What’s a dance card?

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A dance card is a booklet listing the order of dances at a formal ball, with space for a woman to write her dance partner. They were used in the 19th century and served as souvenirs. The cover is decorative and can include the date and time of the ball. Only female attendees carry them, and a pen is needed for partners to fill them out. Social conventions include giving no more than three balls to the same gentleman and having the last dance with a special someone.

A dance card is a small booklet that lists the order of dances at a formal ball. Each dance is on one line with a space so that a woman can write her dance partner for the dance. Traditionally, dance cards were filled out before a dance began so a lady knew her evening had been planned for her, and they served as souvenirs for women who wanted to remember the events they attended and the people with which they entertained them .

The origins of the ballroom card appear to date back to the 18th century, although the widespread use of ballroom cards in balls and formal balls did not begin until the 19th century. The “paper” is really more like a brochure, although it can be made from a single folded sheet of material. The dance listing inside also typically indicates what style of dance is being performed, allowing women to choose partners who are well suited to that style of dance.

The cover of a dance card is decorative and usually references the host of the event. It can include the date and time of the ball, along with art that compliments the sponsor, such as elegant vessels for a Navy-sponsored ball. Many vintage dance card covers are quite beautiful, featuring the work of famous artists, and some people are actively collecting vintage dance cards for their covers.

Some people also call the dance cards Ballspenden, after their German name. Traditionally, only the female attendees of a dance carry the dance cards, which are typically attached with decorative string or ribbon. A wise woman also carries a pen that her dance partners can use when filling out her dance card. Particularly elegant prom cards can also be decorated with jewels, gold leaf or other expensive features.

Using a dance card can be challenging. While there are no formal rules, there are some social conventions that are important to keep in mind. For example, a lady generally gives no more than three balls to the same gentleman unless she is very fond of him. It is also traditional to have the last dance with a special someone, leading to requests to “save the last dance for me”. A courteous gentleman always makes sure that all women at a ball have partners, and they may dance with less desirable partners to ensure that everyone at the ball has a good time.

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