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Ladies and Genteel-men


Dance cards dangling from dainty wrists, the ladies flirted from behind their fans with gentlemen in spats, cravats and cutaways.

Tonight, every woman could be a demure romance novel heroine, every man a dashing swain.

They waltzed to "The Blue Danube" and bowed and curtsied through a quadrille. To "Yellow Rose of Texas," they rollicked through a Virginia Reel.

Come Monday, it would be back to the future. In their dress-for-success clothes, they'd return to their 9-to-5s.

But this was Saturday and the Social Daunce Irregulars, whose sole raison d'etre is to preserve the music, dance and customs of the Victorian Era, were having their thrice-yearly Grande Ball.

Here, "The men treat the women with respect and the women treat the men with respect, which is something you don't get out on the street anymore," said Gail Selinger of Van Nuys, an office temp and regular Irregular.

Prompting the dances was silver-haired dance master Professor Desmond. Just Desmond. "It's like Mickey Mouse. You don't know what his last name is," Desmond said. The prof, who lives in a Civil War-era house in Golina, Ill., is a dance historian who taught a "terrified" Matthew Broderick to waltz in "Glory."

The man in the red tartan kilt was Jason Evans, 23, a Pasadena graduate student. The kilt, he explained, "was the rage of Great Britain" in the mid-1860s. "Queen Victoria loved her Highlands." His wasn't off the rack at Harrods. He made it and "there's not a machine stitch in it."

The Irregulars take their Victoriana seriously. As Carolyn Kinkead of Pasadena, an MTA marketing secretary, said: "You know you're in trouble when you look in your closet Monday morning and there are five ball gowns hanging there but you don't have anything to wear to work."

Kinkead wore her gold velvet and brocade copy of a design by Charles Worth, an Englishman who was the father of haute couture . Her escort, Fred Louaillier, was less authentic. His striped pants were the ones he'd worn to wed his ex-wife; his cravat hid the turned-under collar of his modern shirt.

Although many are sticklers for authenticity, the Irregulars won't faint if you show up in a converted prom gown that zips rather than laces. "There's not an attitude," said Studio City psychologist Pat Roush. "If you don't know the steps, you can still stay on the floor."

And, should a lady trod upon a gent's toe, Louaillier said, "By definition, it's his fault. This is the Victorian era--but remember, it means she can't vote, either."

Both Rebs and Yanks were among the revelers. The Philadelphia Quadrille Band (of L.A.) played "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie."

"There go the candystripers," someone said wryly. This octet was hard to miss, the ladies in hoop-skirted awning-striped gowns--a red, a yellow, a blue, a green--the men in striped waistcoats. A bit of a "side show," acknowledged Kate Morgenstern(green stripes), an office manager from La Mirada. Morgenstern was corseted, but not boned: "That's like wearing armor."

Ray Herbeck of Hacienda Heights danced by, dashing in the blue and red of the Battalion of St. Patrick, a regiment of Irish who deserted the Army during the Mexican-American War and fought for Mexico "in exchange for 300 Mexican acres. We were mercenaries." A writer/producer, he's doing a film on the battalion.

His wife Ruth's lace bonnet labeled her as a married lady, circa 1840s. "Of course," Herbeck said, "she's about to become a widow because most of us who fought in St. Patrick's were hung."

Pasadena architect Jeffrey Bissiri, president of the Irregulars and one of its founding fathers six years ago, was a turn-of-the-century British infantry officer.

"We only exist to do this," he said. There are no regular meetings, thus the name. And daunce ? "That's just an affectation."

Why did 300 people, mostly youngish, turn out for this event at the Pasadena Masonic Hall? In this black-tie-optional world, Bissiri said, "We're afraid to say, 'You have to wear your tux, damn it.' People need that once in a while."

Indeed, one man was heard to say that the ball was "the most fun I've had dressed."

Portly David Springhorn came as W.C. Fields. Actually, he is W.C. Fields--at Universal Studios, where he goes about "insulting you and kicking children."

Springhorn--seen waltzing with daughter Emily, 8, a vision in crinolines and Keds--is a devoted Irregular. In the real world, he said, "People have sort of lost the capacity to be beautiful."

Still, said Professor Desmond, "Charming as all this stuff is, I think we all would have hated to have lived in those years." His high, stiff collar was killing him: "You can cut your throat if you take a quick look around."

The Poet and Charmer of Hollenbeck Home

Cupping a hand to his ear, John Davis, poet laureate of Hollenbeck Home, leaned forward, not wanting to miss a word.

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