Shall we dance . . .
With all this talk of balls and dancing, I (this is me, mesmered, this time) tried to think back to when balls first held a fascination for me. And perhaps it was when television came to our home when I was young. There were wonderful old movies, costume dramas where dashing officers with pristine white regimental jackets would hold beautiful women in their arms and sweep around massive dance-floors, the gowns of silk rippling as the couples spun ever faster.
To my untutored eye, it seemed they galloped over a vast expanse of polished floor to the sounds of Strauss and yet there was none of the bounce of a racing horse. Even though they followed the three beat of a waltz, they glided and spun, two pairs of feet in perfect harmony, never stepping on each other’s toes and always looking into each other’s eyes, flashing messages of love and desire, because those movies were always, absolutely always about love.
I was saturated with balls at University. Four years of Med Balls, Law Balls, Engineers’ Balls, Hockey Club Balls and so on. Each required a new gown and for many of my friends, a new escort. Many a heart agonised as women waited to be asked. I was lucky in those days as I had a steady partner. But after the steady partner had become unsteady and parted, there was another lovely chap for a short while and he and I went to a ball (cream silk gown . . . gorgeous) and had a wonderful time except that at one exuberant point in the dance, he lost hold of my hand and I went flying across the dance floor on my bottom and then when he took me back to my aunt’s house in the early hours of the morning, there had been a heavy dew and the imported tiles of her front entrance were like ice and I fell again. So wonderfully coordinated and lady like. In the fall at the ball, I managed to dislodge a pearl earring and it was part of a pair I had bought in Athens on my Grand Tour, so next day I hastened to the ball hall and as the committee swept up the debris, managed to retrieve the lost pearl. I still have the earrings to this day.
The biggest balls though were the Bachelors’ Balls and the Spinsters’ Balls, occasions of some note in the Tasmanian social calendar of the 60’s and 70’s. There was a committee of supposedly acceptable young folk, a venue of graceful style and beautiful gowns and dinner-suited men. Music and supper and a supposedly good time had by all.
But being the 60’s and 70’s and a time of breaking free, it was nothing like a Jane Austen novel. There was loud rock music, a basic supper, alcohol served in plastic glasses and many a weeping woman with mascara trailing down to her chin. Ah, young love! One ball was held in a wonderful National Trust venue that looked not unlike a small Pemberley (remember I am in the colonies) and we all swept up its gracious stair and through the wonderful portico. That was the sole pretension at grandeur. As the evening wore on, people got drunker and more appallingly behaved and I remember as I chose to leave, I looked back and someone jumped off the stair to swing on the wrought iron chandelier that hung above the entrance hall. I wondered at the time what Aunt Jane would make of it.
Balls lately have been sedate and superb along with my increasing age. Our music has been provided by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, food by the best chefs in the city, elegance personified by the women’s choice of couture. The tickets are always sought after and people even take dance lessons (yes, my husband and I did once).
But the most wonderful Ball of all in recent times was the Save the Children Chocolate Lovers’ Ball with guests of honour being Crown Princess Mary (a Tasmanian) and Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark.
The princess was absolutely fairytale, (Fred was alright too!) the dinner superb and the dancing? Well there was a bit of waltz, a bit of tango, a bit of salsa, a bit of jive and a LOT of chocolate. All with the knowledge that moneys raised went to the Save the Children Fund. There was no libidinous behaviour, no desperation as mothers sought eligible men for their daughters, nothing but candlelit elegance all night.
Despite the lack of marriage-broking, I am sure Aunt Jane Austen would have been proud.