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It even captured the imagination of romance novelist Shelley Munro, who wrote a series, Middlemarch Mates, inspired by the event.

The idea for the ball came out of the need to attract a nurse to the small town, which has a population of around 300."We're a community that looks at how we can solve our problems the fun way," says Middlemarch local and Dunedin city councillor Kate Wilson, who is involved in organising the ball."Instead of worrying about finding a nurse, we decided to have a singles dance."We've got a whole lot of men that are very eligible, depending on your taste.

There's not really that in-between time that's depicted in Hollywood movies."Overseas, it's quite acceptable to have a 'taste test' – you can go out for dinner with someone and can quite easily part ways that night and never see each other again."In New Zealand, you kiss someone in the pub at 3am, and the next thing you're getting married."LOST IN TRANSLATION When American travel blogger Liz Carlson, 26, moved to New Zealand from Washington DC in 2013, she was baffled by this country's lack of a dating scene."Back home, people ask you out officially on a date – you know what you're getting," she explains."While here, I think I have been on dates without even realising it, because the guy never said anything."I thought American guys were bad about talking about their feelings, but man, it's 100 times more difficult for me here." A similar dilemma inspired University of Otago masters candidate Molly Mc Cormick, of the department of anthropology, to research the sex and dating experiences of American exchange students in Dunedin.

The other barriers that have broken down, Callister says, is partnering between different religious or ethnic groups, which may have been taboo in the past, as well as the public and legal acceptance of same-sex relationships."I think people generally are much more open.

Since it was first held in 2001, the biennial highlight on the Middlemarch social calendar has managed to sell out every time, attracting modern day bachelors and spinsters from all over the country – as well as international attention.

IT'S POPULAR: More than 700 people attended the Middlemarch Singles Ball in 2011, including about 300 who caught the "love train" from Dunedin.

So we thought one of them might be clever enough to nab a nurse."The town has two nurses now – "but we're always looking for another one".

Part of the novelty of the event, Wilson explains, is the "love train" that transports attendees from Dunedin to Middlemarch and back."All the clever blokes go on the train to get the first bite of the cherry, so to speak."You get the midnight train home, it's very Cinderella-like."Then there's always the 'train of shame', which leaves around Sunday lunchtime." It's all about having some harmless, old-fashioned fun, says Senior Constable Helen Fincham-Putter, another ball organiser.

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