Newport Vintage Dance Week

by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers

Newport Dancers' Gazette

Previous Issue

Next Issue

Gazette Archives

The Newport Dancers' Gazette
Vol II, Number 1
August 7 and 10, 1995

Michalle and Peter Lee


Illustration of Gentleman Raising Hat to a Lady Dear Friends--Old and New,
Welcome to the 8th Newport Vintage Dance Week. You are joining over 100 dancers from as far away as California, North Carolina, North Dakota, Louisiana, Canada and France. As usual, The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers have been busy over the past year planning another delightful summer holiday of dancing and other activities. We're very excited about two new events: the Tuesday evening sing along and Thursday's talent show. We hope you'll join in--at least come watch.

In addition, we have our traditional activities scheduled. Having spoken with the instructors about their plans for the week, I'm sure you'll enjoy the classes being offered.

Best wishes for a fabulous week!

Hannah Roberts Artuso
Conference Coordinator and Co-Director, CVD


Those trying vintage dance for the first time, including people with other types of dance experience, are encouraged to take the beginner level classes, as are those with only a little vintage dance experience. This will help you learn the basic vintage dance steps. Dancers familiar with the basic vintage dance steps may want to try the more advanced classes. The tango and mazurka classes may be attended by any level dancer, though beginning dancers may find the tango steps easier to pick up.


A total of 63 surveys were returned. As many did not include gender information, the following averages make no distinction between male and female respondents. There are approximately 100 attendees so estimated totals were computed by multiplying the averages by 100. The results of the numerical answers are as follows:

The average number of miles traveled by this year's attendees is 552 miles, and the total distance is a bit over twice around the earth.

The average number of years attended is 3.7, with just over a third of this year's attendees being here for the first time. The dominant mechanism by which people heard about this week has been word of mouth.

The average number of pairs of shoes is just under 8, suggesting a total of almost 800 pairs all told. The most number of pairs brought by any individual is 20.

The estimated total number of sewing machines is only about 12, which seems especially small compared to the estimated 15 computers. Presumably, this dearth of sewing machines reflects the fact that over two-thirds of the respondents were completely or nearly finished with their costumes for Saturday and only an estimated 6 people have a lot of work to do on their costumes.

As for total amount of stuff brought, about half brought what they thought was appropriate and the other half what they could fit. Very few were concerned about carting things to their room once here.

The answers to the favorite dances and dances most wanted to learn varied considerably and displayed no obvious pattern. The waltz emerged as one of the most popular, but even here the numbers were small. As for most wanted to learn, there was no obvious winner, but answers included: Maxixe, Apache, Charleston, Tango, 1856 Tango, Hip Hop (but this answer was a lie!), Waltz, Mazurka, Hungroise, and Half & Half.


Illustration of Women look at letter

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
I have arrived at Newport with four nice outfits, but my roommate is busily unpacking twenty-five historically correct ones. Am I grossly unprepared for this dance week?


Dear Aghast,
While Newport Dance Week has about a dozen opportunities to dance, dine and socialize in a historical setting, the clothing for these activities pretty much falls into four classes: nineteenth century evening wear, early twentieth century evening wear, daytime "whites", and a costume for the "On Safari" ball. In fact, many people arrive at Newport planning to put together a fancy dress costume during the week, while others wear ordinary evening dress to that ball. I am sure that your four outfits will be quite suitable, though you may end up wearing your daytime outfit several times (there are laundry facilities in every dorm...). A cheerful spirit and a fair attempt (whatever your closet permits) at dress in keeping with the occasion will see you through. By the way, what is your roommate going to do with her other thirteen outfits, and how do you compare in size?

Mrs. Astorbilt

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
I brought twenty-five different outfits to Newport this year. My roommate has gone off to the opening party to have fun, while I am still unpacking. Did I overdo it?

Acknowledged Clotheshorse

Dear Clotheshorse,

Mrs. Astorbilt

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
I don't have a set of tails. Should I wear my white dinner jacket or my black tuxedo jacket to the formal balls?


Dear Tailless,
Wear the black. The essence of proper dress, especially for gentlemen, is to avoid being conspicuous. A black jacket or even a dark suit or sport jacket will blend in with the tailcoats of others - a white jacket would stick out like a bandaged thumb.

Mrs. Astorbilt

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
What are the local customs concerning photography?


Dear Shutterbug,
In general, take whatever pictures you like (though check with the subjects before recording anything too embarrassing). At our most formal balls, we do ask that all modern paraphernalia be kept out of sight except when actually in use. At those balls, we further request that use of the flash be strictly limited to the period before the ball begins, after the ball is over, and the major intermission and the dance directly following that intermission. If you want to videotape a class, be sure to ask the instructor in advance - the instructor should then establish that there are no objections by participants before giving permission

Mrs. Astorbilt

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
Why do men wear white gloves at the balls?

I Wash My Hands

Dear Hands,
Gentlemen draw on their gloves as they enter the ballroom and wear them throughout the evening, removing them only when taking refreshments. White kid gloves are the most desirable for the ballroom, though kid are hard to find nowadays. White cloth gloves are completely acceptable.

Clever gentlemen carry a second pair in case they soil their first pair. If you do not have gloves, many gentlemen are willing to lend a pair. Just ask around.

Wearing gloves serves both a practical and an aesthetic purpose. First, if you press a sweaty hand against a silk gown, you will, indeed "leave a disagreeable impression."

Beyond the merely practical matters, wearing white gloves is a recognition of the formality of the event. By doing this you are paying a compliment to your partner, and to the entire company. The feel of a gloved hand (just as the firmness of a corseted back beneath your supporting hand) is a tactile reminder that you and your partner have set aside your everyday activities and concerns and completely focused on taking pleasure in each other's company and in the dance. (Mrs. Astorbilt occasionally gets swept away by etiquette euphoria)

Mrs. Astorbilt

P.S. For the ladies, white kid or white cloth gloves are most appropriate for a ball. Net or crocheted gloves are less desirable because they do not emulate the formal white kid. Length of gloves will vary according to historical period of the gown.

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
How do you eat a lobster in 19th Century style?.

Curious Gourmand

Dear Curious,
According to period cookbooks, lobster meat was pried from the shell in the kitchen, before serving. I doubt any member of "The Four-hundred" was confronted with a naked dead lobster on a plate. Indeed, only in the 20th century is a satisfying dining experience equated with one that leaves the diner covered with melted butter and lobster broth.

Mrs. Astorbilt

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
How should a woman ask a gentleman to dance at the Victorian ball? We will both have dance cards, but I understand that it was improper in that era for a women to ask a man to dance.

Eager Student of Proper Etiquette

Dear Eager,
Throughout the nineteenth century, there existed a system of etiquette which made perfect sense within its cultural context. Times have changed and now we are reviving a nineteenth century activity in a twentieth century culture. Your letter (and others Mrs. Astorbilt has received) pinpoints an area where the old rule does not make sense in the new context. Mrs. Astorbilt welcomes you, dear Student, to the cutting edge of vintage etiquette.

In the Nineteenth Century, ladies did not ask gentlemen to dance. The hostess of a ball could ask men to dance with her female guests and a lady could suggest that her partner ask a particular lady to dance, but no lady ever solicited a dance for herself.

Then as now, dancing gentlemen were at a premium. Many gentlemen who were willing to attend a ball, eat supper, and drink champagne were unwilling to their duty on the dance floor. Mrs. Astorbilt thinks that it was partly to compensate for this that ladies were encouraged to decline up to every other dance. By sitting out a number of dances a lady could avoid becoming red in the face or disheveled or fatigued. This practice also had the effect of distributing dances more evenly between more popular and less popular ladies.

We are fortunate that today a popular lady need only sit out a couple of dances in an entire evening to ensure that no lady spends the entire evening propping up the draperies.

By asking for dances a lady is depriving the gentlemen present the opportunity of paying her the compliment of seeking her out. She is also depriving herself of the pleasure of being recognized in this way.

Mrs. Astorbilt suggests the following compromise: A lady should ask for no more than one third of the evening's dances. That would allow gentlemen to do the asking the majority of the time, (after all, we want to encourage gentlemen to get in the habit of asking). Moreover, she should plan to sit out a couple of dances (this small sacrifice really does add immeasurably to the spirit of the evening).

Mrs. Astorbilt believes that this policy will add elegance and grace to our events and minimize the appearance of a feeding time at the piranha tank.

Mrs. Astorbilt

Dear Mrs. Astorbilt,
How should a lady remember what she wore to last year's ball. lest she be seen too often in the same gown from year to year?


Dear Overdressed,
Mrs. Astorbilt does not understand. Surely you will be wearing a new gown, having already given last year's gown to a poor relation or your maid. But really, why not have someone take a photograph of you? You will want it as a memento of the occasion.

Mrs. Astorbilt

Mrs. Astorbilt might consider answering your etiquette questions in future issues of the Newport Dancers' Gazette, or on this web page. If you would like her to consider your questions please write to her at only e-mail submissions will be accepted.

On Safari Ball Want adds

WM who reads & writes English but speaks French seeks adventurous Lady In Distress to live in high rise domicile.

SWF seeks chest-thumping hero to sweep her off her feet. Swingers only may apply.

American Journalist seeking possibly deceased Physician. object-I wouldn't presume.

Special HMO offering: choice of only one Doctor (but he's a Saint!)

GWH seeks companions to help decipher map to diamond mine. (Where are Twin Peaks?)

Help! Up a tree surrounded by tigers. Send butter churn.

Will the cute girl who smiled at me at last month's Headhunter's Ball meet me under the Elk's head at the upcoming On Safari Ball.

Return to the Newport Vintage Dance Page

For further information about The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers or the Newport Vintage Dance Week, send e-mail to or call Hannah Roberts Artuso at (781) 662-8344 before 10pm eastern time, please.

Created November 22, 1995

Return to the Newport Vintage Dance Week page.
Visit the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers' Home Page.

Last updated 23 April 2001/beb