Stage & Dance

Bluegrass dance groups mark holidays with costumes of Austen, Dickens characters

Deb Weyman and Michael French danced at a previous edition of Fezziwig's Ball.
Deb Weyman and Michael French danced at a previous edition of Fezziwig's Ball.

Imagine a ballroom filled with the swish of Regency period gowns as revelers form a mosaic of square, circle and longways patterns that spill throughout the room. Take a break from the merriment by sampling plum pudding. Meet new friends and mingle with old ones while listening to live acoustic music.

If this scene sounds like it is ripped from the pages of a19th-century book, it is.

This holiday season, as in recent years, several Central Kentucky groups aim to transport visitors to simpler times with historic-themed festivities inspired by authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

In less than a decade, two vintage dance balls have become annual traditions in Central Kentucky: Fezziwig's Ball, by Lexington Vintage Dance, and Ae Prideful Ball (Without Prejudice) by the Capital City Historical Dancers and Musicians in Frankfort.

Each of the vintage balls was inspired by classic literature. Fezziwig's Ball, now in its eighth year, is inspired by a scene from Scrooge's youth in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And Ae Prideful Ball (Without Prejudice) is inspired by the novels of Jane Austen.

"In 2010, I happened to hear some relatives and some young girls talking about Pride and Prejudice, the movie, and how much they loved the dancing," says Sylvia Coffey, a long-time dancer with Capital City Historical Dancers.

"I thought to myself, 'We do this every week,'" says Coffey, who, with her husband, Don Coffey, founded the Prideful Ball five years ago to highlight the English country dances that their troupe regularly practices.

Both of the vintage balls are set in the Regency period — the early 1800s — and attendees are encouraged but not required to dress in period clothing.

"If you have an outfit from the early 1800s, think Jane Austen or War of 1812, by all means wear it. It will be admired," says Danby Carter, president of Lexington Vintage Dance. "But if you don't, that's fine, because modern holiday wear is also welcome, and we hope that no one will stay away because they don't have a Jane Austen-type outfit.

"The outfits are fun and add to the historical feel. But it is the dancing and the good fellowship that is the primary goal of the evening."

Don Coffey, who also founded the Capital City Country Dance Orchestra and will direct the music at the Prideful Ball, says, "In this particular period, the dress is simple. It's the empire waist and a simpler form of clothing than, say, the Civil War period, where you have yards and yards of material and hoop skirts."

Like Vintage Dance, the Capital City group says people shouldn't avoid attending just because they don't have period clothing. Any formal clothes will work, but there are a few things to avoid.

"We do ask that people not wear jeans or short skirts," says Carter.

Another clothing item to avoid? High heels.

"Very low heels or flat slippers or shoes are best for these dances," says Carter.

Both events include an introductory lesson before each dance.

"Most of the dances are beginner-friendly so that even if you haven't done this kind of dancing before, you'll be walked through them so that you'll get a chance to practice before the dance begins in earnest," says Carter.

Merrell Fuson, one of the founders of Lexington Vintage Dance, says there is something about the holiday season that inspires folks to unplug from their electronic devices and seek more old-fashioned fun and socializing.

"It's much more satisfying than the present," Fuson says of history-themed events. "Everyone can dress up much more festively, and sing and play and dance to music that's not commonly done today, and Christmas gives people the opportunity to do that."