April 29th marks the second Jane Austen Regency Ball at the Toledo Club — the passion project of Austen enthusiast Alana Ellyn. For those who dream of stepping back in time, Regency Ball strives to faithfully recreate the years in which Austen’s novels are set. Austen wrote only six novels, and yet those novels are some of the most popular and enduring in English literature. In every decade her stories have been adapted for stage and screen by a new crop of artists eager to have their chance to bring her novels to life.
With the resurging popularity of romantic period dramas, a wave of Regency-mania has found its place in pop culture. What is the Regency period? The historical/political time frame is 1811-1820. It was dubbed the Regency period because George, Prince of Wales, governed the country as Regent when his father, King George, was incapacitated by mental illness. In 1820, he ascended the throne as King George the IV until his death in 1820. George’s Regency was marked as a great time of social and cultural development due to his patronage of new movements in art, technology, and science.
The Jane Austen Regency Ball was conceived by Alana Ellyn whose enthusiasm brought together like-minded history buffs and made last year’s first annual ball a reality. Says Ellyn, “I think I got my love of history when I got my first Felicity doll from American Girl. She’s earlier than the Regency era, but the dolls came with a book that gave you the history of the time the doll was from. That really kickstarted my fascination with historic fashion and social history.” Ellyn grew up reading Austen’s books which she notes have a timeless appeal. “People really resonate with this time period, so if you are going to get people interested in going to a historical ball, this is a period with a huge fan base.”
The biggest difference at this year’s ball is the addition of a dance class in the afternoon for those who want to learn English country dancing. Ellyn assures people that the dancing is easy because it’s about formations. “It’s more walking in a circle and walking around your partner. It’s very simple and we have a caller whose job is to call out instructions,” she says. Ellyn contacted dance companies that specialize in historic preservation of music and dance through teaching and performance. “The musicians were harder to find. I contacted anyone with a Jane Austen society from Virginia to Missouri before finding Susie Lorand, a fiddler/violinist from Ann Arbor, pianist Debbie Jackson, and violinist Josh Burdick who are affiliated with the English Country Dance Society.”
Attendees can dress in historical Regency era clothing or twenty-first century fancy dress. For those who love dressing in costume, the women’s fashions are simple and romantic. The emphasis here is on the high empire waist and bustline. Gowns are soft and relaxed as opposed to the wide hooped skirts and complicated undergarments found in other period costumes. Sites like Etsy have a plethora of Regency wear to purchase.
An evening at the Ball
Dinner starts at six o’clock at the Toledo Club — one of the most beautiful historical venues in the city. Attendees will be greeted by your host and two footmen in livery and powdered wigs who will seat you at a traditional long table. The dinner menu has been meticulously sourced by Ellyn from historic recipes and includes roast beef, whole salmon, potatoes, and orange savoy cake for dessert. After dinner guests will head downstairs for dancing with caller Tom Tumbusch helping lead the dance.There will also be a cash bar and traditional games of dice and whist (instructions provided) which is played with a standard deck of cards authentically recreated in nineteenth century design.
It’s details like these, so lovingly recreated, that make this a one-of-a-kind experience. “It’s the era that’s most associated with romance,” says Ellyn, “and it’s largely because of Jane Austen’s timeless books.” Who wouldn’t want to experience just a little of that romance in 2023?