Elbows up and back straight, Nicole Carville took her husband Bob Wegbreit’s lead as they did the Waltz across the second floor of Narberth Borough Hall.
In preparation for Narberth’s first Mayor’s Ball April 13, the two watched dance instructor Rubi Wiswall closely as she counted out the steps to old-fashioned dances such as the Cha-Cha, Foxtrot and Charleston. Carville wore a pair of jeans as Wegbreit, wearing green khakis, attempted to give her a spin. The last time the two danced like this, Wegbreit said, was at their wedding 20 years ago.
“I was nervous about the ball before tonight,” Carville said after finishing an hour-long dance lesson, “but now I’m just excited.”
Come Friday at 8 p.m., the couple – and roughly 150 people from Narberth and the surrounding areas – will trade their casual wear for ball gowns, tuxedos and white gloves and try their swing step in Borough Hall. In an effort to bring people together through social dancing and raise funds for two local charities, Narberth Mayor Tom Grady needed a way to throw a “society event” that would encourage the borough to interact.
Hosting a mayor’s ball seemed like the perfect fit.
“[A ball] is a good way to socialize with people in your town,” Grady said. “In modern days, you talk about networking, but for the past 100-plus years, it’s been society balls where you got to meet new people.”
As research, Grady escorted his wife Theresa Grady to the Bad Dog Ball in October as well as the Philadelphia Double Cut Ball in November, where he saw a familiar face. Wearing the white gloves required as part of the dress attire, Avi Loren Fox, who grew up and lives in Narberth, had attended the Double Cut Ball too.
“We’re at the ball, and we both said, ‘This would be so cool to do in Narberth,’” Fox said.
Grady and Fox asked friends to help plan the event, and in January, they announced a Mayor’s Ball to benefit the Narberth Community Food Bank and the First Twenty, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of firefighters.
Fox designed a website where visitors could watch videos of social dances, learn the dress attire and buy tickets. Ticket prices were kept low at $35, which Theresa Grady said was instrumental in planning the ball.
“We wanted to make it an inclusive party,” Theresa Grady said.
As of Wednesday, there were less than 12 tickets left out of 150, which is the capacity of the room in Borough Hall where the ball will be held. Though the hosts planned the ball as a way to get “Narbs” to interact, they began to see street names unfamiliar to the borough’s small grid as people bought tickets online. It turned out about 40 percent of the attendees are coming from Philadelphia.
“We were expecting it to be a ball everyone in Narberth went to and walked to, but a lot of the tickets were purchased by people from the city,” Fox said. “That was something unexpected.”
Having such a mixture of guests will make the dance floor even more interesting, though. Each guest will receive a dance card with a list of other ball-goers’ names on it, forcing guests to mingle with each other to meet new dance partners.
From mason jars and white lights to elements from the outdoors, the barren room on the second floor of Borough Hall will be unrecognizable as the decoration committee channels a bygone era reminiscent of “Pride and Prejudice” and Fred Astaire, Fox said.
Adding to the ambiance, the Ward Marston Band will only play classic tunes for social dances. At the end of the ball someone typically calls the Virginia Reel. To make it intrinsically Narberth, Keith Brand of WXPN’s “Sleepy Hollow” will call the Narberth Reel.
Rachel Sarnacki, a Narberth resident who is helping to plan the ball, said she hopes she helped create a special event in a special place.
“It’s really one of the only communities where something like this can exist,” Sarnacki said. “The other day I was in downtown Narberth eating, and I heard people walking by talking about where they were going to get their gloves.”
“You hear a buzz about it around the town,” Sarnacki added. “It’s really neat to see.”
Narberth, which is quietly famous for its hosting events like its annual Dickens Festival, may have a yearly buzz for years to come.
“It’s definitely something I hope will take root,” Fox said of making the ball annual. “One of our goals is to develop traditions that are unique to Narberth, and of course, we want to raise money for charities. But I do hope that it brings social dancing back as a means of entertainment. I like encouraging things where people just take a breath and interact with each other.”