The Varga Katalin Gimnázium Ball


Last year, after the school’s annual tablóbál (where, after a procession and ribbon pinning ceremony, the seniors perform ballroom and modern dances for their peers, teachers, and families), I wrote about a meaning of performance. This year again, on Saturday night, I was so happy for my students, even more than last year, since I have been teaching them longer. The ball celebrates their transition; it is a way for them to dance gracefully together, to be solemn and serious with a few moments of silliness mixed in, and to be with all of us, not at the end of the year, when everyone is saying goodbye, but before.


I wish we had something like this in the U.S. (maybe we do, but I don’t know about it). Schools typically have senior proms–to which parents and teachers are not invited, except as chaperones, and for which students must find a date or else “go stag.” There’s no guidance; you’re left on your own to figure out whom to invite (or by whom to hope to be invited), what to wear, how to dance, and so on. It’s a lot of pressure, unless you deliberately take a different approach to the whole thing. Proms may have changed over the years; from what I gather, some students now go just for fun, to be part of the occasion. But it would be even better if there were something to celebrate, something to perform, some way of being with the whole school.

Now, I don’t meant that the Varga Katalin Ball is without pressure. There’s pressure to buy the right outfit, learn the dances, and participate in the ceremony with everyone looking on. It can be intimidating; some might feel miserable throughout. But no one is left out and no one disparaged; everyone gets to take part. Ninth-graders handle the ushering and coat-check; eleventh-graders introduce the acts. The evening begins with the procession and pinning ceremony, where the class teacher of each senior class leads the students, hand in hand, out to the hall, and where the headmaster gives a speech. That sets the tone; then come the ballroom dances and splashes of humor.




If I were leading a high school, I would be sure to institute something like this, to which everyone was invited, and for which all the seniors would prepare. After years and years, people might start to gripe, “Why do we do this?” But instead of retorting, “It’s our tradition,” I would say, “It is our celebration of growing up–and of childhood too.”


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