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[Detail] Cover of "How to Dance," 1878

An American Ballroom Companion, ca. 1490-1920, provides materials with which to do several create visual projects as well as to study examples of non-fiction. Guides with detailed descriptions and numerous illustrations provide a captivating starting point for creating costumes based on historical and literary figures. Illustrations, descriptions, and the collection's short videos can be used to understand the expressive nature of dance and to create a dance of one's own. The collection also contains both a drama and cautionary tales that can be used to study social criticism, while guides for instructors provide the opportunity to examine the process of teaching.

Having a Ball

The guide, "Masquerades, Tableaux and Drills" (1906) provides detailed instructions for a number of once-popular activities, such as holding a ball, creating a tableaux or living picture, and performing drills. In addition to providing an interesting look at forms of entertainment before the advent of film and television, this guide can provide the basis for any number of creative projects that can be combined with the study of history or literature.

The section on "Children's Tableaux" suggests creating scenes in which children dress up as characters from fairy tales or nursery rhymes. This idea can be modified. Participants can choose a character from a fairy tale or fiction and write about why they chose the character and how they will create a costume that conveys the identity and significance of the character. The culmination of the project can be a fairy-tale ball, or some other similar event at which participants wear their costumes.

Another possibility is to hold a Martha Washington Ball. These February 22 events feature "the ladies dressed in the Martha Washington and other costumes of the eighteenth century . . . and the gentlemen in the Continental and Revolutionary costumes," (page 12). After researching some eighteenth-century historical figures, choose one person and write an explanation of his or her accomplishments.

  • Why did you select this person or character?
  • How will you express this person's unique identity through a costume?
  • How do you think that this person would have behaved at a ball?