The Waltz Century

The nineteenth century was dedicated to the waltz, which had developed as a bourgeois activity in Europe and America. In May I Have the Pleasure?, Belinda Quirey argues that in the wake of political, romantic, and industrial revolutions, the waltz was a completely new dance

19th Century Designer Gowns
Josephine Baker in banana costume. Baker's revealing dance costumes caused much scandal and controversy, but her style also served as an inspiration for designers of mainstream fashion. Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Reproduced by permission.

form that perfectly suited the new conditions of modern life—socially, psychologically, and materially. These nineteenth-century developments in dance were reflected in elaborate dance costumes for lower- and middle-class women, although upper-class ballroom-dance dresses were distinctively splendorous for women. The danse a deux activity reinforced the pleasure of watching other people: how they harmonized and what they wore. Ballroom fashion was therefore an enormously important component of acceptance by polite society.

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