A grand affair: Ballroom extravaganza at Buckingham Palace during Queen Victoria’s reign

Welcome, dear London Mums, to a journey back in time to the grandiose and enchanting era of Queen Victoria’s reign. In the midst of this era’s strict social norms and decorum, the ballroom at Buckingham Palace shone as a beacon of joy, elegance, and romance. A time when dance was not merely a form of amusement but an essential element of courtship and societal interaction. In this article, as a keen amateur ballroom dancer myself, I’m exploring the enchanting world of Victorian dances, the regal splendour of Buckingham Palace’s ballroom, and the extravagant parties that took place during Queen Victoria’s rule.

The Victorian Dances: A Romantic Extravaganza

In the romantic era of the Victorian period, dances flourished with passion and grace. The arrival of the waltz brought forth the concept of couple dancing or “closed dance,” where people danced arm in arm, close to each other. The waltz introduced terms like “to roll” and “to turn,” adding a sense of enchantment to the dance floor. Let’s delve into some of the most significant dances of that time:

1. The Polka: A Whirling Folk Dance

The polka emerged as a captivating form of folk dance, sweeping through the ballroom society with its infectious energy. Couples swirled around the floor, showcasing a captivating blend of chasing, jumping, and playful steps. The polka’s exuberance and spirit soon made it a sensation, becoming a favourite amongst Victorian dancers.

2. Mazurka: A Polish Folk Dance for Couples

Originating from Poland, the mazurka captured hearts with its rhythmic and spirited movements. Like the polka, it was also a couple’s dance, allowing partners to showcase their grace and connection through intricate steps and patterns.

3. Gallop: A Chasing Dance

The gallop, as its name suggests, involved a thrilling chase as couples darted across the ballroom floor. This dance emphasised simple changes of steps, resulting in a lively and joyous display of movement.

4. Giving a Ball: Dance as an Amusement

In the Victorian age, dancing was not just an amusement but a reflexion of one’s social standing and etiquette. It was believed that if one couldn’t dance well, it was better not to dance at all. Balls were opulent gatherings, where the elite showcased their grace and poise, and courtship found a perfect stage to blossom.

The Regency Era: Formations and Squares

Between 1800 and the 1830s, the Regency Era reigned supreme, and dances were performed with formations in squares and lines. The Quadrille, a popular new dance of 1815, featured rapid and skimming steps like chassé and jeté assemblé. It was during this time that the waltz began to make waves, though initially, genteel society hesitated to accept its closed embrace.

The Flowering of the Romantic Era: Waltzes and More

Despite initial criticism, the waltz evolved into a beloved ballroom dance, especially after being infused with a playful exuberance through dances like the Galop and the Polka. The Polka, which gained immense popularity in society ballrooms, introduced closed-couple turning and opened the floodgates for a variety of other couple dances like Schottische, Valse à Deux Temps, Redowa, Five-Step Waltz, and Varsouvienne. This era’s dances exuded excitement, inventiveness, and youthful daring, embodying a spirit of gracious romance.

The High Victorian Era: Evolution and Change

As the 1870s arrived, the enthusiasm for dancing waned, and the middle class mainly focused on two dances—the Waltz and the Two-Step. The Mazurka, Schottische, Redowa, and Polka began to fade, and dance masters struggled to revive interest. Social dances gradually became less exciting and less charming, with balls becoming more of an affair for parents and grandparents.

Entertaining at Buckingham Palace: A Grand Soiree

Buckingham Palace played a central role in Queen Victoria’s plan for a modern monarchy. The royal hospitality extended there was unlike any other, as balls and dinners were occasions for the arts, diplomacy, and charity to flourish. The redesigned palace, besides being a suitable home for the growing royal family, transformed into the most glittering court in Europe.

The Queen’s Love for Music and Dancing

Queen Victoria, an accomplished singer and pianist, had a deep passion for music. She held musical evenings, inviting renowned musicians like Sigismond Thalberg to perform in the State Rooms. As time passed, these evenings became a weekly occurrence, and the royal private band was revived to entertain guests.

The Memorable Balls

Victoria and Albert’s passion for the arts extended to the ballroom, where they hosted magnificent costume balls. One of the most memorable was the Plantagenet Ball, where they appeared as Queen Philippa and Edward III, showcasing England’s golden age of chivalry. The Stuart Ball followed, taking guests back to the late seventeenth century, adorned in beautiful historical costumes.

The Grand Ballroom: A Jewel in Buckingham Palace

The completion of the Ballroom in 1856 marked the crowning achievement of Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace. This opulent and spacious room could accommodate the fashionable wide crinoline petticoats, and its magnificent design evoked the grandeur of the Italian Renaissance. The ballroom was a testament to Prince Albert’s dedication to tradition and modern comfort, boasting the latest in ventilation and acoustics. Every time I visit the Palace and enter the Ballroom, I start day-dreaming of dancing a Viennese Waltz on its big floor. 

The Enduring Legacy of Queen Victoria’s Ballroom

Queen Victoria’s reign left an indelible mark on Buckingham Palace, transforming it into a place of joy, music, and romance. Her love for music and dance, coupled with Prince Albert’s vision, created a ballroom that embodied the true spirit of the era. The Crimean Balls of 1856 marked the ballroom’s inauguration, symbolising the harmonious marriage of tradition and innovation in Queen Victoria’s palace.

As we bid adieu to the enchanting world of Queen Victoria’s ballroom, we can’t help but feel captivated by the grandeur and elegance that once graced Buckingham Palace. The Victorian era dances, the regal balls, and the passion for music have left an enduring legacy, reminding us of a time when dance was not just a mere movement but a language of emotion, love, and romance. The ballroom at Buckingham Palace will forever remain a symbol of the grace and beauty that epitomised the Victorian age.

Related content

Buckingham Palace with kids – Coronation display review: Coronation Robes, Coach and State Rooms

Buckingham Palace: The Diamond Jubilee State Coach – an armchair voyage

Exhibition review: Style & Society, Dressing the Georgians at Buckingham Palace, The Queen’s Gallery 21 April – 8 October 2023

Buckingham Palace opens its doors to families

Breastfeeding in Georgian times 

London with teens: Buckingham Palace and the Platinum Jubilee special display 

Attraction review: Buckingham Palace Garden open to the public for the first time in history

Facebook Comments