On Saturday, March 25, the Liberty Ranch High School (LRHS) Advanced Placement British Literature class and Creative Writing Club held the first ever Jane Austen Ball fundraiser.
With more than 100 people in attendance and nearly $500 raised, the event far exceeded Anngela Schroeder and her students’ expectations. Students attended not only from Liberty Ranch High School and Galt High School, but from high schools and colleges beyond Galt. Also in attendance were LRHS teachers, graduates and members of the Galt community.
The money raised will be put toward field trips and eventually the purchase of laptops for the AP British Literature class and Creative Writing Club. Schroeder hopes the money that was raised will make it possible for this year’s class to go on at least one field trip before graduation, but she says that, even more important than the money raised, was the learning opportunity hosting the Jane Austen Ball offered students.
According to Makayla Friend and Justin McCreery, two LRHS seniors who have Schroeder’s AP British Literature class, planning the event helped them to appreciate the importance that Victorian culture placed on social classes, propriety, and how even the smallest of details could be very telling of your social standing, such as what type of candles you could afford to use.
Schroeder has been trying to organize this type of event for the past three years, and everything finally fell into place when planning began several months ago. She handed the reins to her students, guiding them, but allowing them to handle much of the planning.
The Creative Writing Club was responsible for arranging for a traditional English country dance band, “Quite Carried Away,” to play at the event, professional caller Lise Dyckman to lead the dances, and for members of the Sacramento English Country Dance Society to attend in traditional attire. Meanwhile, the AP British Literature students tackled the five hours of décor setup and the cleanup and basic logistics of the event.
“We wanted to recreate what it was like,” Friend said. “Obviously, we can’t make it as amazing as it was in their time, but we wanted it to be special and to help us understand what it was like.”
The students transformed the LRHS cafeteria into a canopied dance hall that would have rivaled the countryside inns where these balls traditionally were held, and perhaps even the formal London ballrooms of the upper class.
And, just like in the famous “Pride and Prejudice” scene where protagonist Elizabeth Bennet first meets Fitzwilliam Darcy, the ball allowed for the mixing of classes – in this case, students from all different grades and groups of friends, teachers and community members.
“There were no peer expectations that had to be adhered to. Kids were dancing with teachers, older community members and absolute strangers,” Schroeder said. “I loved that kids who normally don’t hang out were dancing together, and it wasn’t weird or odd. All high school ‘social classes’ were stripped away to reveal that each of these students were experiencing the same level of newness with the situation, and they were lifting each other up, instead of judging.”
And the general consensus of the night? If the abundance of smiling faces and the lack of occupied chairs around the perimeter of the dance floor were any indication, it was successful.
“I hope the [historic dances] were as happy as ours,” said McCreery of the night’s mood, “because I feel like theirs would have been very structured; but, at ours, if you mess up, it’s not a bad thing. Back then, it kind of showed your character.”
“The night was more of a success than I could have hoped for, and it wasn’t because of the financial success of it,” added Schroeder, who herself was clad in a traditional gown and was seen dancing for much of the night. “While standing there watching my students interact with people they had never met before, I was so proud of them for stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new. The fact that they were having fun – actually enjoying themselves – meant the world to me.”