One of the Mr Blackwood proof readers queried both the appearance of the waltz and the use of dance cards in The Corporal’s Tale, which is set in the year of Waterloo. After further research I replied to her as follows:
You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve incorporated all your amendments – bar one. And that, of course, is the waltz. I thought you might be interested in my subsequent research on the subject. The waltz was the hit of the 1812 season in London, so much so that Byron – the hypocrite! – wrote that he feared it would rot the moral fabric of the nation. It’s harder to know what went on at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball [on the eve of Waterloo], however. I read an article by a scriptwriter of costume dramas, who claimed that they didn’t dance the waltz in Brussels, where it hadn’t yet caught on, and people only think they did because that’s what happens in Vanity Fair. On the other hand, another article by Harry Mount produced a whole list of ‘couple’ dances, the waltz among them, that that featured at the ball. The Mount article is more detailed (and therefore, I presume, more fully researched), so I decided to go with that (Well, I would, wouldn’t I? Captain O’ Hare wouldn’t have been Captain O’ Hare without the waltz.) Even without the Mount article my gut feeling would have been for the waltz, because in times of danger people get – how can I put it delicately? – overheated. The final days in the Bunker in 1945 were, I believe, very lively.
You were right about dance cards, so I removed them. The earliest reference to them comes from 1803, but they were rarities until couple dancing had firmly supplanted dancing in long sets, where pairings were largely determined by social rank. That didn’t really happen until the 1830s, after which time they were a must-have at every ball and minor hop.