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What Is a Ballroom?

By T. Broderick
Updated May 23, 2024
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A ballroom, sometimes known as a dance hall, is a large indoor room generally used for balls and other events that include dancing. Originally built only in the homes of wealthy Europeans, most ballrooms in the 21st century are located in public places such as hotels. Their large size and high ceilings are necessary to carry the sound of a live orchestra or other source of music. A ballroom can have many configurations depending on the event being held.

The first modern ballrooms appeared in Europe. These ballrooms, located in the homes of only the wealthiest individuals, were made from ornate materials such as carved marble and gold leaf. The forms of dancing that eventually became modern ballroom dancing evolved in these rooms starting in the 16th century. Like today, balls were held as social gatherings.

The ballroom followed European settlers to the Americas. Though initially less ornate than the grand European examples, these ballrooms were still only part of wealthy residences. After the founding of the United States, the ballroom became a fixture of Southern social life as the custom of a débutante ball was essential to the upbringing of young women in the upper class. In the years preceding the American Civil War, the extreme wealth of some Southern plantation owners allowed them to import the same materials used in Europe to build their ballrooms. Some of these examples are still in use today for débutante balls and other social events.

More commonly, though, modern ballrooms are found around the world in upscale hotels that cater to events such as proms, weddings and business conferences. The wide range of events that one can hold in a ballroom has made these rooms much more utilitarian than their historical counterparts. Though many ballrooms in the 21st century lack the ornate designs and materials of the past, the high ceilings, large size of the room and dedicated dancing space made from wood or stone are features that have remained consistent through time.

Depending on the event, a ballroom can have many configurations. In a débutante ball, for example, the majority of the room is a dedicated dancing area with an orchestra situated along one wall. For a prom or wedding reception, the room may be split into eating and dancing areas. Finally, for a business conference, a ballroom can become an auditorium with rows of chairs facing a single stage. Though live orchestras are still preferred for some events, most ballrooms have integrated sound systems that can play prerecorded music.

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