or the Half support: The Gentleman
puts his right hand round the lady's waist, and holds her right
hand with his left, whilst she rests her left hand on his shoulder."
- "Le Sautien Mutuel: The Mutual Support: Each person
puts the right hand round the other's waist, whilst they allow
their left hands to hang down; rest them on each other's shoulders
or place them behind their backs."
- "Le Sautien Entirement: The Entire Support: The gentleman
places both his hands upon the lady's sides, whilst she rests
her hands upon his shoulders."
- They could also just join right hands, held high, with the
left hands down by their sides.
During the dance the dancers might change to hold their joined
A variation has the left hands on the other person's shoulder.
Though these descriptions are from mid century, they could easily
be describing some of the illustrations we have seen of the waltz
in Byron's day.
Emmerson, George S. A Social History of Scottish Dance.
Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. 1972.
Piggot 167.Piggot,Patrick. The Innocent Diversion. A Study
of Music in the Life and writings of Jane Austen. London:
Douglas Cleverton, 1979.
Richardson,Philip J. The Social Dances of the Nineteenth Century
In England. London: Herbert Johnson,1960.
The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. The Scottish Country
Dance Book. 12 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AFPaterson's
Publications Ltd. London. 1981.
Cooke: Selection of the Present Favourite Country Dances for
the Year 1796.
Emmerson, George S. A Social History Of Scottish Dance: Ane
Celestial Recreation. Published 1972 by McGill-Queen's University
Press, Montreal. Hardcovers with dustjacket, 352 pages PLUS 32
PAGES OF ILLUSTRATIONS. Book measures 10¼ inches (26 cm)
high by 7 inches (17.7 cm) wide.