I attended the Michigan Quidditch Team’s Yule Ball with the idea of evaluating how well it brought the magic of Hogwarts into a Muggle college world. As a result, this post is not about the success of the ball as a social event and fun excuse for dressing up; it is about the success of the ball as an artistic interpretation and translation of Hogwarts.
As I understand it, the purpose of the Hogwarts Yule Ball was to provide a formal setting for the students to enjoy themselves and interact with other students. I think the UM Yule Ball could have done better on all three fronts – my overall comment is that it was a little disjointed. For one, instead of producing a Yule Ball experience, they attempted to provide a more generic Hogwarts one. Their decorations included a chess set with knee-high pieces, a Sorting Hat photo booth, and two sets of Quidditch hoops festooned with string lights. While successfully evocative of Hogwarts, these pieces didn’t do much to convey the sense of elegance I would have expected of a Yule Ball. Naturally, the Michigan Quidditch Team doesn’t have the same budget Hogwarts presumably has, or the ability to create decorations out of nothing. However, having planned similar events myself, I do believe it would absolutely have been possible to come up with an equally photograph-worthy set of elegant decorations that didn’t exhaust the budget, especially since this is something the Quidditch team holds every year and therefore the purchases they make could be seen as long-term investments.
In accordance with that, I think it was unclear exactly how formal the ball was intended to be: while most people did dress formally, there were others wearing casual clothes and even within the formal clothes there was a wide range of formality. I rather imagine Professor McGonagall would not have approved.
It was interesting to note, however, that teenagers have not changed much. I was reminded of Harry and Ron sitting on the side refusing to dance with their dates, partially courtesy of the number of phones that were being looked at while their owners slouched at the periphery of the League Ballroom, completely disengaged from the rest of the happenings. So as a venue for “fraternizing,” as Ron put it, there was very little of that happening either. Even in Hogwarts people were more willing to ask other people to dance (recall both Parvati and Padma Patil being asked to dance by boys from Beauxbatons), whereas here there wasn’t even that much dancing. The only real enthusiasm came with the select few songs people obsess over (like “Africa”). A major contributing factor to this was probably the fact that the playlist appeared to have been crowdsourced, so nobody had curated a list of dancing-appropriate songs in an order that made sense. This added to the overall disjointed nature of the event – at the Hogwarts Yule Ball, the Weird Sisters performed for the entire duration of the ball.
For a more faithful interpretation of the Hogwarts Yule Ball, the UM Yule Ball could have done with a little more vision. A cohesive conception of how they wanted the ball to go, and some added structure in how they set about achieving that conception, would have improved the experience of the Yule Ball considerably.