Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fezziwig's Ball

All gussied up
(photo by Bryan Krauthamer)

In the last several years, I have gone to the Cotillion at the Scout House.  This year we decided to try Fezziwig's Ball up in Salem, MA.  The fliers made it sound similar to the Cotillion: a fancy-dress dance, featuring period costumes and dances.  But there were several things that ended up making it a different experience than what I had expected.

First, there a lot of children and young people.  Much more than at the Cotillions I've attended. It seemed that were more people in costume, too; I was constantly brushing up against one hoop skirt or another during the waltzes. I met several people who said this was their first time, and had no dance experience.  I think the mix of young people, costumes and anticipation helped create the festiveness of the evening.

The dance started with a Grand March, which was very long and involved going up and down the stairs more than once.  This was a bit nerve wracking since I had a very long dress and was wearing heeled shoes (which I do all of 2-4 times a year). I was so relieved not to have stepped on anyone's gown. 

Through the evening they did a mix of couple dances and called line dances.  The woman calling the dances was difficult to hear in the crowded hall.  In addition, the dances were taught without any references to contra or English dance figures.  This was frustrating.  I couldn't understand what she was asking us to do any better than the uninitiated beginner.  Once we successfully did the move, it was fairly obvious what she had called.  Even not knowing the dance, I feel I could have picked up on the root movements quicker and easier had they been in terms I recognized.  However, not understanding her instructions left us unable to assist anyone.   I guess it leveled the playing field?  We were all equally lost.

Grand March
(photo by Bryan Krauthamer)

But it was neat to learn some new old-style dances.  The Cotillion does the same set every year.  I really enjoyed the reels.  Everyone was laughing when we did Gothic Arches.  We all got pretty silly.  You can get a feel for the general controlled chaos from the polka:


All of the dancing was much like this:  full of smiles and people having fun.

I didn't switch dance partners like I do at the Cotillion.  Dance names and order were not posted, so I felt safer sticking with Rob than to venture out and dance with others.  Which was fine!  It was a rare treat to dance the evening away with just one person.  I think many people stuck with whomever they came with for the dances. 

There was a decent amount of down time between dances.  Fezziwig's Ball was as much a social function as a dance.  With the beautiful hall and everyone dressed up as they were, it was easy to imagine what a dance would be like over a century ago.

The food at the break was delicious.  The treats appeared to be from period recipes, too.  There were mini mincemeat pies and ham and cheese.  There were gingerbread and sugar cookies, all stamped.  I don't want to think of the time it took to prepare all those!  Of course there was plum pudding and a variety of other sweets.  It would have been perfect if there had been 21st century hand cleaner available at the tables -- I doubt anyone took the time to wash their hands before heading for the food.

So the Cotillion and the Fezziwig Ball turned out to be similar yet distinct events.  They each have pros and cons.  For me?  I had a delightful time.  We both enjoyed the festive atmosphere and the dances and the people.  Even though it was a long drive up there and back, I expect we will be returning to Fezziwig's Ball in the future.


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