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HomeLifestyleSocial EventsA Blue Water Area Regency Ball

A Blue Water Area Regency Ball

Photos by Daniel “Keebler” McKay

Time travel and fantasy blended for one night in the City Flats Hotel’s ballroom in Port Huron, where people gathered for a Regency ball in homage to the Bridgerton novel and TV series. The St. Clair County Library System (SCCLS) hosted the free Feb. 23 event, which drew Bridgerton fans and historical enthusiasts alike.

SCCLS Senior Librarian for Adult Services Joe Turbok said that the seed of the idea for the ball was to thank patrons for supporting the library, especially for passing an increased millage a couple years ago in 2022. 

Historical romance is a popular genre among patrons, and many staff members are big Bridgerton fans. “It’s kind of in the popular consciousness,” Turbok said. Much of the show takes place in the Regency era, “so that gave us the excuse to kind of tie it into our desire to have a big event, a big party where you could dress up, be a little fancy. You know, spoil yourself.”

After introductions and hors d’oeuvres, the Regency ball’s entertainment began with waltz instruction from Port Huron’s Mainstreet Dance Connection. Guests assembled to learn a basic waltz box step — a six-step pattern that forms the foundation of the dance — and a few simple moves, such as turning a dance partner. Instructors AnnaLee and Dan Higgins said that in their 15 years of teaching everything from ballet to swing dance, the Feb. 23 event was the first of its kind they had done. 

Once the dance lessons ended, attendees could implement their own moves into the waltz to a series of instrumentals. Music for the night included string-arrangement versions of modern classics, like “Piano Man” by Elton John and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.

During the dances and throughout the night, guests could have their silhouette portraits taken, a pastime popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, or sip on mocktails and learn signals to make with the lacy hand fans provided as party favors. 

Along with the favors, the ball came complete with its own pocket folklore: a short guide to fan language, a welcome letter in the style of Bridgerton’s Lady Whistledown and “dance cards” offering icebreaker topics. Attendees also had a chance to win one of four Bridgerton-themed prizes in a raffle. 

The fictional Bridgerton series is set in the 1810s to the late 1820s, with the earlier part of the storyline occurring in an alternate history of the Regency era. The Regency, starting in 1811, comprises the nine years that George IV, then the Prince of Wales, governed England as regent until George III died. The period is notable for war with France, the Industrial Revolution, romantic ideals in the arts and a wide wealth gap between society’s upper and lower echelons.

Many people nowadays would recognize the period as the romanticized setting of several well known fiction works, like those by Jane Austen, who penned the much-beloved “Pride and Prejudice,” among others. People might also describe the iconic fashion of the era, marked by men’s high collars and tailed coats, and by women’s high-waisted gowns and Grecian-inspired updos. 

The SCCLS Regency ball’s organizers offered guests the opportunity to dress up in history-inspired costumes, and a majority did, while others donned a smattering of modern formal and fantasy attire. 

The resulting plethora of current and past fashions formed a tableau true to the Bridgerton spirit. Three-dimensional floral appliques sprinkled empire-waist silhouettes, floating organzas commingled with sequins, gilt braid adorned jewel-toned coats. Guests sported everything from traditional Native American garments to Renaissance stays — the predecessor to the more modern corset. 

Some guests found costumes online, or repurposed current fashions for a modern twist on historical fashion. Tracy Cedar, a member of the St. Clair County Genealogy and History Society (SCCGHS), said she found her Regency gown on Amazon and made some adjustments at home. The SCCGHS does put on educational reenactments and teachings in historical costumes, but the focus is usually on the American Civil War, so Cedar didn’t own a dress in the style of the early 1800s. 

Attendee Brie Garbin broke out a blue organza Selkie dress for the occasion, which she bought secondhand on Depop. Selkie is a brand popular in recent years among influencers on TikTok and Instagram, and many of its dresses have waistlines cut just beneath the bust, a feature that’s part of the cultural iconography of the Regency gown.

Others crafted their own garb, whether to seek a particular creative vision or to realize a specific historical image. 

Sam Gregory, who hails from Ann Arbor, stretched her sewing repertoire to make herself a Regency outfit for the event. Using thrifted linens, she sewed an empire-waist gown. She also made her accessories, upcycling a sunhat into bonnet and altering a secondhand blazer to make a short front-closing jacket, or spencer. 

“I made, like, a rectangle skirt a couple years ago,” Gregory said, “but this is, like, the first full garment I’ve ever made, the first time I sewed sleeves. So this was a really big accomplishment for me.”

Gregory appreciates historical dramas that pay attention to the details in costumes, and she says the 2020 “Emma” film adaptation in particular got them right. “Those costumes; they’re eye candy,” she said. 

However, her love for historical accuracy doesn’t keep her from appreciating works that take fictional liberties. 

“It doesn’t have to be accurate. It’s fun if it is, but also, if it isn’t, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not that time period anymore.”

Gregory is a huge fan of both Jane Austen’s novels and the Bridgerton novel series. When she discovered the latter via the Netflix show, she was hooked, reading all of the books in about two months. Although she’d visited comic cons and other cosplay events before, she’d never gone to a ball. Attending one themed after Bridgerton, she said, was “a dream come true.”

Not all guests came for the Bridgerton connection. For example, attendee Janna Millner said she was just looking for a ball. 

Millner is writing a novel with a historical setting, and she said she wanted to experience a ball for research purposes, so she looked up events in Michigan and found the St. Clair County Library’s upcoming soiree. She traveled from Tecumseh to attend, driving from two hours away for the three-hour event. 

The enthusiastic response was a pleasant surprise for the library, Turbok said. The originally issued 175 tickets “sold out” by Jan. 18, and the organizers ended up adding more. 

“I’m just very happy with the response. We’ve actually gotten a few people that called in and left some voicemails expressing how much fun they had,” Turbok said, adding that the library received a lot of positive feedback about the dancing, food and the event as a whole. “I’m just glad that everyone had a great time, and I hope we can have as good a party next year for our patrons.”

Now the library staff hopes to put on a literary-inspired ball annually. Themes up for consideration include “Alice in Wonderland” and “Phantom of the Opera.” To catch the next night of historical dancing, follow the library’s Facebook page, or keep an eye on their events at on their website.

In the spirit of merry anachronism, during the second half of the ball, the DJ unleashed a full suite of modern dance favorites, including pop classics such as Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and popular line dances. Anyone who’s never seen a flock of people in clothing from a mashup of historical eras perform “Cotton Eye Joe” is missing out. 

For anyone interested in cultivating a similar experience this year, but who didn’t make the SCCLS Regency Ball, there are some upcoming events within the state. 

Event: English Country Dancing in Kalamazoo!

Hosted By: Jane Austen Society of North America, Western Michigan Chapter

Where: 3234 N 3rd St, Kalamazoo, MI 49009-7593

When: Wednesday, April 17 | 6 p.m.

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