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The Bow and the Curtsey, a guide to Ballroom etiquette !

Updated on April 24, 2011

What are bows and curtseys about ?

Nowadays that we address most people informally, "bowing" or "curtseying" can look quite old-fashioned, and indeed it is. But there are still occasions where they can be performed. If you go to a charity ball or a Viennese ball, you are expected to abide by some ballroom etiquette, and that requires bowing and curtseying !

Now gentlemen, why learning something that most people ignore and do not really care about ? well, believe me, if you bow when you invite a lady for a dance, you can be sure she will accept. All ladies have in their mind the image of the Prince Charming inviting them for a waltz at the midnight ball, by bowing and asking for a dance, you become Prince Charming himself !

Gentlemen, how should you bow ?

Or How to dance with anyone you want in the ballroom...

Besides dancing, bowing is probably what gentlemen should do the most at a ball. They shall bow when meeting a lady, they shall bow when asking a lady for a dance, they shall bow to greet the lady after the dance etc. Very much like the curtsey for the lady, the bow of the gentleman is a major element of ballroom etiquette; although there is one simple way of making it look good, there are plenty of fashions of performing an awkward bow.


In the simple mechanic movements of address, the foot takes the second position, the other the third, then the body gently falls forward, keeping the head in a direct line with the body. The bend is made by a motion at the union of the inferior limbs with the body, and a little flexing at the limbs. Time, place, and other circumstances,must determine the quantity of bends as well as its quickness. The gentleman, on his first entering company, must make and easy salutation and bow. When in a ballroom, he opens the chorus, politeness requires him in the same manner to salute his partner with that soft respect, which the fair sex require, not not to omit the same at conclusion. By performing a bow is meant to be expressed the respect due to the person addressed; that is why the bow should not go too low and the head should not drop down as the gentleman does not want to reverence the earth, but the object of his esteem.

To summarize :


Young girls learning the curtsey
Young girls learning the curtsey

Ladies, how to curtsey ?

or How to tell Prince Charming he found his Princess...

The curtsey is the way a lady should respond to a gentleman's bow, for instance before starting a dance. Nowadays, curtsey is still performed when meeting Royals, in Viennese balls by the debutantes and in some dance society balls. The curtsey performed in front of the Queen or by Viennese balls debutantes goes extremely low. The ballroom curtsey should not be so deep and should focus on elegance and grace.


To learn more about how to curtsey, let us go back into some 1830 instructions found in "The Young Lady's Book"

The following is the usual mode: the front foot is first brought into the second position; the other is then drawn into the third position, and passed immediately into the fourth behind, the whole weight of the body thrown on the front foot; the front knee is then bent, the body gently sinks, the whole weight is transferred to the foot behind while rising, and the front foot is gradually brought into the fourth position. The arms should be gracefully bent, and the hands occupied in lightly holding out the dress.

Here is how it should look like !

On the video, the gentleman's bow and the lady's curtsey are simultaneous but usually the bow starts first.

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Your comments ! - I am happy to read your comments and questions

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello Eric,

      How I agree with you! C'est trop vrais qu'est-ce vous avez écrit. Years of classical ballet have taught me how to curtsey, but it was my mum's insistence on ballroom dancing lessons when I was 15 that has truly proven helpful. Those skills (I learned slow and Viennese waltz, foxtrot, tango, quickstep and most of the Latin dances) are used on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, etiquette, courtesy, and dancing skills appear to be a mostly lost art among my generation (20s/30s) and even the post-WW 2 generation. It's so sad, and sometimes irritating too, to see people dressed up, but behaving rudely and stumbling their way across the dance floor. The Austrians and to a lesser extent the Germans are notable exceptions as they still send their teens to dancing school, and it's always so nice to attend balls in Vienna, because the guests really know how to dance. En janvier, mon mari et moi sommes invités au bal des officiers à Vienne et je suis très excitée parce-que c'est un bal préferé pour moi!

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 

      8 years ago

      Really cute lens!!!

    • Barthlays profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @squid-pinkchic18: thank you so much for your blessing !

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens. I couldn't agree more, etiquette is such a lost art. Squid blessed :)

    • Amy Fricano profile image

      Amy Fricano 

      9 years ago from WNY

      Happy dancing. Neat topic.

    • Barthlays profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @CofCJenny LM: thank you Jenny. Yes you are absolutely right, learning how to dance is also learning how to interact with someone, and that embeds good manners, etiquette, politeness, respect, education !

    • profile image

      CofCJenny LM 

      9 years ago

      Love it! My favorite section of gym class in high school was when we were taught dances. Might seem silly, but it was GREAT for teens to learn! Especially because it was dances like the waltz, you had to bow/curtsy before getting your partner...little gestures like that, which most teens hate, but I loved it!


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