In the slang of my generation, “having a ball” is having the best of all possible times. It translates not to getting dressed up in formal clothes and going dancing, but to huge enjoyment anywhere: “I had a ball surfing in Florida,” “We had a ball on our Alaskan cruise,” “I had a ball at the class reunion.”
I could ask my teenaged grandsons what their slang for a wonderful time is, but they’re probably out somewhere having a ball at a Carnival parade. Or a blast, or simply an “awesome” day.
The first time I had a ball at a real ball in New Orleans was in the early ‘60s, when a friend and I had tickets for balcony seats at that year’s Babylon do. It was not at all — as a jaded pal said of such occasions years later — “like watching paint dry.” It was awesome.
Since I didn’t know what to expect, I was big-eyed the whole time. For starters, the tall captain, shining in white and silver and glitter, pranced out like a cross between a Lipizzaner stallion and a circus ring master, and it just got more gorgeous from there. By the time the entire court was presented, sequined and plumed headdresses had climbed to scary and teetering heights and the ballroom floor was filled with maskers in brilliantly hued costumes dancing with their elegantly dressed ladies.
I googled the word “ball” on my computer, and once I got past soccer and football and baseball, added “slash dance” to the search and found that social dancing began to separate from folk dancing during the Renaissance and became popular in Europe’s royal courts. Imagine the time when the “diamonds” splashed across the front of the queen’s dress were real gems, and plumes and ermine and tiaras and, yes, crowns weren’t uncommon accessories of the day.
When I began to make more friends here, invitations to some debutante balls came, and while they weren’t as exciting as Babylon had been (does anything ever measure up to that first experience?), I did get to dance. I was “called out.”
Fast forward to 1973, the year of super krewe Bacchus’ fifth carnival ball, the year superstar Bob Hope reigned as king. States-Item columnist Betty Guillaud and I and our husbands were invited by the wonderful Ella Brennan and her late sister, the equally wonderful Adelaide, to be their guests and sit in the section alongside Hope’s. The krewe’s enormous floats wound up the parade by rolling into the Rivergate and circling the gigantic arena in front of the sections around the perimeter. The dance floor was in the center, but we never made it over there, what with continually being served food and drink by a Brennan waiter and chatting with Jim Nabors, who had been a Bacchus king, and the Mecoms, then owners of the Saints.
Guillaud and I speculated that we might never condescend to attend another Carnival ball, but of course we did. Thrice later, daughters of friends were queens of the festivities, and, of course, attendance is mandatory and meaningful.
In the late ‘70s I joined one of the big women’s krewes with the object of topping off my Carnival experience by riding in its parade, and for the four years I did, it was sensational, something I highly recommend. But if you ride, you also have to dance, and being a krewe member and sitting on the hard ballroom floor while the court convened wasn’t much fun. My back hurt. I developed new respect for the people who put on the annual pageantry.
It was that year that one of my coworker call-outs, a grumpy sort, used the phrase “watching paint dry.” Maybe he was just getting a little old to have a ball at a ball.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at email@example.com.