School and church dances were a big part of my dad’s high school years, and he and his peers used dance cards to plan those evenings. A dance card was a booklet with a decorative cover and included on the inside pages dance titles, sponsoring organization, chaperones, and a list of those with whom the lady intended to dance. Dance cards were used mainly at formal dances in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but continued in some high school settings until the early 1950s when Rock and Roll led to much more informal dances.
V. Persis Dewey’s 1918 pamphlet “Tips to Dancers: Good Manners for Ballroom and Dance Hall” explains proper etiquette for dance cards.
“The programs are distributed at the door, in the cloak room, or during a grand march. It is the duty of the man to make out the programs for the lady whom he has escorted to the dance and for himself. It is best to make out the programs all at once and as early in the evening as possible.
“In filling out a program, the man should write his name on the first line of his lady’s program, and her name on his. To indicate their dances, a double cross xx should be used.
“At a program dance where the men and women come separately, each one keeps his or her own program. When the man invites a lady to dance he writes his name on her program after the number they decide to dance together.”
I’m not sure if this card was Dad’s or his date’s, but it appears that the rules for dance cards had relaxed a bit since 1918.
More recently the expression “dance card” has been used figuratively, as when someone says, “pencil me in to your dance card,” or “my dance card is full” indicating interest or lack thereof in pursuing a relationship.