Ask the Archivist — What Are Dance Cards?

Ask the Archivist

What Are Dance Cards?

University Archivist Peggy McBride explains a quaint tradition from another century.

Originally used for formal balls, a woman’s dance card recorded the names of the gentlemen with whom she intended to dance. Usually tied to her wrist with a cord that had a small pencil attached to it, the card was typically a booklet with a decorative cover that indicated the sponsoring organization. Inside, the dances were listed by number and type of dance. At a time when a waltz was considered risqué, the card allowed a woman to choose whether or not to “sit that one out” or choose a partner who she did not mind holding her closely. Dance cards were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today, “dance card” often is used metaphorically, as when someone says, “Pencil me into your dance card,” or “My dance card is full.” The US Air Force flight crews use the term to refer to a card that contains information about a flight mission.

Dance cards from the early days of the University of Florida can be found in the University Archives. Donated by alumni, the cards portray a part of student life in the early days of the university.

Dance Card
Dance card, courtesy of University Archives
Dance card
Dance card, courtesy of University Archives