Period Dancing at Gadsby's Tavern Museum

Step back in time and enjoy our historic hospitality through Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s period dance program! Prepare for the next ball with dance classes and spend a lively evening exercising your skills at a formal period ball. Whether you dance the night away or just tap your toes, recall Philip Fithian’s 1774 saying: “Virginians are of genuine Blood. They will dance or die!”

Page updated on Jan 3, 2017 at 4:04 PM

Dancing has been an important part of Virginia history for four centuries. The ballrooms of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum were built for large community functions. The first event held in the c. 1785 tavern’s large room was a ball on November 17, 1785.  Yet the most famous room is the 1792 City Tavern ballroom. This grand room was designed specifically to impress during “assemblies” and includes a unique hanging musician’s gallery.  

Historic Dance Program 

  • Balls: Throughout the year, period balls from various centuries occur in the historic City Tavern ballroom. A typical evening includes live music, a period inspired dessert collation, period libations, and dancing. Costumes are encouraged; after-five attire requested. Visit the Historic Alexandria Calendar for upcoming ball dates. 
  • Dance Classes: On the three Thursdays prior to each ball, a dance master provides dance instruction. Visit the Historic Alexandria Calendar for upcoming lesson dates.   
  • Alexandria Assembly: The Museum’s performance dance group, the Alexandria Assembly, meets most Tuesday nights for practice and instruction. Monthly donations are accepted. Prerequisite: dancers must have participated in a Thursday night dance class series.    


Playing the Past Ball Outreach Kit 

Recreating an 18th-century ball is a fun way to learn about 18th-century life!  This outreach kit walks a classroom or Girl Scout troop through all of the steps, from researching a character to making clothes to recipes, games, and dances for the big event.