Where were respectable, genteel single men, of Bahamian high society supposed to find social amusements, as well as, be able to dance with carefully matched respectable, single women, in Nassau, in 1797? Well, they went to the Elizabeth Smith Winter Dance Assemblies on the Bay, of course.
Dance Assemblies were huge social entertainment events in England and colonial America. The Dance Assembly in Philadelphia was legendary. President George Washington was known to attend. Jane Austen, iconic British writer, in her book Pride and Prejudice wrote of balls and dances.
Nassau had its high society dance assemblies as well.
Dance Assemblies were, not only for the bachelor in want of a wife, Assemblies were also debut events. Parents would attend with their eligible daughters and sons, showing them off to society. Maybe, in the not too distant future, they also would be looking for excellent matches for marriage at the Dance Assembly.
Most dances fell into two main categories: “fancy” dances, such as minuets, allemandes, and hornpipes; and of course, there were “country” dances. Country dances were less formal dance routines than the formal minuet.
Subscription “dance assemblies” like the one advertised in 1797 would bring together Bahamians from other out islands as well for these evening dances. Tickets for subscription balls could be purchased from local businesses or the assembly’s manager. Once in dance, gentlemen would kindly request a dance of a lady or her chaperone. The chaperone would relay the request for a dance. Gentlemen, if they were rich enough and high society enough would produce his card and offer one to lady to keep.
Lower-class whites held their own informal dance parties where they often performed jigs and reels. These were more loosely structured dances and not in the same league as the formal minutes and allemandes.
BEGS Leave to acquaint her old Friends the Public of Nassau, that having happily recovered her Health, she has returned to Town, resumed her old Stand on the Bay, and humbly solicits the Patronage and Favour of her former Customers; to merit which will ever be the object of her most sedulous Attention and earnest Endeavour.
Nassau October 27, 1797
ELIZABETH SMITH returns her unfeigned and grateful Thanks to the Gentleman who have patronised her undertaking the Dance Assemblies for the Winter; and respectfully informs them, that the number of Subscribers being already Fifty-eight, the first Assembly will be held at the Public Long Room, on Thursday Evening, the 16th of November, and will be continued every other Thursday thereafter, while the Funds hold out.
Nassau October 31, 1797