Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending my final reeling ball hosted by the St Andrews Caledonian society. For those of you unfamiliar with the society, CalSoc is dedicated to Scottish culture through the practice of traditional Scottish dancing known as reeling. The society hosts two balls per year: one black tie, and one white tie. They also host dance practices every Tuesday night, as well as an array of events throughout the year: from beach reels to Burns night celebrations. For many St Andrews students, reeling is an obscure affair. The word ‘dancing’ seems to terrify people whose perception of their ability is limited to boisterous bouncing in the 601. I see the uncomfortable look in people’s eyes when they imagine the idea of paying to dance all night. However, once you start reeling you won’t look back.
People often say that the best part of events is the build-up: from deciding what to wear, to pre-drinking with your friends, anticipation encourages excitement. For the white tie ball, that pre-event stage gets even more attention as the dress code takes a little more thought than usual: the extra effort required to dress up for the night adds to the thrill of the evening. Everyone is looking their best, polished up and raring to go.
So, let me take you through the evening’s itinerary and explain what we got for our £75. Things kicked-off early, with the buses leaving at 5.30pm to drive guests the 40 minutes to the beautiful Fingask Castle. Upon arrival we were greeted with a champagne reception (the best kind - where you take a sip and your glass is immediately refilled) and the opportunity to take some picturesque shots whilst it was still light. Then we were seated for a delicious two-course dinner: a beef main or a vegetarian lasagne dish and apple crumble pudding. Throughout dinner, my table and I shared a few bottles of complimentary wine before receiving our dance cards. At this point, the mingling starts as you search for dance partners. This is undoubtedly a fantastic way to meet people: everybody is in the same boat, and unlike most nights out asking someone for a dance is the norm, not the exception. Then, the live band began to play and what followed was hours of spinning, turning, clapping, stomping and for the brave, flipping. Between each dance there was a welcome break which lasted long enough to grab a drink, but not too long that enthusiasm dwindled. At half-time refreshments were brought out in the form of coffee, tea, and Scottish tablet. Once the guests were sufficiently caffeinated and sugared, the dancing continued. This year, we were also surprised by an epic firework display. The night was rounded off by a mighty rendition of Auld Lang Syne before a well-earned bacon roll.
At the ball, I asked some fellow attendees what they thought of the night. Firstly, I would like to emphasise that of the ten people I spoke with I received no negative comments. Perhaps the best summary I got was from a second year who told me “I feel like I’ve got my money’s worth and the dancing hasn’t even started yet”.
This ball got all of the big details right: the best food I have ever eaten at an event, a limitless stream of champagne on arrival, fantastic music, and a gorgeous venue. Perhaps even more impressive was the attention paid to small details, the kind that if gotten wrong can add up to ruin an evening. Two things in particular have consistently tarnished every night I have spent at Kinkell Byre this year: the buses, and the bathrooms. Let’s start with the buses. I fully appreciate the logistical nightmare of shipping hundreds of students to and from venues; however, the herd-like mentality that normally occurs at the end of events is enough to convince me to take the coastal path instead. I cannot emphasise enough how fed up I am at being sardined in the midst of my peers, screamed at to ‘get back’ and abandoned to wait outside in the cold Scottish weather. My experience at the white tie ball was completely different. I understand that transporting a few hundred people is far easier than the numbers present at the likes of May Ball, but regardless a couple of elements spoke volumes to me. Firstly, the committee members were there to guide us as to where to go and ensure that crowds didn’t build up. Secondly, perhaps the most telling observation, was that at the end of the night, people slowly trickled to the buses rather than partaking in the usual mad rampage to escape Kinkell. Correct me if I’m wrong, but to me that says ‘I’m having the best night ever, can I stay?’
And now, the bathrooms. Aside from the practical reasons for going to the loo, for many event-goers the bathrooms act as a space of refuge on a night out, a place to have a breather, regroup, and take five. Normally however, this is not the case: quite the contrary as we are told to stand in single file for 15 minutes before being ushered into a given cubicle (or portaloo) and instructed to leave our friends (no toilet debriefing allowed). Sound familiar? Conversely, at Fingask Castle there were no queues, a free coat rail, a complimentary box of tampons, and deodorant and other essentials. These details may seem rudimentary, but I strongly believe that the small elements of a night are what piece together to create an overall impression. It doesn’t matter if the music is banging and the food sublime, if you’re spending half your night in sweaty queues for toilets and buses that is what’s going to stick.
I have always loved reeling, but as a pensive fourth year about to graduate I can sincerely look back and say that the reeling balls have been my favourite events in St Andrews. CalSoc is open to absolutely everyone, regardless of prior reeling experience. Of the eight people in my set last Saturday, four had never previously reeled. After a little convincing they attended a few practices, purchased the ‘little book of reels’, watched some videos, and voila! Their only response has been ‘damn, I wish I’d got involved earlier’. So, when I’m scrambling to find employment next year - grieving the juvenile university version of myself - I’ll raise a glass to you, to CalSoc, and to all the other revelling reelers.