The End of the World at Winter Ball

One senior’s night of of dancing, catharsis and nostalgia in the Secret Garden



This year’s Winter Ball took place at Essex House where students partied to Jay Z, drank mocktails and took pictures in front of a secret garden backdrop.

I walk into Winter Ball at 9:40 p.m., the earliest my press pass would allow. I feel remarkably out of place in the elegant lobby of the Essex House hotel on 59th Street just east of Seventh Avenue. The marble floors seem to sneer at my common disposition, but I try my best to pretend I belong. I hand my coat to an attendant along with a tip and make my way into the ballroom. I’m greeted by familiar faces, closer to the end of their night than the beginning. One face complains that the DJ refuses to take his request for the “Scatman” song.

9:40 p.m. — Unsure of how to proceed, I begin to interview the revelers on the dance floor to catch me up on what I’ve missed. “It’s been great — the filet mignon was lovely,” reports one student on the dinner that had been provided earlier. Another gives their take on the night overall: “Pretty good!”

One extremely committed girl manages to dance fairly well despite the cast she’s wearing. It appears to be a great leg workout. I try to talk to some more people, but they can’t hear me over the DJ. Already sweating under my blazer, I go to my table for a glass of water.

9:50 p.m. — A familiar beat takes hold of the dance floor. Bachata, I think, but I could be wrong. I head back to the dance floor to get more perspectives. A particularly enthusiastic dancer declares, “solid eight out of 10 on this,” and that the experience so far has been “fantastic.” The DJ puts on a Drake song and the dance floor opens like a sinkhole for Gabelli students.

10 p.m. — I ask a friend who has attended Winter Ball for all four years how it feels to be at her last one. “It’s good to see all my friends again,” she says, smiling. The song that played was unquestionably Bachata. At first, I think it was “Frio, Frio,” but it wasn’t. The same friend complains again that they have refused to play the “Scatman.” He begins to do the floss dance. I am surprised by how well it goes with Romeo Santos.

10:15 p.m. — I step away for a moment to try one of the mocktails that had been made for the event. I sample the grapefruit “margarita.” It’s not bad. My friends ask to take a group photo, and I oblige. We pose before a backdrop in line with the “Secret Garden” theme. I hear the faint echoes of Jay-Z from the barroom, and everyone heads back inside.

10:30 p.m. — Revelers sit exhausted at their tables as the planning committee makes an announcement. Katina Smith, United Student Government (USG) vice president and Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’19, begins to speak. “I’m going to make this brief,” she says, before being interrupted by a chant: “Woo! Katina, Katina, Katina!” She thanks everyone who contributed and hopes people enjoy the rest of the night.

10:45 p.m. — Coffee sloughs into tired mouths. The second wave arises, fueled by decaf placebo. A friend is drinking hot water. “You want some? It’s pretty good!” I politely decline.

I ask a friend how she feels about senior year at Winter Ball, and she says that the end of college feels like the end of the world. I ask her to elaborate, but it all melts into Cardi B.

During the song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” at the moment where Silento demands to the listener “break your legs,” the USG president, Demetrios Stratis, FCLC ’19, pretends to break his leg. An attendant comes by to make sure he is alright.

11 p.m. A Band-Aid makes its way across the floor. Eventually, it will cling to an unwitting barefoot, exhausted from a night of wearing heels.

Fingers point to the ceiling as dancers sing along to “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys. The crystal chandelier hangs over us ominously. Sparseness begins to become noticeable on the dance floor, and with it comes a feeling of vulnerability — a greater chance of being noticed while dancing, a greater chance of doing something wrong. I notice above the chandelier they’ve painted a sky; the whole room floats into it.

11:15 p.m. — The DJ dares to play the “Cotton-Eyed Joe.’ I flee the dance floor. Despite hearing it at countless school dances and sweet sixteens, I never learned how to do the dance properly. A friend confides in me: “In 3rd grade P.E. we learned the ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe,” but I had a crush on my dance partner, Stephanie Cho. I spent the whole time looking at her shoes to keep from blushing.”

11:30 p.m. — Back on the dance floor, I find myself stuck in the blinding light as the figures move around me. “Scatman” finally plays, and my friend begins to wail. Maybe we all belong in the departed Scatman’s World.

11:45 p.m. — The DJ plays “Shout!” I rip my jacket while dancing, my contribution to the cause. I should have worn a shirt and tie, and my turtleneck is now too sweaty to be worn alone.

Someone (I can’t tell who) shouts, “This is my best Winter Ball!” The crowd is noticeably thinner, and dancing feels more and more vulnerable as we approach the end of the night.

12 a.m. — I try to get ahead of the crowd to get my coat, but then remember I have to wait for my friends anyway. I miss the party favors: rock candy sticks. A friend gives me his — “I’m not eating carbs right now.”

As coats are collected, we’re back in the cool February air, walking back toward campus, into the end of senior year, into the end of the world.