Every year in June the colleges in Cambridge celebrate the ending of the academic year with festive parties called May Balls. Why they call it May Ball although being held in the middle of June, I am unable to tell. However, I am able to tell you how a May Ball looks like because I have been to two during the famous Cambridge May Week this year. I think going to a May Ball is probably the ultimate Cambridge experience. Barely anywhere else in the world do people in their 20-30s dress up in dinner jackets and full-lenght gowns to party all night sipping champaign and nibbling canapés.
Planning a May Ball already starts at least one year ahead. The May Ball committee chooses a theme, the setup and all the details that need to be considered when organising the big event. Nis‘ College Gonville & Caius announced their theme “Praeternaturalia – An Eletric Evolution” in February at the May Ball launch event at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology. Praeternaturalia is Latin and means „beyond the natural“. Here is an article on how the Gonville & Caius May Ball was organised.
Standard ticket prices vary between 100 and 200 Pounds which is certainly not cheap but it is really good value for money considering that you are being offered food, drinks and entertainment all night.
This year Nis and I went to Gonville & Caius and St Edmunds College May Ball. Both balls were very entertaining and fascinating in their own ways, but hardly comparable to each other. First of all, the tickets for Caius were 60 Pounds more expensive and the college grounds differ a lot from each other. The outside area of Caius is relatively compact as it consists mainly of three courts whereas Eddies made the most of their large lawns and arranged dodgems for example.
Caius, however, opened many doors that usually remain locked to most students and the public, so we were able to explore the entire college including the Master’s garden.
And at both balls we made it to the survivor photo! That is the group picture taken between 5 and 6 in the morning with all the people who managed to stay up and party all night long.
Finally, here are my top 5 tips to successfully survive a Cambridge May Ball:
- Wear shoes with a wide heel! Stilettos always sink into the soft grass.
- You are not obliged to wear a floor-lenght gown. One that covers the knee is just fine. This especially becomes handy if you wear a light coloured dress as long dresses tend to soak up all the dirt from the muddy grounds.
- Get your sneakers out! At some point no one cares anymore what kind of shoes you wear and sneakers are the best for dancing anyway.
- Don’t forget your extra layers! I get cold very easily and need a jacket at some point, especially when I spend most of the night outside. You might as well just become more British and pretend that it is still warm enough for the strapless dress and the open high heels at 2 o‘clock in the morning.
- Bring your umbrella! British weather is unpredictable, especially in summer. Some colleges hand out umbrellas when it starts raining but I would rather not count on that.
If you are now wondering how to carry all this stuff with you for a whole night, don’t worry! Usually there is a cloakroom or some place where you can store it all until you need it.
In case my glimpse on two May Balls was not enough the student newspaper “Varsity” published reviews on several May Balls. So go ahead and have a look at how other colleges celebrated the ending of exam term, like Trinity College or Jesus College.