It’s better when you glitter your balls

Photo/ Peter Blenkharn
Photo/ Peter Blenkharn


With an exuberant flourish, a flock of garish, glossy flyers wind their way into your pidge throughout the year, each purporting to purvey the best that a bountiful budget can produce.

Each year an exponential growth of adverts for college and society balls assaults you from every which way. From the termly Union balls to the colossal commemoration balls of Magdalen & St John’s (not forgetting the spectacularly pretentious New College boat party on the Thames), Oxford’s firm grasp on its balls as a means to entertain exemplifies our opulent bubble-guzzling way of life.

Some balls are big, some are unseemly, others finish up with a bad taste and an unabashed layer of ooze, befitting of a fungal gathering of sensationally dressed students.

Despite the enormity of choice one is presented with throughout the year, there is a disappointing lack of diversity between each event – most offering a fairly standard package of unlimited alcohol and an excuse to dress up like the proverbial penguin. Is this unfair? Is there more to any of them than just a dressed up Parkend? Or has the collective creative mojo just dried up?

When faced with the classic “Which balls will my friends be paying for?” the budget conscious will probably take a good hard look at the three main groups on offer and decide to what degree they wish to blow their load.

Flavoured Balls £40-60

Traditionally smaller, societies usually offer balls for the more theme-orientated palette. The Union put on a termly ball around 4th Week which, to its credit, usually has a solid theme with decent entertainment – albeit at the cost of being surrounded by a plethora of pricks. HumSoc ‘s annual Diwali ball is consistently well put together and has the best quality catering at this level along with well rounded ball entertainment.

Expensiballs £60-100

The more frequent request for your ball based expenditure will be the annual college balls at the (mostly un)reasonable price of about 80 quid. These tend to be a more generic affair with the likes of Noodle Nation and Angels as common caterers, with a loose grip on the theme in favour of more abundant alcohol and food.  There will probably be music and maybe comedy – usually all student acts. Occasionally a standard college ball will wake up from its creative malaise and spring out a Bucking Bull or maybe even a swingboat.

The Sell-Your-Body-to-Science-to- Afford-It Balls £130 plus 

The commemoration balls, or that thing that makes your battels cry, are significantly more expensive than their more regular counterparts, with only a minority of colleges offering them on a triennial basis. The main players are Magdalen, St John’s, Worcester, Trinity and Christ Church.

The format is broadly similar to that of most college balls with the significant difference that headline acts tend to be pretty bloody good. Trinity even had the Sugababes in ‘08. With around 1,200 guests, top ten artists and lavish surroundings, it’s unsurprising that they are so expensive.

Usually they last a bit longer, on average about 10 hours, but only the hardiest of ball connoisseurs can withstand the sheer volume of extravagance (or spend that long without ruining their hired white tie). Traditionally a Survivors’ Photo is taken at the end of the event to mark the achievement of staying awake/not passing out.

So are they really worth the dollar?

Despite the high price tags, thousands of tickets are sold each year with broad satisfaction. It seems that the quality of one’s experience of balls rests upon the success and integration of a decent theme (Oriel’s 2012 class based Titanic ball was a bourgeois wet dream) and a solid infrastructure that can support the gluttony of the fatted undergraduate pig.

So the question remains, are they all a bit samey? The answer seems to be yes, but mostly they aren’t too shabby. Maybe soon someone will do something a little maverick and shake the balls around and come up with something new.