A Christmas tree brightens the room as they enjoy their dinners. In the next room, lights hit the dance floor.
Four men play live music. The dance floor waits.
This was the scene on Friday night at the Woodside Plantation Country Club. Take away the tree, and you are left with a typical Aiken Assembly evening.
This nonprofit group gathers for four formal evenings a year. And while the seasons might change the apparel, the atmosphere never alters.
Once the members are gathered, sounds of laughter rise up above the sounds of clinking forks and dancing feet.
It was the type of evening for which locals Joe Ulreich and his wife were searching; he has since become Aiken Assembly's president.
The Aiken Assembly began more than 50 years ago.
“I understand that (it) was originally formed by a group from SRS (Savannah River Site) who were looking to get all dressed up and have formal dances/dinners several times a year,” Ulreich said.
What that group wanted – and proceeded to create – still exists today.
In February, May, September and December, the dance group assembles for its formal evenings.
On Friday night, the members rented the Woodside Plantation Country Club.
The country club has been the group's venue for a year and is scheduled to be the venue for next year, Ulreich said.
Live music accompanies the events. A dressed-up Fabulous Fun Time Band from Augusta performed on Friday.
“We use several bands each year from the Aiken/Augusta area,” Ulreich said. “Each band is usually a four or five piece/member band, and they all are capable of playing all kinds of music.”
The “all kinds of music” have included disco, rock 'n' roll, country and line dancing.
Three bands are already booked for next year.
Around 98 percent of members are couples. The remaining are widows.
“The membership is for the members and their ladies,” Ulreich said. “If the member dies, the surviving spouse is offered an opportunity to be a honorary member as long as she remains unmarried.”
The Assembly is searching for more members, Ulreich said. Interested members must be recommended by two current members.
Members also pay annual fees for expenses, such as the insurance and the band. An extra fee is charged for each dance a member attends.
You do not have to be a Woodside Plantation resident to join.
The next dance is in February at Woodside Plantation Country Club.
For more information, call Ulreich at 803-648-6218.
Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Charlie Hansen, left, Lyddie Hansen and Ernie Chaput are members of Aiken Assembly. Charlie Hansen, with his dance partner Kathy Huff, won the most votes for a pair during this year’s Dancing with the Aiken Stars.×
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Maryanne Ebert, left, enjoys the evening with her friend Barbara Sullivan during the Aiken Assembly winter dance.×
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Trish Hodgson, left, talks with her friend Dory Gajdicar before the first course was served.×
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Fabulous Fun Time Band playing live music for the dancers on Friday night.×
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner The Woodside Plantation Country Club was decorated for the Christmas season at Aiken Assembly’s winter event.×
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Tom Willcox with Dianne Hadley spending the evening with their friends and fellow dancers at Aiken Assembly’s winter event.×
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Dick and Joan Mason were one of several couples at Woodside Plantation County Club on Friday night.×