By Libby Ryan
Where in the world could you find first-time dancers bravely attempting the Viennese waltz while wearing elaborately designed Victorian-era clothing? If your answer was in a Masonic Temple at a Steampunk Ball, you would be correct.
On Saturday, May 17th, the DIODES hosted a Steampunk May Day Ball at the Triune Masonic Temple in the Merriam Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. DIODES is the Dioscurian Imperial Order of Dreamers, Engineers, & Scientists, a group of steampunk enthusiasts who host various events such as conventions, meetings, and balls throughout the year.
The night began with swing and waltz lessons but later turned into the bravest of the group volunteering to try their hand at Viennese waltz to elegant but quick-tempoed orchestral music.
Darren Johnson taught the ballroom lessons at the event and called himself the “least steampunk person there.” After discovering ballroom in college at Carleton, he began teaching informally at events and has continued doing so for twenty-five years.
“Dancing is about having fun,” he said. “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
Gregory Laffrenzen, an eager participant in the lessons, first discovered steampunk through a video game in high school and then created a Halloween costume in the theme. “Steampunk has that spirit of adventure that gives the sense that anything can happen,” he said.
All of the guests dressed in their best steampunk outfits, complete with but not limited to feathers, hats, beautiful antique jewelry, and masks.
Dr. Julie Woodbury, a vendor at the event selling jewelry made of repurposed watch parts, explained that steampunk style comes from a variety of influences such as novelists H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.
“Steampunk is all about Victorian ambivalences and fear of living in times that were already obsolete.” As an avid reader, she said, “The idea turned into something real around me.”
If the idea is based on ambivalence and fear, it does not cross into the reality of the DIODES members and guests of the event. Their intricately detailed costumes, sometimes made by hand, match their adventurous spirits.
During a dance break, Laffrenzen captured the essence of the steampunk world, saying, “Everyone likes to have that sense that they are in a different world.”