- Claude Conyers
A broad category comprising all genres of dance performed in a social setting. During the colonial period of American history, most social dances were British or French in origin; later, after the Revolutionary War (1776–81), as the new nation’s population was increased and diversified by immigration, dances from other European countries were introduced into the American social scene.
Like the court dances of earlier times, the social dances of the upper classes in England and France in the 17th and 18th centuries were choreographed by dancing masters. Set to various kinds of music, dances were invented for couples arranged in various formations who executed figures and sequences of steps devised by dancing masters. Well-bred young men and women were expected to learn social dancing as part of their education, memorizing the sequences of steps and mastering not only proper execution of movement but the graces and courtesies of ballroom etiquette. So it was too in the American colonies. As a youth, George Washington is known to have studied social dancing as well as horsemanship and fencing, all of which were considered requisite skills of a young gentleman with aspirations to advance in society. Similarly, on the distaff side, young ladies were expected to learn social dancing as well as needlework, music, drawing, and languages. Both sexes were expected to be fully knowledgeable of rules of social etiquette....