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May Ball Etiquette for Ladies | The Periodical

How to take on May Week like a proper lady

May Balls are a very fancy affair. Tuxes, champagne receptions, violinists… then you enter the actual ball, and the fanciness stops there really.

What follows is carnage behind a shiny Cambridge veneer. Yes, you’ll drunkenly crash into your friends in hysterics on the bumper cars, but you’ll do it in ball gowns. So stylish.

As much as carnage makes balls fun, there are some things that make balls less fun for women. Once, perhaps, being ladylike meant passively letting these things happen. But not anymore!

So here are some issues you’ll probably face next week, and how to survive them like a proper twenty-first century lady. Whether you’re a fresher or a ball-veteran, hopefully there’s something you’ll find helpful here.

Being judged over your dress

When everyone first arrives at the ball, it’s like a catwalk. Everyone eyes up each other’s gowns, and most of it is very friendly, with admiring looks and compliments being exchanged in abundance.

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The stream of people in the calm before the storm

But that doesn’t stop the occasional bitchy comment being whispered. This girl is wearing a dress that’s too revealing; that girl’s too thin/not thin enough to pull her dress off. It’s just unnecessary. If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it.

And if you’re braving an outfit that makes you feel both beautiful and a little out of your comfort zone, that’s a good sign. I can promise you that there will be few people who’ll think you don’t look amazing.

Your dancing being taken as an invitation by guys to join you

It’s kind of hilarious how one moment you’re taking photos and sipping on champagne serenely, and the next you’ll be vigorously thrusting your hips to Shakira. It's basically that bit in Harry Potter at the Yule Ball.

What makes things a little awkward while you’re trying to slutdrop and mind your own business is when you catch the eye of an alumni about the age of your father, who’s standing in a dark corner and creepily watching girls dance. And just like in clubs, guys will approach and try to get off with you.

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Would rather dance in peace with the gals tbh

If you’re attracted to them, go for it my gal! I know the setting seems more sophisticated than Life, but don’t let the ancient buildings or the ancient voyeur in the corner put you off. But please don’t feel obliged to dance with people if you don’t want to. A polite “Would you kindly fuck off” would be best for the both of you; the guy has paid a lot of money to spend the evening hitting on people, you’d better not waste his time.

Getting shoved around on the dancefloor

You thought Life was bad. Just wait till you’re trying to dance to the headliner act at a May Ball. Everyone fights for room, stamps on your gown, separates you from your friends, and generally acts like cavemen. It’s difficult for a girl who’s strapped into a delicate outfit and heels, often with vulnerably exposed toes, to stand her ground against guys in trousers and comfortable shoes.

When a guy gets aggressive because I dared to push him back, or a troop of people shove their way through my circle of friends, it’s just the worst. We’re all trying to have a good time. Can we just look out for each other on dance floors please, and be a bit less hostile?

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We had to hire this carriage to carry us safely around the dance floor without getting our toes broken

Toxic masculinity

Unfortunately, after a few drinks, the occasional fight can break out at May Balls. I’ve only ever seen it happen myself at a ball in Oxford, so maybe Cambridge is just the superior university after all (duh).

I’m not about to fix toxic masculinity in a Tab article though, so all I can say is to be aware that guys can get rough off the dancefloor too, even at a supposedly fancy ball.

Congrats to everyone who has finished their exams! I hope you'll enjoy the break in true ladylike fashion. You've earned it.