Cool Stuff Series

Cool Stuff Series: English Country Dance

For those of you who loved the ball scenes in Pride and Prejudice and long for a way to join that world, you can (sort of).  On one hand, there is less in the way of fancy dresses and elegant men in period costume.  On the other hand, you don’t have to have expensive clothes and be landed gentry to join in the fun.

On (almost) every Friday night, there is an English country dance at the Burlingame Water Tower Dance Hall (8936 SW 17th, Portland).  The music is live and appropriate to period.  Dress is pretty much whatever you are comfortable with. . .you will see everything from dressy-dresses to tie-dye T-shirts and jeans.  (On the occasions that I went, I usually wore skirts because I like the way they twirl when I turn).  The only real requirement is inside dance shoes.  (Which can be any comfortable shoe that has never been worn outside.  I wear the same Capezio dance sneakers that I bought for Irish ceili dancing, but a friend just bought a cheap pair of China flats.)

Beginners are welcome, no partner is needed.  Each dance starts with the caller walking the dancers through it and explaining the dance.  I found that my background in Irish ceili dancing helped me get quickly up to speed, although I had to forget everything I ever knew about expecting symmetry in dance and sometimes had to mentally ‘translate’.  (Because a back-to-back in ECD is very much *not* the same figure as a ceili back-to-back).

If you’ve never done any similar style of social dance (or even if you have), it might me a good idea to familiarize yourself with the terms before you go.

If you write in the regency period, or if you are simply a history geek like me, this is a great experience.  Not only do you see and learn the dances, but you start to get the idea of how personalities come out in individual dance styles withing a highly structured dance, and how much flirtation can be carried in simple eye contact within the decorous bounds of the dance floor.

Also please note that this coming Friday (3/6) is a special fancy-dress ceili, with dancers asked to come in their favorite period Western costumes (You can be a sheriff,  a dance-hall girl, a school marm, or ???  Steampunk friends, this is your dance!)

Official link with details, contact info here.

Between publishing commitments and a knee injury, I’ve been absent lately, but I hope to start up again soon.  Maybe someday I’ll see you there!

 

Cool Stuff Series: Pittock Mansion

Since its centennial year coming to a close, I figured I’d give a shout-out to Portland’s Big House on a Hill. I’m referring, of course, to Pittock Mansion.

You can’t get much more Portland than the Pittock Mansion. Paid for with profits from The Oregonian newspaper, built by Oregon craftsmen out of Northwest-sourced materials. Its original owners, Henry and Georgiana Pittock, were pillars of the community, active in charity work and in the early years of the Rose Festival.

Members of the Pittock family occupied the iconic French-influenced chateau with its brick-red roof through the late 1950’s. Then this gorgeous historic building fell into peril. The owner at the time had put it up for sale and didn’t want to pay for expensive repairs necessitated by storm damage. Developers with no interest in either history of craftsmanship eyed the valuable land it stood on. For a while, it looked like this beloved edifice would be torn down.

But with true Northwest spirit, Portlanders rallied with fundraisers, and the City of Portland, driven by public outcry over the threatened destruction of this landmark, purchased the house, repaired it, and opened it for public tours.

The Pittock Mansion truly belongs now to the people of Portland.

If you want to visit, drive up Burnside toward the Skyline District and follow the signs. You can park there and walk around the surrounding woods and gardens for free. (For best results, go on a sunny day and pack a picnic lunch that you can eat while enjoying the spectacular views from the lawn.)

I highly recommend forking over the $10.50 for the self-guided tour, especially if you love well-crafted old houses and/or are working on a steampunk novel and need some inspiration. (Yes, it’s a bit late-period for steampunk, but the overall feel and many of the details are the same.) The grand staircase is heart-stopping, the moldings on the ceilings are works of art. And then there’s The Bathtub. It’s a steampunk dream, or maybe something out of Hogwarts. Faucets not only for hot and cold running water, but also for a selection of liquid soap. It actually inspired a scene in that steampunk Victorian detective novel I’m still shopping around, a scene I’ve mentally subtitled Inspector Royston Jones v. The Tub.

I could go on about the chandeliers, the period furnishings, but really. Just go see it. (And, OK, I find conspicuous consumption more palatable in a historic setting. I don’t pretend to defend the logic of this position.)

Of course, no self-respecting historic house is complete without its ghosts. Rumor has it that visitors have sensed and heard, perhaps even seen Georgiana and Henry. If they happen to be about, don’t worry. They’re just being good hosts and making sure that you are enjoying their lovely home.