Isn’t Audrey Hepburn insufferably attractive?
But I’m sashaying away from my dance topic. Winter is the perfect season for cheese fondue, snowball fights, fireplace talks and … ballroom dancing.
I went to a ball in the spectacular Château de Chambord, one of the Loire Châteaux. My personal pictures do not do justice to the beauty of the venue. Blurry and out of focus, as you can see, they don’t quite manage to convey what was obvious to me at the time: That Chambord is spectacular…
I’m not going to talk about etiquette here, but my own personal experience, the lessons learned through a great many mistakes in the past :
The coat: It should be warm! I never bring a coat I really love. Coats in the cloakroom have a tendency to disappear and two of my friends have already had their furs stolen, even in the most exclusive venues (especially there, in fact).
The dress: I am a girl’s girl, so I love to dress up. Ballroom gowns should be travel-friendly and not require too much ironing and maintenance if possible. I am there to have fun and not stress over the tiny details. I choose dresses that fit in my luggage thanks to their fabric even if they are particularly long, or dresses that are easy to carry. I never know if the hotels near the venue have dry-cleaning or even ironing boards. When I arrive at the hotel, I just hang the gown in the bathroom and have a really hot shower or bath. This should do the trick and make the wrinkles go away thanks to the steam. This only works if the dress has already been ironed before the trip. The other trick is a lazy dress. The lazy dress has a wrinkly fabric and can be worn without being ironed in the first place, and trust me, it has saved me many times, especially when there is an impromptu party and no time to get ready.
Fabric wrinkled in the shape of a flower is the best. This gown has straps that, when tightened, fit the fabric to the body and give it shape.
So here is the lazy dress layered with a shawl…
… and a higher maintenance dress that is more suitable for warmer venues… The accessories: I always bring a shawl. Castles are very difficult to heat, and I usually choose a cashmere or a fur shawl if I do not want to spend my entire evening within two square meters of the fireplace. I do not hesitate to wear the thickest pantyhose I own. I know, not sexy. But with the long gown, no one should see my legs even when spinning during a dance. If the venue is in any way made of stone, assume it will be cold in winter. There are also many types of long gloves than can also cover me a little more, although I tend not to wear these myself.
A fun and flirty bi-color shawl…
… or a warmer shawl…
The shoes: The shoes should be comfortable. Attractive, elegant, pretty, gorgeous, but defeinitely comfortable, you’re going to be wearing them all night, dancing in them, balancing on a stone floor in them… Try to use shoes that your feet are used to. If the shoes are new, I break them in by wearing them with wet socks the day before. It’s unpleasant but it works. I recommend wearing insoles, and I make sure I have already worn the shoes with the insoles before. Also, I make sure the soles are not slippery. Venues may have fake or temporary dance floors that are more treacherous than an ice-skating rink. Whenever I can, I bring a spare pair of flat shoes I can wear if I get too tired, and on my way home after the party.
The bag: I will be leaving my bag or my clutch at the table when invited to dance. So I do not bring a bag I love too much in case it gets stolen (sad but true, this can happen). Many people are invited to balls, and even under the best circumstances I am unlikely to know more than half the people in the room. I do not bring valuables I care too much about.
The bling: I’m always careful not to forget my rings by the sink!
The alcohol: I stick to the white wine before red wine rule as the opposite tends to make me feel ill. After dinner, I usually drink only champagne, or only clear alcohols, never mixers. Sometimes, I will drink water, especially when I feel a little too tipsy. I am a control freak so I do not like to be too “happy”. But hey, some of my friends do not abide by any drinking rules and have a lot of fun too! (probably because the rest of us are there to look after them), and other girlfriends get a sugar rush because they only drink fruit juices. To each her own.
The dancing: Have fun! I have learned rock and roll, Argentine and ballroom tango, a little salsa and merengue, I can pretend I waltz well (it helps to have a good dance partner). I can’t over-emphasise the importance of dance lessons and practice, which have given me confidence. More importantly, the partner’s skill will make me feel either like a professional ballroom dancer or like an awkward asian in a traditional French ballroom with people who have learned to dance since they were 12.
Being myself: I never forget that I have been invited, and that means that everything around me during the evening has been put there by someone who wanted us to have a good time. I always make sure to spend some time with the hosts and thank them for the invitation when I arrive. If there is a flower shop next to the venue, I would send the bouquet of flowers before the ball with a thank you note. If not, then a bottle of good champagne or wine, a well thought out book, a box of chocolates, or something more original but exclusive like foie gras or truffles will do. Never go empty-handed. If you are out of cash (we all were at some point), bring a homemade dessert, cookies or whatever. If the hosts are very traditional, they will expect a thank you letter afterwards. I adore winter balls. I always have a lot of fun and feel like a Disney Princess.
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)