By KJ Adler
Dressed in a red hoopskirt gown lined with black lace and matching gloves, Jess Bellah hurried to the ball almost an hour late. She quietly slipped into the venue where the other partygoers were well into performing the last dance of the first set, the Virginia Reel.
Bellah, a junior at the University of Mary Washington, attended her first Victorian Ball hosted by the Historic Preservation Club this past Saturday, Jan. 26. The dance has been held annually by the club since 1999.
Bellah was convinced to attend the function after a friend told her how much fun it was.
“This is a unique opportunity to put on a hoop skirt and have that be perfectly normal,” Bellah said. “Why not do it?”
The ball was held from 7 to 11 p.m. in the Great Hall. The theme of the evening was Masquerades. Over 70 tickets were sold for the occasion.
Sophomore Katie Hummelt organized the dance. This was her third year participating in the event.
“To make the experience authentic, we hire dance callers to teach and lead us in some of the traditional dances of the 19th century,” Hummelt said. “[We have] costumes, music, and ladies dance cards. Everyone really seems to enjoy themselves.”
The Victorian era occurred roughly between 1830 and ended towards the beginning of the 20th century. Major historic events that influenced the period include the American Civil War, the publishing of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, and the opening of the first World’s Fair.
Kate Egner, a senior at UMW, helped Hummelt organize the event. Egner appreciated the fact that the event was held in a city known for its Victorian history.
“Fredericksburg has a rich Civil War-era history that we recognize by encouraging participants to dress in period-style clothing and spend the evening enjoying period music and dancing styles,” Egner said.
Egner is proud that the dance is an enduring part of UMW’s history.
“The Victorian Ball is a long-standing tradition with the Historic Preservation Club,” Egner said.
With the assistance of professional dance callers LuAnn and David Swonger, many participants practiced the traditional dance moves earlier that day starting at 10 a.m. in Goolrick Hall’s auxiliary gym.
The Swongers have been attending events such as the Victorian Ball for ten years and have been involved with the UMW dance for four years.
The 19th century American folk band, Gilmore’s Light Ensemble, has also performed at the Ball for four years.
Egner encourages outside participation at the dance.
“Many Historic Preservation club members and majors participate in this event at multiple capacities,” Egner says. “People from outside of the college are always welcome, and it’s great to see the community participate. I’ve met alumni of the college who come to the Victorian Ball every year as part of their own personal traditions.”
Bellah noticed how different the dance was from modern ones she has attended.
“Unlike most dances you go to today, this one had live music and everyone in the room learned real Victorian dances,” Bellah said.
Bellah also enjoyed mingling with people she didn’t know.
“Everyone who attended was able to interact with the whole crowd and meet new people while tripping on each other’s skirts.”
As the evening came to a close, the dancers enjoyed popular period foods like quiche and other refreshments before leaving the ball.
Bellah does not regret attending the dance.
“Who doesn’t want to have a Scarlett O’Hara kind of moment at some point in their lives?” Bellah said.