There have been quite a few new balls popping up on the St Andrews event scene in the last few years, as well as more recently, and it got me thinking about ball culture at the University.
The first example that made me want to take a closer look at this event sub-culture was the Sia Project x Gatsby Party. While this event was not advertised as a ball, it turned out to be quite similar to one. With a guest list and bouncer at the front of house maintaining a strict one-in-one-out policy (unless you knew the host personally), you could immediately sense that this wasn’t a traditional birthday or house party.
There was a champagne tower, open bar, and jacuzzi, with attendees decked out in their finest clothes. Upon walking into the marquis, one truly had the sense that they were walking into Lower College Lawn for one of the many established balls put on by students.
This birthday ball got me thinking about the vast amount of balls that are held at this University, a phenomenon seemingly unique to St Andrews. I started running through all the different balls in my mind, and another one stuck out as particularly unique — The Other Ball.
This ball, though similarly separate from the rest, is unlike the birthday party because it knows what it is and is proud of it.
The Other Ball is meant to celebrate The Other Guys a cappella group. To the group, “it’s essentially a night to thank everyone who has been involved with TOG and helped it to be the best it can be.” Though The Other Guys’ main motivation for throwing their ball is clear and simple to me, this event stuck out to me as similarly dissimilar from other more established balls in St Andrews.
The Other Ball is relatively new, founded within the last few years, and was started by and for the group themselves. The Gatsby event as well as this one stuck out to me because they were both thrown by the very person or people that they were meant to celebrate. Though I understand the desire to throw your own ball, because of the prestige and status of such an event, I do think it takes a certain feeling of self-importance to throw a big event like that to celebrate yourself or your group.
This is not to say that I think Sia or the Other Guys are entirely or uniquely self-interested, but I have always seen balls as the type of event in St Andrews meant to celebrate bigger causes or momentous occasions. So, it was merely interesting for me to see this new wave of balls, centred around less wide-scale themes, pop up.
All of this got me asking myself two questions: what is the appeal of throwing your own ball? And what makes balls special to the people attending?
Seeing new balls pop up made me think that they would become more redundant or somehow go out of style. But, after talking with different people and mulling over these questions myself, I have come to a few realisations.
The first is that many people thoroughly enjoy balls and consider them to be one of the biggest staples and some of the most special parts of event culture in St Andrews.
In many, if not most university towns, there is a wide variety of places to go out. However, with most nights out in St Andrews consisting of going to either the Union or The Vic, I can understand why people tire of the repetitiveness and crave something more.
Another thing I realised is that people want to feel a part of something and the variety of balls offered in St Andrews fulfils that desire. All of the hall, sport, and various themed balls provide people with the opportunity to spend time with the people and community of their choosing. So, perhaps my initial assessment of the two balls I’ve discussed wasn’t entirely correct.
Business Manager of TOG Thomas Halvorsen told us that “balls are one of those unique St Andrews traditions that seem almost timeless and being able to share in that amazing tradition with our friends, families, alumna, and closest fans is something we really treasure.” And this sentiment makes a lot of sense. Why wouldn’t someone want to celebrate with their friends in a quintessentially St Andrews fashion?
When I first considered the amount of new ball-style events that seem to pop up each year, I thought that the plethora of balls would make each one less special than the last. But, perhaps each ball that emerges taps into a new community or theme that people have been or didn’t even know they were longing for. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of dressing up in Gatsby-themed attire and being transported back to the glitz and glamour of the roaring 20s just for one night?
Though I still feel like the vast amount of balls in St Andrews can seem a bit overplayed at times, I’ll admit that I might have been too harsh on this new wave of ball-style events culture emerging in St Andrews at first.
I think that I now have a better understanding of how close this style of event is to many people’s hearts and just how unique it is to our University town.