On Saturday 5 November, a small contingent of students shunned the annual Guy Fawkes bonfires in favour of White Tie Reeling Ball. Held at Kinkell Byre, the ball is unusual in many respects: Tickets must be applied for in even numbers of boys and girls; rather than a DJ, a live band provides the night’s soundtrack; and the dress code is firmly white tie.

Although St Andrews has its share of black tie events, many students will never have an excuse to don their tails and gowns for a ball of white tie proportions. The ability to experience a night in full evening dress contributes to the annual popularity of Reeling Ball, which already does not lack for selling points. It is possibly the only local event that revolves entirely around dance – and high quality dance, at that.

Many other balls place a heavy emphasis on music, yet the same disorderly mosh pit manages to form at each one. In comparison, the mandatory accessory at Reeling Ball is a dance card, which contains a list of reels that will be performed throughout the night. Guests reel with their partners, and in between dances they have the chance to freestyle without the fear of being trod on by nearby breakdancers. This year, talented couples spun and dipped and twisted on the dancefloor, a photogenic contrast to the standard bump and grind.

reeling ball dance
Photo: Taylor Almeraz

An impressive quality of dance is expected considering the nature of reeling. To compare: ceilidhs lack any steep learning curve; the steps are simple, allowing both novice and experienced dancers alike to join the rambunctious circle. Although not quite as formal as Royal Scottish Country Dancing, reeling requires some modicum of competence. Characterised by exuberant spinning, stomping and clapping, every reel relies on teamwork. Mistakes, however small, have the potential to affect dozens of other dancers, disrupting the entire room’s rhythm for the remainder of the reel.

Fortunately the St Andrews Reeling Society offers weekly lessons, taught by a capable committee members on Thursday evenings in Club 601. After a semester of practice, most guests were more than prepared to execute a successful reel. They were joined in the application process by dozens of sets of recreational reelers, students who have been reeling their entire lives. With such a strong fanbase, the oversubscribed ball swiftly sold out. Roughly 300 guests purchased their tickets through FIXR, St Andrews’ premier ticketing app.

Lest the dancers grow tired, Reeling Ball offered no shortage of food and drink throughout the night. The evening opened with the traditional champagne reception, a precursor to the copious amounts of wine served with dinner. The two course meal featured a welcome change from the expected starter and main combination. Instead, guests received a main and a dessert (chicken, followed by the crowd favourite sticky toffee pudding).

kissing reeling ball white tie
Photo: Taylor Almeraz

On this sweet note, the dancing began. The Infamous Grouse Band, no stranger to reeling balls, matched the overwhelming energy of the crowd with four straight hours of reels and rock n’ roll. Over the course of these four hours, the band’s drummer emerged as the hero of the ball: when Kinkell’s power flickered multiple times over the course of a single reel, he capitalised on being the only unplugged instrument – and consequently, the only musician still able to play. His multiple impromptu solos allowed the reeling to continue as the lights slowly turned back on, much to the delight of the dancers. These brief minutes of darkness further proved the passion of the guests, as not a single person left the dancefloor despite the potential difficulties posed by the blackout.

The ball’s steep price tag (£70 for members, £75 for non-members) found much of its justification during the post-dinner portion of the evening, when the bar opened. Wine, beer and ale flowed freely, with the queues kept to a minimum thanks to the lack of change-counting and spirit-mixing.

Tipsy from wine and exhausted from reels, guests then then rejoiced when breakfast was served. Another attribute unique to Reeling Ball, breakfast was a much-needed rest following several hours’ worth of sweating. A special commendation must go to the food distribution system, which managed to almost eradicate the wait time even as hundreds of hungry dancers swarmed towards the bacon rolls. Guests were led through Kinkell’s small reception room and into the modified cloak-room, now outfitted with several long, roll-filled tables. The process was painless and, ultimately, delicious.

When the final reel was spun and the traditional “God Save the Queen” was sung, guests wearily made their way to the buses. This departure was unlike that of any other Kinkell Byre-based event. The fast-moving queues lacked any drunken shouting or shoving; it would seem that while guests had enjoyed the open bar, the most popular drink of the night had been water. Intoxication was not a necessity to enjoy the night (as it is with so many other Kinkell balls). Reeling Ball has direction, a structure that prevents any bit of boredom from taking hold.

White Tie Reeling Ball is typically held once a year. The popularity of this past Saturday, however, may allow for the possibility of a second ball next semester. Anyone keen on attending had best begin practising!

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