Eye on the Ball
Backstage in the St. Francis Hotel’s main ballroom, Katrina Kovalik and 29 other young women in white dresses waited for their names to be announced. The girls joked with each other and practiced curtseying in their heavy, floor-length gowns that puffed up around them as they knelt. Kovalik clutched her bouquet, reminding herself not to hold the flowers too high (something she had been reprimanded for in rehearsal) and practiced her curtsey under the heavy layers of tulle one last time. When the announcer called her name, she stepped onstage, into the spotlight, smiling. She had prepared for this moment for the past year.
Although here on the West Coast debutante balls are not as popular or entrenched in tradition as their Eastern counterparts, Kovalik knows just how high the expectations for these balls are.
Kovalik, who graduated from Miramonte last year and is currently a freshman at Notre Dame University, is not sure exactly why she was invited to be a debutante. She speculated she might have been chosen because she knows women involved in the selection process, or because her mother is involved in the Children’s Hospital Hill Branch, the charity for which the ball raises money.
“In the end, it’s all for charity,” Kovalik said. “But throughout, debutante doesn’t really feel like it.”
Unlike other charity events she has participated in, Kovalik said the debutante ball was less actively involved with doing charity work and more focused on raising money.
“One time, we made food for a wing of the hospital together, but most of the charity comes through raising money through guest ticket sales to the ball,” she said. The charity aspect is “not hands-on.”
Over the past 53 years, the Winter Ball put on by the Hill Branch charity has raised over $4 million for Children’s Hospital.
Madeleine Neuburger, a Miramonte graduate who is now a freshman at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, said she decided to become a debutante because of the charity work done by the Hill Branch.
“At first, I wasn’t quite sure about it,” said Neuburger. “But after attending the informational session on the event and the Children’s Hospital, it really moved me. The Children’s Hospital takes anyone and they don’t charge them for their medical work. It’s a phenomenal organization, and the Hill Branch makes a lot of it possible.”
Each debutante was responsible for hosting or cohosting her own party or event. Some of the events were geared towards teaching the girls etiquette.
“At one of our first meetings we all got a couple pages of weird etiquette rules we never thought of before, like how to fold your napkin properly,” Kovalik said, laughing. “If you want to know: you fold it towards you, in half, like a taco, so that if your fingers get dirty, you slip them under the corners and wipe them off like a lady. We all made fun of that for the rest of our time together because we thought it was ridiculous.”
Other events included charity activities for the hospital, such as the one hosted by Neuburger, where the girls knitted caps for premature babies.
In preparation for the ball, the debutantes were all responsible for their shoes, hair, and outfits.
“Getting dresses was the biggest part,” Kovalik said. “I’m assuming most girls went with their moms. In most cases we just went to bridal stores. Because it was so similar to what a bride goes through, the dress, and getting your hair done, and stuff, a lot of people along the way, in the dress shops and at the hotel assumed that you were a bride. That was pretty weird.”
At the actual ball, each girl was presented by her father and her escort. After the ceremony, the debutantes and the guests mingled and danced.
“It was really magical,” Neuburger said. “Everyone is together, and all the families are all so happy and having a great time. Everyone is dancing. The Hill Branch works so hard to make it such a magical evening.”