Ochre Court 1860s Ball 2011 (Newport Vintage Dance Week)

Quinn, taking a short break from dancing at Ochre Court

Well, I am exceptionally delayed in posting about this event (it was in August), but I was inspired today to remember how fabulous this was and to reminisce… So here we are! I was able to wear Annabelle, my latest 1860s dress to this event. You can read more about this dress by clicking on this link. I have to say, I did receive one comment that I looked “like Scarlett O’Hara.” Whee! That is really a dream come true for me… you know she does wear a white flounced gown in the movie… I intentionally did not make a gown just like hers (for one thing, mine does not have red trim).

The mid-18th century ball at Ochre Court was just one event hosted by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers during Newport Vintage Dance Week 2011 in Newport, Rhode Island. And yes, that is the Newport of fabulous historic mansions! (Newport Vintage Dance week was included in the New York Times’ Evening Hours by Bill Cunningham on August 21, 2011. Click on this link to see Mr. Cunningham’s wonderful pictures of various Newport Vintage Dance Week events!)

Aside from repeating (many, many, many times) how absolutely fabulous this event was, I don’t have a whole lot of commentary. Thus, my commentary will be confined to captions, so that way I can include a lot of pictures! Yay! I hope that you are able to look at these and be transported to this historic mansion full of hoop-skirted ladies, distinguished gentlemen, and elegant music.

This photo comes courtesy of my friend, Carly. This is the main ballroom at Ochre Court.
Front stairs at Ochre Court.
Ascending the red carpeted stairs to the upper levels.
Ochre Court main ballroom upper levels and ceiling... Beautiful!!!
Looking down on the main ballroom at Ochre Court.
Oh look! There I am, watching the dancers below!
Look! There's someone taking pictures! (Look at the fabulous detail around me!)
Ah, now you can really appreciate the intricate detail!
Time to descend the stairs and dance!
And here are Terri and Carly, also descending the stairs!
Dancers at Ochre Court.
More dancers at Ochre Court.
Dancers in the dining room at Ochre Court.
Strike a pose by one of the enormous fireplaces!
Carly in front of the fireplace.
Taking a breather in the library at Ochre Court.
Would you care to dance? Ochre Court main ballroom.
One more scene at Ochre Court.
Saying good bye to Ochre Court at the end of a fairytale night.
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“Belle” of the ball (Fezziwig’s Ball 2010)

My first large sewing project for myself was, fittingly, an 1860s gown nick-named “Belle.” (This is the full story of Belle.) Owning a gown like this was a childhood fantasy for me, ever since my first days of loving Gone With The Wind. I finished construction of this gown about four years ago and since then I’ve lovingly stored it and its accompanying undergarments and hoops in my closet, alongside all my modern clothes.

I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to wear Belle for the last four years, not only to give a purpose to the dress I so lovingly created, but also to see how it feels to wear it for a hours at a time. I just recently attended an event called Fezziwig’s Ball, which was presented by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers in Salem, Massachusetts. I was able to sing Christmas carols, dance, and have a real experience wearing Belle–and I was in the company of others who not only appreciated my hard work, but who had also worked hard to create and wear their own 1860s dresses!

I learned a vast amount of small details about the practicalities (or hindrances) of wearing 1860s clothing. For example, I understand now why vintage dances from this period turn constantly in the same direction: because your hoops gain so much momentum that they can only sustain fast, continuous movement in one direction, not changing directions. That particular sensation was just not as clear when I was practicing dancing in modern pants or knee length skirts. Also, I have  much clearer idea of why women would faint so often. Imagine dancing fast for four minutes in modern clothes, but then imagine doing the same amount of movement while laced into a corset! I felt faint after four minutes of fast dancing, and my corset wasn’t laced nearly as tightly as ladies would have been laced in the 1860s.

I had so much fun learning first hand and am quite sure I have more lessons in store for me in the future! I’m eagerly awaiting the next 1860s themed ball to be presented in March 2011 by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, the Returning Heroes Ball, a specifically 1860s Grand Ball.

My favorite period-the 1860s

Hoop skirts and crinolines make me so excited I get the wiggles. I was in ninth grade the first time I read Gone With The Wind. Scarlett O’Hara, while being a debatably lovable character in my mind, has inspired my absolute love of the 1860s, crinolines, hoops, and costume history ever since that first time I read the book. It only took once.

Years later, I am fascinated by costume, material, and social history. I get excited about the entire 19th century–but the only period that really gives me the wiggles remains the 1860s. There’s just something about women resembling giant moving cupcakes that is fascinating and inspiring.

There is something very dreamy about imagining the world these huge constructions moved through. The world had to adapt to these gowns: chairs for ladies had no arms and doors were wider to accommodate their skirts. Can you imagine wearing clothing five feet across? That’s two feet too wide to fit through a modern door! How does a person cope with that all day every day? Sometimes I can envision it and sometimes it just seems impossible. But these questions just remind me that THIS is why the 1860s are particularly fascinating to me.

Gone With The Wind is definitely a controversial story. I found this report to be an interesting and factual discussion of its merits and faults. It clearly states why it is such a classic story and how it glosses over reality. This blog also has an interesting post about Gone With The Wind, discussing if it is a “great American novel.”

As a side note, I love both the book and movie versions of Gone With The Wind. While both are moving, sweeping epics, the book has much more depth and character exploration than the movie. Thus, I encourage you to read Gone With The Wind for yourself and to be inspired by history and by skirts with a circumference of 124″!