Ball gowns, ca. 1852
Friday Nov 26th Have been stirring so much of
late that to day sitting down makes me
feel very stupid Oakes A & Oliver went to
E Bridgewater to a ball & Frank to Canton
yesterday Frank came home about six
Oakes & Oliver just after dinner Mr & Mrs
Dow Sarah Lothrop & Olivers family at tea
in the other part of the house I have been in this Evening
The young men of Ames house celebrated Thanksgiving with more than just feasting. They danced! Oakes Angier and Oliver (3) headed to a ball in East Bridgewater, where Catherine Hobart just happened to live, while Frank Morton rode to Canton, where Catharine Copeland lived. Oakes Angier and Frank wanted to see their favorite young women. Oliver (3), on the other hand, was still unattached and amenable to dancing with various young ladies.
We don’t get to know who hosted the ball, or how many people attended. But we can imagine how the young people looked. The young women, especially, would have taken great care with their outfits and tried to be as comme il faut as possible. The Ames brothers also would have worn their best bib and tucker. And the dances they did? Richard Powers of Stanford suggests that during the years from 1840 to 1860, the steps were lively:
While the Waltz received a great deal of criticism, as “leading to the most licentious of consequences,” it slowly made some inroads into the ballroom, aided by the occasional performance by a notable society figure. Waltzing jumped ahead in acceptability when its inherent sensuousness was tempered with a playful exuberance, first by the Galop and then by the Polka. The Polka from Bohemia became an overnight sensation in society ballrooms in 1844, eclipsing the Waltz at the time. The Polka’s good-natured quality of wholesome joy finally made closed-couple turning acceptable, introducing thousands of dancers to the pleasure of spinning in the arms of another. Once they tasted this euphoria, dancers quickly developed an appetite for more. The Polka mania led to a flowering of other couple dances, including the Schottische, Valse à Deux Temps, Redowa, Five-Step Waltz and Varsouvienne, plus new variations on the earlier Waltz, Mazurka and Galop. Meanwhile, the increasing trend toward ease and naturalness in dancing had eliminated the intricate steps from the Quadrille and country dances, reducing their performance to simple walking. The overall spirit of this era’s dancing (1840s-1860s) was one of excitement, exuberance and gracious romance. The dances were fresh, inventive, youthful and somewhat daring. Society fashions were rich and elegant, but continued an emphasis on simplicity. By the 1850s, the ballroom had reached its zenith.*
Evelina, weary to her bones after hours on her feet preparing the feast, could only sit and do little more than wonder how her sons were faring.
*Richard Powers, “19th Century Social Dance,” socialdance.stanford.edu