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Keep off the Grass: Let’s have a ball

Oxford's independent freshers' guide brings you a preview of one of our pieces on the lavish tradition of Oxford balls

This is a preview article from 2016’s Keep off the Grass. The print magazine will be distributed for free to all freshers during Freshers’ Week this year.

One of the most exciting things about studying at Oxford is having the opportunity to attend the balls. The long gowns, the marquee tents in the centuries old university quads and the copious quantities of champagne create an air of romantic nostalgia. To help you navigate the world of dodgems, swing boats and silent discos, here is a guide to all things ball-related.

College Balls

When people talk about “Oxford Balls” they’re usually talking about College Balls. Most colleges hold one every year (although some smaller colleges team up for balls, such as the Somerville-Jesus Ball) and prices range from £60 to £200. The range in prices is accounted for by the different types of balls there are: the cheaper ones are black tie while the more expensive ones are white tie. The pricier end of the spectrum also includes Commemoration Balls. Held once every three years at a few of the older colleges, they’re the Oxford equivalent of Cambridge May balls. The larger budgets usually mean a bigger headline act (the Fratellis and the Wombats have both played Commemoration Balls), more food and a higher quality bar. DJs, live bands, circus acts, fireworks and even archery (or failed attempts at archery) provide entertainment into the early hours of the morning.

Although balls always have plenty of food stalls, you can opt for a gourmet three-course dinner before the ball by purchasing a dining ticket (around £50 more than a regular ball ticket). In my opinion, the extra cost is worth it: the food is always amazing and it makes the night one you’ll never forget. All balls have an open bar (and if you’re lucky, a vodka luge) so don’t worry about having to pay for any extra cocktails!

Balls take place all year round, starting this year with the white tie Merton Winter Ball in November until other Commemoration Balls in week 9 of Trinity. Tickets for balls sell out quickly. Make sure you and your friends buy them early so you can enjoy a night full of fireworks, photo booths and hopefully, not too many regrets.

Union Balls

The Oxford Union may be one of the foremost speech and debate societies in the world, but they still know how to throw a heck of a party. The Union throws a black tie ball in Hilary term for around £50. The cheaper price means an earlier closing time but an amazing night nevertheless. The (in)famous debate chamber is transformed into a stunning ballroom floor and oysters and macarons make frequent appearances. The Oxford Guild Society continues the trend of hosting both amazing speakers and great balls so look out for their annual masquerade ball.

Subject Society Balls (and a few others!)

A few subject societies host amazing balls at relatively affordable prices. MedSoc (the medicine students’ society) hosts an annual ball and there are rumours of a new Science Ball coming this year. The Law Society hosts some of the best balls in Oxford, with one ball every term. Tickets are less than £100 and include a three course dinner, transportation for the night and all of the trimmings of a ball. Venues have included the Gherkin and Blenheim Palace. You don’t need to be reading that subject to get tickets, but you do have to be a member and ballot for a spot in groups of up to 6 people. RAG also hosts a Charity Ball in Michaelmas while the LGBT Society hosts an annual Glitterball. Last year also featured Oxford’s first ever Diwali ball.

Organising a Ball

This year, I had the chance to work as Head of Design for my college Ball and I loved it. Organising balls is hard work, but the free tickets make up for it. Don’t worry about being a fresher – it’s a great chance to build up experience and although you have to sit through a lot of conversations about portaloos, it’s quite fun!

Working at a Ball

You can also work at balls in a variety of roles: everyone from bartenders to ushers or rubbish-collectors are needed. Jobs are usually advertised on the ball’s website or Facebook page so keep an eye out. You usually work one shift and can spend the rest of the night enjoying the ball. It’s a cheap way to have a fun night out and a great way to get into a sold-out ball.

Breaking in

I’ve heard enough urban myths about people trying to break into balls to make me write a section on it (one of the more creative attempts allegedly involving stealing a punt). Don’t do it. Don’t ever try to break in. As someone who worked to make the tickets and the wristbands for a ball, I can tell you that counterfeit tickets are not going to work and scrambling over walls in black tie is harder than it sounds. So unless your idea of a fun night is being chased by a security team, do everyone a favour and just buy the ticket instead.

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