After discussing the correct performance of the gentleman's bow in the ballroom, it seems appropriate to tackle the movements necessary for ladies to properly perform a courtesy. In 1875, William De Garmo explained the major difference between the two moves:
In courtesying the knees bend and the body sinks; in bowing the knees do not bend and the upper part of the body is projected forward. In courtesying, as well as in bowing, the slightest possible inclination of the head forward is admissible.
Ten years later, Allen Dodworth noted that
[The courtesy] is a combination of motions, of no little difficulty, requiring repeated practice for its accomplishment with the necessary ease. It is singularly artificial and unnatural, and yet is of great beauty when executed by a well-trained lady.
How to perform these unnatural motions? The sources, unfortunately, are somewhat inconsistent.
Two of the major mid-century sources, Edward Ferrero (1859) and Thomas Hillgrove (1863), gave very similar descriptions of the courtesy, breaking it into four counts. Hillgrove's description may be summarized as:
(begin in first position; hands occupied holding dress)
1. Slide foot sideways to second position; place weight on that foot
2. Slide trailing foot to fourth position behind, heel raised, all weight still on front foot
3. Sink back, bending both knees, transferring weight to rear foot, raising heel of front foot.
4. Throw weight onto front foot again, rising and bringing the rear foot to first position.
Ferrero's description is less detailed but in practice virtually identical except for specifying third position as the starting and ending position. Both sources agree that the courtesy may be performed leading with either the left or the right foot. Since performing this movement in four beats of music (two bars) makes for a rather abrupt and ungraceful sequence of motions, I generally interpret each of Hillgrove's "counts" to actually refer to a bar of music (two beats each), creating a four-bar sequence for a single courtesy.
Hillgrove also allowed for a shortened version consisting of counts two and three only.
The figure at left above illustrates the bend in the courtesy with the weight fully on the back foot. Notice the slight inclination of the head and the use of the hands to hold (with a minimum of lifting) the skirt. The figure at right represents the position before the bend, with the weight on the front foot. The transfer of weight from the front foot to the back is important and creates what De Garmo called the "undulation of the body," as opposed to sinking straight downward with weight equally distributed. Most of the sources include advice similar to that of Elias Howe (1862):
Let all the movements for the Bow or Courtesy be characterized by easy elegance and grace, and particularly avoid all appearance of that stiffness too often seen in the Ball-room.
Dodworth (1885) actually suggested that the woman practice the gentleman's bow first before attempting to learn to courtesy.
Ferrero's illustration, given above, appears to have been the basis for Hillgrove's, which is a virtual mirror-image copy. But Ferrero has scrambled his captions; the right-hand figure is clearly the act of bending, and the left-hand one in the final rise prior to bringing the rear foot forward.
Other mid-century sources give less detailed but consistent descriptions, with Durang (1847) specifying fourth position for the rear foot and Howe agreeing that the final movement involves bringing the rear foot forward. Howe also agrees with Ferrero in specifying a start in third position.
Two later sources, Allen Dodworth (1885) and Madeleine Wilson (c1899) present an inconsistency: both specify that the final movement involves bringing the front foot back to the rear foot on the final rise, rather than the rear foot forward to the front foot. Wilson was clearly influenced by Dodworth, whose instructions she copies directly in many places, though not in the particular section on bows and courtesies. It is unclear whether the change in the final foot movement represents a change in practice over time, individual variation of style, or, perhaps, simply an error on the part of Dodworth which was then taken up by Wilson. I have a mild preference for the Hillgrove/Ferrero/Howe version in which the rear foot comes forward, which I find to create a more graceful "undulation," but an argument could be made that later in the century the Dodworth/Wilson move is equally correct. Wilson also specifies (and illustrates) much more of a bend from the waist than the earlier sources.
One later source, H. N. Grant (1893) addresses the use of the courtesy in country (contra) dances. While the section in his manual is labeled "Set Dances", his instructions to the men involve addressing the "opposite line," making it clear that he refers to country dances, which are formed in facing lines, rather than the square formation of quadrilles. He describes a two-part movement in which the lady first makes a quarter turn to face up the room for her first courtesy and then turns back to her partner for the second:
...step with right foot to second position and turn one-fourth around, placing the left in fourth position back, with all weight on it, and bend from the waist, and bend the left knee. Recover position, and place the right foot in fourth position back, with all weight on it, bending as before.
While less detailed than earlier descriptions and, unfortunately, not specifying how the final close of feet is performed, Grant places the same emphasis on courtesying with weight fully on the rear foot, as described in the mid-century sources. His use of the first slide to second position to make the quarter-turn echoes Dodworth, who notes that that first move can be used to change direction. Grant makes the two courtesies mirror image: the first is performed with the left foot back, the second with the right foot. He notes that this sequence should take a full eight bars of music, consistent with my interpretation of each four "count" courtesy as taking four bars.
Both Dodworth and De Garmo address the issue of how to perform the two-part sequence of courtesies in quadrille formation. De Garmo, the earlier (1875) source, spells out a precise sequence, given in detail with counts:
(courtesy to partner)
1. Slide right foot to second
2. Slide left foot behind, end with both feet flat and transfer weight back, beginning to bend the knees and cast eyes downward
3. Rises, raising the forward heel and lifting the eyes
4. Transfer weight forward
(courtesy to corner)
1. Step with left foot across and in front, pivoting on the ball of the right foot, ending in second position facing the other gentleman
2. Bring right foot behind left and bend the knees
4. Throw weight onto the forward (left) foot and close right foot to third behind, ending with weight on both feet.
De Garmo is consistent with the earlier sources in bringing the rear foot forward for the final close and with Ferrero in particular in ending in third position. He is also consistent with Grant's country dance sequence in having the courtesies performed on alternating feet. Interestingly, De Garmo's sequence of gentlemen's bows for the quadrilles does not alternate feet; both the bow to partner and the bow to the corner are led with the left foot, while Grant is not specific in how the second bow is performed.
De Garmo prescribes a fairly dramatic step, with the left foot swinging halfway around and into second position in a single movement, and he advises the lady to practice until the entire sequence can be performed gracefully:
It devolves upon the lady to rid her method of every mechanical tendency; to cause the movements to flow together smoothly and uninterruptedly; to regulate the length of the steps and to modify the entire action as to prevent the detection of a studied form.
Along with being inconsistent with other sources in the final movement of the feet, Dodworth also conflicts with De Garmo in his description of how to perform the two-courtesy sequence in the quadrille. His description is somewhat opaque, but he is clear in stating that both courtesies are to be performed with the same foot:
Slide right foot towards the centre of the set, at the same time turn to face your partner; courtesy with the left behind; then slide back to place with the left, at the same time turn back to your partner; slide the right outward, and again courtesy with the left behind; then slide back to place and side to partner.
His first courtesy includes the quarter-turn to face the partner and is performed with the left behind. It is difficult to translate his use of "slide back to place," as sliding the left away from the right would then leave the two feet already separated and the slide of the right outward redundant. I interpret this move as sliding the right foot back to place beside the left (per Dodworth's style of performing the final movement) while pivoting on the left foot. This turns the lady's back to her partner (rather than "back" meaning "return") prior to sliding the right outward to second position to make the second courtesy, again with left behind. The final movement involves sliding the right foot back to meet the left while pivoting one quarter to face into the set with "side to partner."
Given the conflicts between the sources, it is impossible to specify a single "correct" courtesy for the Victorian era. In summary:
The mid-century sources agree that the final movement is made by bringing the rear foot forward to first or (more commonly) third position. One linked pair of later sources prescribes bringing the front foot backward instead, which may be a legitimate alternative for the later 19th century.
In courtesying in quadrilles, the courtesies may be made either with the same foot both times (following Dodworth) or with mirrored feet (following De Garmo); the choice is an aesthetic one. Since the sources are consistent in describing the bow as performed with the same foot twice and since I find De Garmo's swing around of the left foot less appealing, my preference goes with Dodworth, though in country dances (where the turn is only one quarter each way rather than a full half-turn) I would make the opposite decision and follow Grant. Unity of style is critical if a group is putting on a performance but not tremendously important in a purely social setting.
A final matter of importance is when not to perform the courtesy. Hillgrove states clearly that:
The courtesy is the proper salutation for a lady before commencing to dance, and when entering or leaving a room, or receiving her friends.
After describing the proper performance of the courtesy, he then states, rather inconsistently:
The difference between the courtesy on entering a room and the bow of recognition when passing a friend in the street or ball-room, should be borne in mind, as many ladies appear affected by courtesying while walking in the street...The bow should be made when in motion, and is generally more easy and natural on entering a room than the courtesy, as the pause necessary for the latter may subject a lady to come in contact with those following her.
Clearly the courtesy should be made before commencing to dance, but Hillgrove seems to be of two minds about what a lady should do when entering the room, suggesting that the bow is more practical lest the lady cause a collision by stopping to courtesy! The shorter version of his courtesy (using only the second and third movements) might be more useful in such a situation, but what of the bow? It is not the gentleman's ballroom bow previously described. Hillgrove refers to the passing bow or passing salute, an entirely different action which may be performed by either ladies or gentlemen and which will be addressed in a separate post.
Some sources for the Victorian-era courtesy
De Garmo, William. The dance of society. New York, 1875.
Dodworth, Allen. Dancing and its relations to education and social life. New York, 1885. Reprinted and slightly expanded in 1900.
Durang, Charles. Terpischore or ball room guide. Philadelphia, 1847. (Also published in Durang's The ball-room bijou and art of dancing in 1848 and 1854.)
Ferraro, Edward. The art of dancing. New York, 1859.
Grant, H. N. How to become successful teachers of the art of dancing. Buffalo, NY, 1893.
Hillgrove, Thomas. A complete practical guide to the art of dancing. New York, 1863.
Howe, Elias. Complete ball-room handbook. Boston, 1862.
Wilson, Marguerite. Dancing. Philadelphia, c1899. (Reprinted through at least 1924.)