That the repertoire of popular ballroom dances changed dramatically in the first half of the 1910s is not news, but it's always nice to find this transition neatly illustrated by actual dance programs. I recently had the opportunity to look at a pair of dance cards for two balls held at St. Lawrence University, a private university in northern New York State. Separated by three and a half years, late 1911 to mid-1915, the two cards neatly bracket the rapid transition from the fading of the nineteenth-century dances to the new dances of the later ragtime era.
The first card, the outside of which is shown at left (click to enlarge), is actually made of loose-leaf sheets bound by small rings between metal plates with the arms of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity in relief on the front cover. The card is small, less than two inches tall. Inside, the title page proclaims that it is from the thirty-sixth annual ball of the fraternity's Beta Zeta chapter, which took place on December 8, 1911, in the St. Lawrence University Gymnasium.
The program for the ball was typical of the first decade of the twentieth century: a grand march followed by twenty-four dances equally divided between waltz and two-step. Four possible extras are also listed, also equally divided. Tunes are given, and while I have not traced them all, some are immediately recognizable: "Alexander's Rag Time Band", "Naughty Marietta", "Il Trovatore", etc. The grand march tune was the well-known "National Emblem", a 1914 recording of which may be heard here.
The second card, shown at right (click to enlarge), is again a set of loose sheets bound with metal rings between hard covers, this time in what appears to be Bakelite. The arms of St. Lawrence University are at lower right, and there is a red and white cord and tassel. Once again, the card is tiny, just a couple of inches wide. The event was the Senior Ball on May 20, 1915.
The program for this event was quite different: a grand march, seven one-steps, seven waltzes, three hesitations, a foxtrot, and two circle two-steps. Lines for four extras are given, but the dances are not specified. The grand march tune was once again "National Emblem", and "Il Trovatore" reappeared among the waltzes. Also notable are "Ballin' the Jack" for the foxtrot and "Cecile" for a hesitation; both tunes are still popular in historical dance communities today.
This is a much more interesting program from both a dancer's and a historian's perspective. One-step and waltz dominate, with a single foxtrot representing the very latest popular dance. The split between "waltzes" and "hesitations" suggests that there were slower waltzes along with the high-speed ones necessary to make hesitations work smoothly. There is no sign of the tango or maxixe; perhaps they were too difficult or too scandalous, or simply not well-known in a small town far removed from the population centers of New York and Boston. The circle two-steps are likely to have been "Paul Jones" type mixers similar to the Round Two-Step.
Both of these cards were used, and while there is no overlap in the names listed as organizers or written in as partners, it is interesting to speculate that the attendees might have included some of the same students.
The images above of the two dance cards are courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.