Decorative Masks Not Only A Halloween Tradition


As Halloween approaches, Fred Astaire Dance Studios is taking a closer look at the long history of wearing decorative masks while dancing and to celebrate special occasions.


Halloween is a time when many Americans, especially children, put together elaborate costumes and formulate trick-or-treat plans to maximize their candy consumption. People string up orange lights, install fake tombstones in their front yard, and strategically position large skeletons to delight youngsters scouring the neighborhood in search of the home distributing full-size candy bars.


Costumes and masks are not reserved only for this spooky holiday. Throughout history, decorative masks were worn by various cultures as part of religious gatherings, funerals, and even fertility festivals, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Some cultures used masks during war. As far back as the Stone Age, people wore masks to connect with supernatural beings or ancestors. They crafted masks out of readily available resources, such as wood, feathers, metal, horns, and corn husks. While examples of African people wearing masks abound, masks are popular in many cultures, including among Native Americans. The individuals wearing masks typically stand out from the crowd at these events and perform elaborate, theatrical dances to emphasize their message or tell a story.


While decorative masks are not as common in present-day American culture, we can still find examples of people wearing masks to celebrate. Halloween, Carnival, and Mardi Gras are three examples of annual celebrations where donning a mask is still a priority.


Masquerade Balls Provide Aura of Mystery

Ballroom dancing has a long history of wearing masks with its tradition of masquerade balls. Masquerade balls are intriguing events where people attend in costume and wear a mask to hide their identity. They began in the 14th century as part of Europe’s celebration of Carnival, the festive season that occurs before Lent in Roman Catholic cultures. Masquerade balls were popular among Europe’s royalty and elite society. In the late 16th century, masquerade balls in Italy became all the rage. The anonymity of the events sparked scandals and debauchery, as well as a venue for people to express their opinions without fear of repercussions, according to Museum Facts, an online historical resource.


Fred Astaire Dance Studios locations regularly host masquerade balls where students can practice their dance moves. In addition to giving people a chance to showcase their skills in a real-world setting, masquerade balls are a great way to leave your worries at the door and have fun dancing.


Take a look at some of these clips of masked dancers in action.


Here is a clip from the Dogon tribe in Mali performing an elaborate dance wearing masks. Male dancers don the masks to mark various events, most commonly funeral celebrations.


Check out this news clip about Dennis Beckham, a fantasy mask designer in Shreveport, Louisiana, who specializes in creating masks for Mardi Gras.


Old world traditions collided with present-day entertainment when the students at King’s College in London hosted a masquerade ball on campus. While the college students did spend a lot of time raising their glasses, the event is a great example of how people still use masks on special occasions and celebrations.


Have Fun Learning to Dance at FADS

Put on your mask and celebrate the season at Fred Astaire Dance Studios. Our certified dance instructors can introduce you to ballroom dancing or help you brush up on your dance moves. We offer private and group lessons where we focus on teaching students a valuable skill while having fun. Contact your local Fred Astaire Dance Studios location to learn more about our introductory offers.