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A curtsey can be defined as being a traditional gesture of greeting, in which the woman bends her knees whilst bowing her head. In essence, the female equivalent of male bowing in Western cultures. In sixteenth and seventeenth century France the curtsey was used as a basic movement of female reverence, and developed a number of variations during it's use which indicated the level of reverence shown to those of senior social rank (it's flamboyance only restricted by the amount of movement the current fashion in costume allowed.)
In it's most basic form the lady slid back on the instep of the right foot pressing the instep to the ground, behind and slightly to the left of the left leg. The instep of the sliding foot took the weight and the lady gradually sank down sitting on the bent right leg (arms falling to the side with the head lowered.) The lady then rose with her weight on the left foot since this foot did not move during the entire sequence of the curtsey.
A more formal variant of this more traditional curtsey involved the woman bending the knees outwards rather than straight forward (often sweeping one foot behind her whilst holding her skirt out from the body to show still greater deference.)
On entering a room the curtsey en avant was used and on leaving the curtsey en arrière was more appropriate. A compliment in conversation might also be acknowledged with a curtsey en arrière.
In walking, however, the curtsey en passant was made since this curtsey can be repeated to many different individuals in a group or receiving line.
In England, according to Victorian dance etiquette, a woman curtsied before beginning a dance (and it is common still for female dancers to curtsey at the end of a performance to show gratitude and acknowledgement of applause from the audience.) Throughout the nineteenth century some female domestic workers also retained the curtsey for use in front of their employers. But, generally, it seems the curtsey was retained only as a show of deference to adults by young girls and by adult women towards members of the Royal family.
In recent years even this tradition has diminished. In 2003, at the request of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Female tennis players were no longer required to curtsey to the Royal family when walking onto or leaving Centre Court (although they are still required to do so if Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Charles is in the box.)
Emily Post, in 1922, was still writing of "little girls" curtseying in
deference to visitors at afternoon tea and of adult ladies curtseying
deeply as they are received at Court by the Queen.
(This article incorporates text from the Curtsey article in Wikipedia.)
This article is published under the terms of the GFDL. The contributors to this article were: Tanos
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