London News & Search
If you think getting dressed for a night out is a hassle, consider this: In 1867, the year of Canada’s birth, it would have taken a lady about an hour and a half just to get her dress on before attending a ball. And doing so would have been a two-person job.
“The gown, because it’s a reproduction, there’s no zippers or hooks, so it has to be laced,” said dance mistress Cathy Stephens, which means the family maid would have been enlisted to help out in dress-up sessions for Confederation-era Canadians.
Stephens will be putting on her best corset, petticoat, crinoline and hoop skirt for a special Canada 150 event taking place at Fanshawe Pioneer Village’s Spriet building this weekend, which includes a Saturday night ball with dancing.
It’s the only event of its kind in our dominion, Stephens, 70, proudly boasts.
“No one else is giving a Confederation Ball,” she said.
And who should consider going?
“People who are interested in history. People who are interested in their heritage. People who are sociable and like to dance,” she said.
In other words, everyone.
“We get older people, we get kids,” Stephens said of the attendees.
And no, you don’t need any previous dancing experience.
If you can walk and count to four, you’re equipped. You also aren’t required to dress in authentic 1860s gear, as Stephens does, although no doubt it helps to put dancers in the right frame of mind.
“Anybody can do this,” Stephens said.
The moves are part of a pastime that has died out, for the most part.
“It’s gotten a bad rep. People really don’t understand what historical social dance is,” she said.
According to Stephens, social dancing was a large part of how people related to one another at the time.
“Everyone spent a lot of time dancing. That’s how you got to see each other,” she said.
But with the rise of television and other modern technologies, the practice faded from view.
“People started to pull apart,” Stephens noted. “People just stopped being as sociable.”
By the 1960s and 70s, it was all-but extinct.
“The weekend includes dance workshops, dinner, ball, family dance and a strawberry social,” organizers explained in a statement.
Five years of research and planning went into making the Confederation Ball a reality.
“It will provide a unique opportunity for Londoners to experience first-hand an elegant evening of music and dancing, just like Canadians danced during the Confederation era. Since these dances were fun to do and easy to learn, this is an entertaining way for Canadians to learn about their history and to be actively involved in preserving Canadian culture.”
Stephens will be a prompter, helping call out dance moves to the participants.
And yes, you will get a dance card, or program, to fill in the names of your partners for each number.
Ladies wore them on their wrists, while gentlemen would stow the cards in a pocket.
Authentic period music will be supplied by the Cottonwood Brass Band.
The leader of the band, Dave Pearson, in conjunction with former Western University music prof Henry Meredith and Stephens, has collected songs for the occasion.
“So it could be anything from pompous-sounding to light and happy,” Stephens said of the classical music that will be featured.
Stephens is an expert on dance from the 1790s to the 1960s. How did she come to be so well-versed in the dance moves to which historical Canadians were so attached?
“I loved dancing all my life. And I loved history,” said the mother of four and grandmother of eight who started teaching dance 33 years ago.
“The thrill for me is seeing young people discover this stuff.”
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IF YOU GO
What: Confederation Ball
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Fanshawe Pioneer Village Spriet building
Fanshawe Frolic tickets: For the weekend are $50 a person (plus booking fee and HST).
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10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Canadian favourites: Learn the simple steps and figures for the set dances that were popular in Canada during the Confederation period.
2-3:30 p.m.: Late Victorian-era couple dances. Practice basic steps for 19th century waltz, polka and schottische.
6-7 p.m.: Country supper
12:30-2:30 p.m.: Family Frolic (More heritage dancing and period fun for whole family.)
2:30-3 p.m.: Strawberry social
London News & Search