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Collection An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490 to 1920

About this Collection

A collection of over two hundred social dance manuals at the Library of Congress. The list begins with a rare late fifteenth-century source, Les basses danses de Marguerite d'Autriche (c.1490) and ends with Ella Gardner's 1929 Public dance halls, their regulation and place in the recreation of adolescents. Along with dance instruction manuals, this online presentation also includes a significant number of antidance manuals, histories, treatises on etiquette, and items from other conceptual categories. Many of the manuals also provide historical information on theatrical dance. All illuminate the manner in which people have joyfully expressed themselves as they dance for and with one another.

Library of Congress staff selected this set of materials relating to ballroom (also called social) dance from various divisions and collections in the Library. Selections came from the General Collections, the Music Division, and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Hence, this web presentation is the only existing version of this special subject collection. Why these dance materials are in various locations throughout the Library is in itself a history of dance in the United States.

It has long been a goal of the Library's dance specialists and of scholars using the collections to one day provide an annotated bibliography to these dance materials that would pull together, intellectually, what has for so long been physically divided. Finally, through the use of new technology we have been able to do far more than simply identify and describe these materials. We have been able to bring the vast majority of these materials to the user in their entirety, and in most cases we have also been able to provide full text searching capability. These tools will assist scholars in the analysis and study of the manuals in ways that have never been possible before. This Web access of the dance instructions will also allow dancers around the world to download and learn these dances, which up until now, were only available to the dedicated scholar who searched several catalogs at the Library of Congress or at other libraries in New York, Paris, or London.

No selection is ever complete or perfect. Inevitably inclusions and exclusions must be made for a whole list of practical reasons, unrelated to an item's presence or absence from our collections. Please forgive the exclusion of your favorite manual or treatise. We invite the user to locate additional manuals and treatises in their local libraries, on other Web sites, or even in their grandma's attic.