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A fairytale Irish ball - a dream come true for our American student in Cork

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Girls all set for a formal ball
The first time I heard an Irish student at UCC mention the word “ball,” my ears pricked right up, so to speak. “A ball!” I said, breathlessly. “A real ball?”

“Yes, a real ball,” she answered, baffled by my excitement, and went on with her conversation.

I was floored. I was even more floored when I learned that it wasn't a singular event; in fact, my campus is covered with posters advertising the dozens of balls in the upcoming weeks. Apparently, different classes and societies throw such events for themselves in Ireland, especially now, as the holiday season draws near.

I found this thrilling beyond words. I'm not sure if I represent all American girls in this respect, but I've always longed to go to a ball. Influenced by Disney movies and young adult literature, I spent hours dreaming of what such an event must be like, painting with a lavish brush. Sadly, my high school's homecomings and proms had never quite lived up to my fanciful standard.

So, when one of my friends invited me to a society ball last week, I knew I had to seize the opportunity. I borrowed nail polish from a friend; I borrowed hairspray from another; I even persuaded my mother to send me an old prom dress from home, [rightly] concluding that the price of shipping would still be cheaper than purchasing a new gown in Cork; and I went.

It was everything I'd ever imagined.

Hosted by the most elegant hotel I've seen in Ireland, the event was situated in a beautiful ballroom, brimming with Christmas trees, lit with intricate strands of light, and polished to a shine in anticipation of our arrival. Additionally, awaiting us in the foyer was a reception of free champagne, red and white wine, and Ferrero Rocher truffles, which was pure class. I could barely deal with it.

When the last chocolate had been eaten and the last glass flute whisked away, we sat down to an elegant table setting, primly arranging the folds of our dresses, as black-tie waiters served us a magnificent three-course meal. Unfortunately, however, we weren't focused on the food at all, so the dinner is a bit of a blur. You see, my girlfriends and I were too busy agonizing over a particularly unusual aspect of our table settings: dance cards.

Dance cards are relics of a bygone era; the general idea is that boys should come by, request a certain dance with you, and fill in the appropriate slot with their name. I couldn't imagine how this would translate to the twenty-first century – until, glancing around the room, I saw a full orchestra taking their seats on a makeshift stage above the ballroom floor.

That's right; we had a night of live music awaiting us, including waltzing and big-band-style swing music.

I couldn't believe it. I was walking on air.

The dance card situation solved itself, as my friends assured me it would. Like most of the girls at the event, I traded some dances with my friends, some with guys I already knew, and the rest with attractive strangers, bold enough to ask for the space. My dance card was full before I knew it, and when the orchestra started up, I spared a moment to touch up my makeup before starting the flushed search for my partner.

It was grand craic, actually. Imagine being tapped on the shoulder by someone you'd just met, and then whirling off to the ballroom floor with him! (Thank goodness I can waltz! – and I knew enough swing-dancing to get by.) It was also an excellent way to meet new people. I even traded numbers with a flirtatious, handsome young man, who suggested that we meet for lunch in the coming week and proved me wrong about the lack of Irish dates in a single breath.

The event went well past midnight. I came home after three and crashed into bed still smiling, wholly gratified that I had lived a private fantasy. My only concern was that I hadn't anticipated the blisters that come with five hours of dancing in heels. However, considering that the rest of the night was utterly perfect, I decided that it was a small price to pay.

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