I recently found a booklet entitled, The Secrets of Good Conversation (1937) among my father’s letters. My parents met at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, so I’m certain he was prepared when he met my mom in 1938.
There is no place where small talk is more useful than at a dance, since the frequent cut-ins and the necessity for responding to the rhythm of the music make colloquies on national affairs inappropriate. A girl’s popularity depends on the number of cut-ins she has, and these usually depend on the number of men who cut in more than once. A light line of patter, along with good looks and good dancing, helps to bring them back.
Such pleasantries as, “when did you become so expert at dancing the tango?” “I’m having a good time, are you?” are appropriate. “I heard a most interest thing about you the other day and I’ve been wondering if it is true,” or some other piquant lead may be the beginning of a deftly drawn-out anecdote. No matter if the story is curtailed by some one cutting in, the curious man will return later to hear the finish. On those rare occasions when one of two dancers really adores dancing and wishes to be left free to concentrate on it, the other should be discreet enough to hold back the flow of prattle.
A look often talks, and this is particularly true at a dance. If a girl to whom a man is introduced, instead of merely giving him a casual glance as she acknowledges the introduction with a “how do you do,” looks at him with a decided expression–puzzled, admiring, surprised, wondering, or pleased–she will express a definite interest that she could not well put into words at the time, and she will arouse an interest that she would not with simply a conventional remark. But if asked to explain the look, she must be ready to do so.
When no one cuts in. What are you going to do or say when you are stuck with your partner; when you dance number after number and no one cuts in? The solution is: handle the situation naturally and frankly.
When the girl shows that she is ready for a change as the man, tenseness is relieved. She may say laughingly, “Well we’re stuck; what are we going to do about it?” or “People will think we are practicing for a professional engagement if we keep on dancing together. You find another partner, and we can have another fling later.” To avoid being left deserted, she can indicate her dance escort on the floor and suggest that her released partner break in on him and ask him to come to her. If such frankness embarrasses her, she can only invent some excuse, such as “I am afraid I have torn my stocking, and I’d better go to the dressing room to see about it” and trust to luck that somehow she will get back on the dance floor again.
A young man can save the situation by saying to the girl, perhaps when they have stopped at the punch bowl, “Will you wait here just a moment? I’ve a friend I want you to meet.” He then asks another man to dance with the girl who, he explains does not know many people. “You needn’t worry about getting stuck, though; I’ll see that you are interrupted in a few minutes,” he adds. When the two have danced off, the gallant young man calls on another friend and introduces him to the girl, and he may repeat this a few more times. If the girl does her part she will not need any more chivalry.
Cutting In. When a man breaks in on a couple, it is not necessary for him to do more than touch the girl’s partner on the arm and perhaps say, “May I cut in?” though sometimes an exchange of banter between the two men may follow. The girl probably will accept her new partner with only a smile, but as she dances off she may say, “It’s good to see you again,” or, in a gay, laughing manner, “I was holding my breath until you came.”
A man when he turns a girl over to a successor on the floor or leaves her after the end of a dance he is likely to thank her. She may say nothing more than “I enjoyed that,” though sometimes she will say ingratiatingly, “I wouldn’t have missed the dance with you for anything” or something similar. To one she does not know so well she may say, “I thought it was nice too.”