Going Solo to the Summer Soiree

Going Solo to the Summer Soiree

I wasn't going to let my lack of a dance partner (or partner-in-crime) stop me from attending a mid-Victorian ball. Mr. BDV and Sarah were both unavailable, so I decided to go solo. I booked a room and bought a ticket to the Summer Soiree in Newberry, South Carolina, a tiny little town 3 hours' drive from Atlanta.

I'll admit I was a bit nervous. Would the other attendees be friendly? I feared sitting alone and awkward all evening, my Yankee showing like an errant petticoat peeking from my hem. 

No need. It was wonderful! Organized by Holly Sheen of Southern Victorian Events, the ball was held in the beautiful hall of the town's visitor center:

I'd arrived too early to check in at the hotel and with over an hour before the pre-ball dance lessons began. So I took a stroll. I passed the Newberry Opera House, where the weekend farmer's market held in the square out front had just wrapped up:

Newberry Opera House

I worked my way up Main Street, stopping in nearly every open shop and peeking in all the windows.

View up Main Street, Newberry, South Carolina

In Newberry's downtown you can still buy clothes and office supplies, visit the dentist, have a cup of coffee and a sandwich, see a show, or get your hair cut (or styled for that upcoming pageant): 

Salon offering pageant hair and makeup

There's a community theater, a gym, a cigar bar, and several antiques stores. In one, specializing in ornately carved wooden furniture, I picked up a brochure about the Wells Japanese Garden. The proprietor told me it was just a short walk away and always open.

The next 2 hours were spent learning new dances and brushing up on ones I'd done before. The teacher/caller Raquelle Sheen was first-rate, and easily had absolute beginners and young kids doing fairly complex English country dances. I was happy to do (and hear) the lovely Duke of Kent's Waltz again.

After checking into the hotel and changing my blister-inducing shoes, I headed back out to find the Japanese garden. Given the extreme heat and not wanting to be exhausted for the ball, I drove the short distance to the entrance. The pocket park is an unexpected, beautifully maintained oasis in a town that hardly needs one. Such a pleasant surprise:

Wells Japanese Garden, Newberry, SC

It was time to get ready. First up was the hair, as it's nearly impossible to do once dressed. I tried a new style. Top braids, four back braids. A central bun. I suspect the placement of the bun makes it a bit more Regency than mid-Victorian. Here it is before adding the last few bobby pins and the decorative comb:

Hair before ball

Next came makeup, which to be period-correct must look invisible -- no bright colors, no glitter or shimmer, no liner or obvious mascara. Natural brows and only neutral colors. I add a touch of pink to lips and cheeks to brighten my sallow complexion. They'd have done the same.

It was already drizzling, extremely hot and humid, and I had no one to help me get dressed. I can't get into the green silk bodice on my own. Lacking a lady's maid, I had no choice but to wear the plaid cotton.

You get dressed in this order:
Stockings and shoes, split drawers, chemise, corset, under petticoat (not a necessity, but nice for extra modesty, just in case), hoop, over petticoat (I went without one this time), dress consisting of separate skirt and bodice, jewelry, hair ornament, reticule, fan, and gloves. Done!

Here's how I looked:

Liza on the balcony at the Summer Soiree Ball 2016

Here's how the ballroom looked: 

Summer Soiree Ball Attendees

Attendees were elementary school kids to senior citizens, wearing outfits that spanned modern formal to 1980s-polyester-prom-dress to magnificently hand-sewn period-correct masterpiece.

Everyone was made welcome and, unlike my experience at some Atlanta-area events, there wasn't a hint of cliquish snobbery. Lovely decorations, delicious snacks and cold drinks, and the best part ... 

The live music. Here's a somewhat fuzzy image of the excellent band:

live musicians at ball

I made several new friends I look forward to seeing at the Olde South Ball in Spartanburg, SC, on Aug. 27, 2016. Mr. BDV will be with me for that event, which is bigger and includes a sit-down dinner. If you're in the Southeastern United States, you should consider attending. It's good, clean fun.

Summer Soiree Group Shot 2016

After the ball, lounging around the hotel room eating pretzels in my antique chemise:

in antique chemise

 For additional images from the trip, check out BDV on Instagram.


Liza Dolensky

Excellent article! I liked hearing about your adventures.

Liza Dolensky

Looks like a really fun event! It’s always great when people are open minded and welcoming, it really makes the atmosphere feel so much more relaxed. Glad you had fun! :)

Liza Dolensky

I just found your blog! So happy you came to the Soiree, here in Newberry! We love our little town. And please let me know anything you’d like us to do for next year’s Soiree. See you Saturday at the Olde South Ball! Cordially, Rose Marie

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