SOUTH JORDAN — Getting dressed for a Saturday night on the town takes on new meaning for Tom and Kimberli Grant, who were born about two centuries late.
Tom has it fairly easy, even with a tailcoat, trousers, vest, cravat and top hat. Like the men in his neighborhood who throw on bowling shirts, slip into boaters and run combs through their hair, he’s ready in about five minutes flat.
Not so with Kimberli.
First come the stockings and bloomers, followed by a corset, camisole and petticoat. Then there’s the hoop skirt and pink brocade Civil War-era gown, weighing more than 14 pounds. The back of the dress needs to be laced like the corset, requiring some help from Tom, who admonishes his wife to “take a deep breath” while he tightly whips the laces through each eyelet.
By the time Kimberli has curled her hair into ringlets, put on her lace gloves and fetched her parasol, “it can be a little exhausting,” she admits. “But it’s always worth it to step back in time.”
By now, their neighbors are used to seeing the couple stroll down the sidewalk looking as though they’ve been transported from the set of “Gone With the Wind.” All that’s missing is a carriage, a pair of draft horses and a street lined with fragrant magnolia trees.
Since moving to Utah from the South seven years ago, the Grants have put on dozens of elaborate balls to teach the forgotten dances of the Civil War and Victorian eras with their Old Glory Vintage Dancers, a group Kimberli started when she became homesick for her favorite Southern tradition.
“There are vintage dance groups like this all over the South and up and down the Eastern seaboard,” she says, “but we couldn’t find anything like it in Utah. So we decided, ‘Let’s just start our own.’ ”
Hoping to entice others to turn off their televisions and join them every second and fourth Tuesday for classes at West Jordan’s Pioneer Hall, the Grants recently met me for a Free Lunch of chicken and fruit salad in their spacious kitchen, which doubles from time to time as a rehearsal hall when Kimberli is researching vintage dances.
On Friday night, she and Tom and a few dozen other Civil War buffs will demonstrate authentic reels, quadrilles and country dances at a Fort Douglas ball celebrating the 150th birthday of the military base, founded in 1862. They’ll also be teaching some old-fashioned dance moves to anyone who desires to escape the noise and complications of modern life for an hour or two.
“It was such a slower pace then — decorum and integrity really meant something,” says Tom, 54, a chiropractor who first suited up in Civil War attire and stepped onto a dance floor with Kimberli in Fayetteville, Ga., 15 years ago.
“What’s fun about this is that even a shy person can step outside their shyness and become somebody else for a few hours,” he says. “You become an actor when you take a trip back to another century.”
Kimberli has taken her love of the past to a new level, sewing all of her own period gowns and researching every detail of social life in the 1850s, from the secret language of a lady’s fan (a touch to the lips meant “kiss me”) and proper etiquette for a young woman in public.
“Speaking to a man without a chaperone was scandalous,” she says, “and so was showing your ankles. They couldn’t show any skin, except in the evening. I can tell you from experience that the clothes back then weren’t the most comfortable, especially on a hot day.”
Her husband concurs. “We love the dances and we love the dressing up,” he says, “but we’ve also learned to embrace the time we live in now. We’re always grateful to come home to plumbing and air conditioning.”
Anyone is invited to join the Old Glory Vintage Dancers at a Civil War-era ball at Fort Douglas’ military museum on Friday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $5. More information about the dance group can be found at oldgloryvintagedancers.com.
Have a story? You do the talking, I'll buy the lunch. Email your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cathy Free has written her "Free Lunch" column since 1999, believing that everyone has a story worth telling. A longtime Western correspondent for People magazine, she has also worked as a contributing editor for Reader's Digest.