One of the challenges faced in the Rochester swing dance scene (and probably many others) is getting people to dance with new people. This includes getting beginners to ask more experienced dancers and vice versa. Well, we’ve found one solution: dance cards.
The use of dance cards date back to the 18th and 19th centuries as a way to keep track of who you are going to dance with during the night. Women carried dance cards, probably around their wrist, and penciled in the names of their male dance partners on a numbered list.
My good friend Mike Hibarger from Boston gave me a vintage dance card from 1933 several years ago and I still appreciate this gift very much. The card is from a Valentine’s dance and includes advertisements, lists of officers, members and boosters, and of course, the program. Oxana, the gal who used this card, sure liked dancing with Chuck! He’s listed for six out of her 12 partners. How cute.
“Oh how cute!,” “What a great idea!,” people said upon receiving their card. One new dancer even said, “This is the main reason I came!” However, not everyone was enthused initially. For some reason a few passed up the chance to use and possess one of these lovely souvenirs.
Seventy-eight years after the date on the original card (to the day), our cards worked a little differently.
Boys as well as girls would carry them, and the name of your partner was written down after you finished a dance with them. Once the 10 names were filled in, you were entered to win one of the following prizes:
- First prize: $50 to Chocolate and Vines (a local wine/beer and chocolate pairing restaurant)
- Second prize: a four-week class session
- Third prize: one month free admission to Lindy Jam (our weekly social dance).
- Also, the first 15 boys and 15 girls to fill their cards received an extra prize (handmade hair-flower pins for the ladies and valentine’s candy for the fellas).
The dance floor was packed all night. People who usually only dance with the person they brought were dancing with people they have never spoken to before. Beginners and advanced dancers alike were excited to be dancing, meeting new people and filling up their dance cards at the same time.
Oh, and the people who initially turned away the dance cards? They came back to the desk and joined in on the fun. Since everybody was using them, you seemed like an outsider if you weren’t.
While the dance cards were a lot of work to design and assemble, they were totally worth it. I wish we could use them for all our dances, but fear they might lose their magic. This is becoming a Valentine’s tradition for us, and I hope it will for other dance scenes too.