When you think of a college party, you generally don’t think of ball gowns and hors d’oeuvres. But last Saturday night, rather than make their way to the next rager on Route 2, dozens of College students dolled up and headed on buses to the Clark Art Institute for the first annual Clark Gala event.
From the moment I entered the Clark’s main hall for check-in, I was struck by how seriously every guest took the “formal attire” dress code. Anyone who has ever attended any themed or Halloween parties at the College would know that we normally expect low participation in or enforcement of a dress code. No one dresses up to go out, so it almost feels weird to actually try to dress up, because you know no one else will do it. But last Saturday, hundreds of College students bought $20 tickets specifically for an occasion to dress up. They spent 20 bucks to have a reason to dust off their high school graduation suits and repurposed prom dresses. And since they were going to a gala, a college ball, they came out in full formal force.
The actual Gala was located on the lower level of the Clark. As we entered the building we were escorted to a flight of stairs that directly led to all the awaiting music, people and food. Have you ever seen a cotillion? The debutantes are announced with escort in hand and sashay across the room for all to see. I couldn’t help but think of that image as I watched everyone walk down the stairs in a grand reveal to the public. As people reached their final steps, their friends gleefully ran up to them in awe of each other’s formal appearance. “You clean up nicely!” “I love your shoes!” “You look great!”
During the actual event, people seemed almost bubbly, hopping around the room to mingle with different crowds of people. The Gala spanned the entire lower level and both ends were supplied with an array of appetizers, from cheese tots to small rolled-up chicken quesadillas. I probably grabbed more than my fair share, but the food definitely gave me something to do while strolling through conversations. Waves of jazz music flowed through the room from talented student bands at the base of the stairs.
Though some gala-goers stood around the band and continued their conversations, a large group actually took to dancing. While watching people couple up and do their own renditions of ballroom dancing, I realized that I hadn’t actually seen or done any real dancing (not the grinding and jumping around the most people do at parties nowadays) since my awkward slow dance back at prom junior year.
Anyways, I decided to give it a try. I’ve gained my fair share of dancing experience from family gatherings and quinceañera practices for friends back in high school, but being able to actually use something I’d learned was foreign. I realized I hadn’t accessed that recess of my mind in quite a while. It was fun teaching friends how to dance and watching some others effortlessly sway and command the dance floor.
I’m not going to lie, at one point while I was sitting there with a friend, nonchalantly sipping my cup of Coca-Cola and eyeing the rest of the crowd, I had this overwhelming nostalgia for my mother: attending her office parties with her and watching her mix and mingle with the crowd. This kind of event was totally her thing, where she was immersed with people her age as they discussed the weather and the recent rise in gas prices. I had always felt too young to actually connect with any conversation at those events, but now here I was, being my mother. And the strangest thing was that I didn’t feel too young or disconnected anymore because the people around me weren’t 40-year-old judges or law clerks but were classmates who have sat next to me in English class or have helped me on problem sets.
It was a strange feeling to see everyone carry themselves with an air of sophistication, and it was a drastic change from the regular old College parties people are so accustomed to. Everyone seemed to relish this temporary change, and the night was a lot of fun. I hope that the Clark Gala becomes a standing tradition, something that College students will continue to look forward to each spring.