It was her 33rd birthday and she was standing in a hotel room at the beautiful Fairmount Palliser in Calgary. She is blindfolded. Her husband is helping her into a dress.“I knew we were going somewhere, which needed a dress. My husband had me try on quite a few and he chose something for me to wear. He even bought gloves. He organized everything,” Shannon Danbom remembers wistfully. She was intrigued. Her husband had planned a surprise trip to somewhere from San Francisco. At the airport he took her to the several gates to deliberately confuse her until they finally boarded a flight to Calgary.
Mark Danbom came up with the idea for his wife’s surprise by accident. “I heard the woman who runs a Pride and Prejudice Ball on a podcast. She was talking about an event she is part of, Dungeons and Dragons in a castle, and she was also talking about the ball. My wife is a huge fan of Jane Austen and I went on the Regency Encounters website. So I planned to bring my wife to Canada for this.”
The woman Mark heard on the radio was Melanie Kerr, a self-professed literary nerd, who is known to travel to England for similar events. She was determined to bring one to Canada. “It was an experiment, a trial, a challenge. It took off. It was supposed to be a one off, ” Melanie laughs. “So many people came! It was sold out and then we had a waiting list and then we had to do it again and again. Then people in Calgary asked me why don’t you come to Calgary? And we did.” The Fairmount Palliser in Calgary serves as the perfect setting for costume drama enthusiasts. The ball transforms you to the Regency era. Everyone is in costume. Men look dapper complete with top hats and military jackets.The women go all out in empire waist, ball length gowns and accessories such as pretty gloves, tiaras and fans. Upon arrival guests are announced in true regency fashion as the MC bellows,“The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh!” The immediate response is giggles as the costume drama kicks into high gear. The guests then prance and promenade around the ballroom.
The most memorable part of the evening is the dancing. Grady O’Brien says nothing compares. “I am personally totally into the costumes. I came just for the fun of dressing up. But the dancing is totally the reason to come even though you don’t know how to dance, it is a blast.” And because it’s so popular, Melanie Kerr focuses on the dancing where lessons beforehand prepare you for the ultimate experience.
“I feel that’s the magic of our event. People really dance and they do it together. It breaks down barriers and you become an instant community. It’s a place where we force you to put your phone down and people then look around and interact. You are in the moment and present,” says Melanie with a glint in her eye.
Guests seem to agree. Lana Lawrence came with her friends. “It’s fun to get dressed up. We never have an excuse to get dressed up and go out and do something different and out of the box.” Her friend, Sarah Kebol adds they made new connections. “We were at a table for dinner with 9 people we have never met before and we just chatted the entire time.”
At the end of the ball, guests left with tired feet and a new sense of community. It was an unforgettable evening especially for one guest. Shannon says the pressure is on for her husband’s next birthday. She’s not quite sure how she will top this experience for his next birthday. Perhaps, she ought to look at taking her husband to another Regency Encounters event: Dungeons and Dragons in a castle.