As opportunities to attend events with convention attendee friends without actually being at a convention increase, I now find several of my older and newer fandoms merging into one event. Hosted by the Period Events and Entertainments Re-Creation Society (PEERS), the Girl Genius Victorian Mad Science Ball held on April 4th would allow me to combine my 10 years of recreational ballroom dancing (I'm too often in a state of "cannot give a damn" to think of competing), 8 years of field cosplaying (primarily for events where those who don't cosplay stand out like sore thumbs), and four works of Steampunk I've heard of (Girl Genius, SteamBoy, Sakura Taisen, and BioShock) into one neat package. If they could include my 20-odd years of guns, I'm happier than a clam.*
My ball experiences used to involve attending with a caravan of female friends and one of their male friends. Then to save fuel costs and needless socializing, I downsized to one female friend. Now due to the economic crisis and cosmic realignments I found myself going with my male con friend OniCourseMusha AKA Craig. I admit that my record of male to male interaction usually entails more curb-stomping than interacting so that night's accompaniment may shock a few loyal readers. Paraphrasing Obama's constant rhetoric, "It's time for change." But unlike Obama, I actually made a change instead of just talking about it. Just know that I would never classify this as a man-date or a bro-mance because both terms sound gay (Not that there's anything wrong with that) no matter how often I use either term with a straight face.
Since the Girl Genius Victorian Mad Science Ball took place at around 7PM, I had a few afternoon hours to kill before rendezvousing with Craig at the Redwood City rally point. Celebrating the success of Project EAR, I decided to hit the Great Mall to attend what was supposed to be a bazaar for toys and collectibles. While the sports collectibles were present, I found not a single toy worth collecting. I wiped away the experience with a pot of oolong tea at my new favorite tea shop, the Ku Day Ta. If you want to experience a good cup of brewed tea with a serene ambiance and are willing to sell your first born to pay for it, the Ku Day Ta is an excellent choice. You can always get another first born.
After my lemon grass oolong tea and cookie sampler, I arrived at Redwood City. Craig arrived via the train right on time and fully dressed. After greetings and bits of small talk, Craig briefed me on PEERS events. Their monthly events and dances provide a reliable stream of familiar faces and new people like myself. The best way to break through social barriers is to simply walk up to someone and request his/her company. "It's a dance," said one of my former dance instructors who also taught karate, "not a marriage proposal." Those who aren't willing to part present company to engage in a socially engaging dance with at worst a person with two left feet and at best a future pro dancer on Dancing With the Stars get added to the idiot list. Thankfully, it seemed almost everyone at this PEERS event shares the same sentiment. Regardless of relationship status, we were all here for the same reason: To have some fun.
We arrived at the Masonic Lodge of San Mateo with time to spare. Dress code was primarily Steampunk. Those who couldn't do Steampunk did Victorian dress. Those who couldn't do Victorian dress did formal. Those who couldn't do formal did as formal as they could. I changed into my hastily altered Steampunk attire. I thought I did a fair enough job on the attire considering that my Steampunk knowledge is limited to the first two chapters of Girl Genius, vague memories of Steamboy and Sakura Taisen, a few photos of Steampunk costumes featuring gears and other materials I could not scavenge if my life depended on it, and BioShock--a video game I never played. I simply sewed on a few gear-shaped washers onto my coat. My tinted sunglasses would have accented the look had I bothered to bring them. While this "costume" had no chance of winning any costume contests, my intent was to blend in with the crowd and function as a dancer and shooter.
The lodge began to fill up with Steampunk costumes and dancers. As the dance tutorial commenced, I received flashbacks of my first Gaskell Ball. Back then, I was an awkward dancer whose shoes were registered weapons. I'm glad to say that while my shoes are still registered weapons, I make fewer accidental injuries. I recognized the proctor from the first Gaskell Ball. If the intention of PEERS was to send me back in time 10 years ago, then mission accomplished.
With Avalon Rising playing their Renaissance and Victorian style music, the dancing began. Dances included the waltz, the polka, the mazurka, several set dances, a couple swings, and the Congress of Vienna--the dance that I finally started recognizing the routine but still lack the intel to attempt. I left those Congresses to Craig, who had more field experience. Avalon Rising was a bit too heavy handed with the polkas, much to the chagrin of the exhausted dancers.
While the lessons were helpful, following the lesson steps proved difficult on the actual ballroom filled with fellow dancers doing their own routines at their own tempo. But it's just part of the challenge. I will admit that my waltzes were schizophrenic depending on performance anxiety. I could easily follow the set dances after copying the leader. I finally picked up mazurka. Swing seemed to be my new forte given my adaptation skills. Finally, my polkas usually were more focused on trying not to crash or collapsing from overexertion. I prepared my leg with a high dose of painkiller and wrapping to last the night, though I felt the aftermath the next morning.
code for dancing (again, taken from my former martial arts dancing instructor)
in four steps:
Having kept intel of attending friends, it was no surprise to see Alex, Chris, and Radar. Radar picked up on the gears/washers of war project that I mentioned. Claudine was a pleasant surprise. An odd surprise was that none of them knew I was attending despite having used the same channels to RSVP that I was and even mentioning it on the vlog. This gives me a suspicious feeling that no one really reads each other's actions on social networking sites, which reinforces my theory that most of us have accidentally filtered out the useful updates along with the "I have nothing to say and must tell the world" updates. New faces met through dancing and introductions from others included the marvelous Marina, gentle Jean, and airy Erica. There were plenty of talented dancers whose names I will quickly pick up at the next PEERS event.
Having fulfilled the dancing portion of the social dancing event, I attempted to fulfill the socializing portion in between dances and intermissions. Craig recalled his past dances during Dickens Faire. Hopefully he would convince some PEERS to attend the Fanime Black and White Ball. Since it was the theme, Girl Genius was an easy topic to discuss. I dug up more intel on PEERS events while accepting encouragement to attend upcoming ones. Another game of "Guess my age" came about and I'll simply say that all the numbers were correct in the past or will be correct in the future.
My favorite bit of socializing was showing off my ability to dance with a pretty lady like Marina while discussing less ladylike topics with the surrounding guys. Oddly enough, I thought I performed my best waltz due to the lack of music and other dancers to consider. It was just me, the pretty lady, some guys I knew, and my unfiltered mouth spewing anything that came to mind. The last time I danced with Craig, it was the mango tango at Fanime. Here, it was the "murder polka," which combined my dancing and my homicidal tendencies.
Girl Genius had a large photo opportunity and a couple of live sketches performed. The dust kicked up from the dance floor led to ghostly spheres in the pictures and the lack of microphone support left my unaware of the sketches until I saw the costumers performing.
After concluding the dance with a Roger de Coverley and one final waltz, Craig and I chilled out in front of the car with drinks in our hands while waiting for the car parked in front of us to leave. I'm glad the fuzz that drove past us concluded we weren't drinking alcohol. After a detour for some gas and 7-11 late dinner, we drove up to Craig's house for some much needed Internet browsing and picture sorting before calling it a so-late-it's early night.
I would like to thank Craig for helping to push me into this PEERS event after we noticed it during WonderCon. If you wish to keep in touch with me, you can easily find me on Facebook under "Tom Tonthat." There's another Tonthat, but he can't dance. I'm TravelvalNT on Twitter, which is like Facebook without the distracting applications. If the schedule permits, I definitely plan to attend the monthly dances. But for now, I now have to locate my balls to prepare for the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco.
A few clips of the PEERS event.
*Upon review of the schedule of PEERS events, I noticed a Secret Agents' Ball in June, but only a total gun freak would consider packing a piece for a Ball. Oh wait.
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