A clockwork hoedown

The Steampunk Historical Dance
By SHAULA CLARK  |  January 27, 2009

An attendee at the Steampunk Historical Dance

By the time I arrive at the Steampunk Historical Dance, I've been at sci-fi convention Arisia for nearly 12 hours. I've already cradled a preserved amputated human hand at Professor Badger's Museum of Curiosities, watched a documentary on weasel-flatulence-powered cars, and eaten lunch next to a Jedi knight. So I'm shocked to discover that, for me, the dance turns out to be the most baffling event of the evening.

Check out the Arisia slideshow. 

I have, of course, come to the Hyatt Regency ballroom expecting a cosplay spectacle soaked in those retro-futuristic Victorian flourishes that are the hallmarks of steampunk — and I am not disappointed. The dance floor is awash in tiny hats (this year's must-have steampunk accessory), gear-ornamented goggles, brass spectacles, vests, and poofy-sleeved gowns. The bowler- and top-hatted live musicians are just as creatively anachronistic: they play electric fiddles, drums festooned with watch innards, and accordions on a stage strewn with phonograph horns.

But what I hadn't expected was the rigorous Victorian and Edwardian period dance steps on display. As I watch the dancers change partners, promenade in graceful little squares, and form an undulating London Bridge–style tunnel during their waltzes and quadrilles, I scramble to take some ineffectual notes ("looks like hopping and skipping"). Steeped as I am in the individualistic, don't-touch-me-I'm-twirling moves customary to goth clubs, I find this kind of choreographed cooperative dancing mind-blowing.

Crammed in with the steampunks are folks hailing from nearly every conceivable fandom. A man in Renaissance garb shuffles across the dance floor with a corseted woman in a fedora; a zombie corpse maiden waltzes with a military officer. They jostle up against a fellow clad in chain-mail armor and leather pants, a red-tutu-wearing lady in a wolf mask, and a guy in a Bauhaus T-shirt.

Eventually the fez-clad Professor Badger wanders in with a girl wearing a fetching blue corset. Between swigs from her silver flask, she announces, "Maybe next year, I'll wear my Speedo and a tiny hat!"

But once the clock strikes the magic witching hour of 11, steampunk time is over — we're being kicked out to make room for the Buffy sing-along.

Related: Photos: Arisia 2010, Photos: Arisia 2011, Slideshow: Marcel Breuer at RISD, More more >
  Topics: Live Reviews , Cultural Institutions and Parks, Museums, Steampunk,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious

 See all articles by: SHAULA CLARK