Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2016

Degree Type



Chemistry and Biochemistry

First Reader

Pamela Melton

Second Reader

Madeline Jazz-Harvey


Although I have danced all my life, I only began to ballroom dance and dance socially after starting college at the University of South Carolina. While dancing with the Carolina Ballroom Club, I learned some of the history of ballroom dance from our instructors, but I never quite understood how we went from having very conservative court dances to the wide variety of ballroom dances where dancers wear extravagant costumes. I also have been sewing since I was a child; I helped do minor repairs in the costume room for ballet productions, and recently began making clothing for myself. I decided to research the history of ballroom dance costumes and design and make my own. Although dancing has been a part of human society for millennia, the focus of this thesis is only on the past two centuries in Western Europe and the United States. Ballroom dancing originated from court dances and country dances that had designated steps and sometimes were called dances, like square dances where there is a leader that announces the steps as the crowd dances. However, these dances like the minuet did not allow for any close contact between the dancers and didn’t look like any of today’s “ballroom” dances. In the 1800s, the waltz became popular and spread from Germany into France and England where the close embrace between dancers was initially considered scandalous. Waltz was the prominent ballroom dance of the 19 th century, and the costumes for women consisted of a corseted waistline, whose style changed throughout the decades, a stiff bodice, and a full skirt created by large numbers of underskirts called petticoats or wire cages. Men wore black tailcoats with a white shirt, 4 some variety of tie, and pants that began much shorter and tighter and grew into the slacks one is accustomed to seeing today. Both men and women in the 19 th century wore gloves to dance. In the early 20 th century, ballroom dancing saw many changes. The tango from Argentina made its way to Europe, dances from the United States like swing dance and foxtrot grew in popularity, and interest in dances from Latin America began to grow. During the ragtime era, clothing became less rigid and allowed for more freedom of movement. This trend continued into the jazz age where women’s skirts became shorter and gained more movement. In the 1950s, Latin dances like the Rumba were added to the ballroom repertoire and dancers began to have different styles of costumes for “Latin” dances like cha cha than they had for “Standard” dances like the waltz. The silhouettes of both dresses were similar but with different embellishments. By the 1970s, Latin costumes became shorter and varied widely in style. This trend continues to this day, and standard costumes are long and flowing, while Latin costumes are short and diverse in style. All of this knowledge helped me design my ballroom gown for standard dances. I chose a silhouette that has been used often in the past decades and a cut that fits my body well. The construction of the dress was time-consuming but well worth it, as I intend to wear this dress in many competitions to come.

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© 2016, Jessica Marie Russell