Drew Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A Comprehensive History of “Winter Ball”

By Jocelyn Freeman | Staff Writer

7 mins read
Featured image courtesy of Dee Cohen.

Last weekend Drew Night Life hosted the annual Winter Ball, colloquially known as the “Ho Ball,” short for Holiday Ball, to the present-day students of Drew. Nearly 700 students attended the event that was hosted from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. This year’s bash was complete with a professional DJ, pasta dinner and chocolate fountain. But the Winter Ball hasn’t always looked the way it did last Friday. This week’s column will be dedicated to exploring the fun and flashy history of Drew’s Winter Ball, one of Drew’s longest-running traditions! 

According to old editions of The Acorn and The Oak Leaves, the tradition began in the 1940s when social dances were popular events. Back then, the Winter Dance was typically referred to as the “Christmas Dance,” “Christmas Prom” or the “All Campus Christmas Party” and was co-hosted by a variety of campus organizations. Some of these organizations include the Men’s Dorms and the Social Committee. In 1943, women first attended the event as students and not just dates, and in the following years, the Drew Co-Eds (a club for the women on campus) helped to sponsor the dance. In the 1940s, like with most social dances, live music was provided as entertainment. In 1945, according to an ad found in the December edition of the paper, there was “dancing to a five-piece all-girl band until 1:00 A.M.” Obviously, the students of Drew knew how to have a good time! During this era the dance was held as a celebration before “winter recess,” and students could attend without the stress of finals hanging over their heads, as tests were held after their break.

The dance continued to be a yearly tradition despite some name changes along the way. In 1956, an ad for the dance in the December edition of The Acorn referred to it as the “SnowFlake Dance.” In the same edition, it’s referred to as the “Snow Ball.”  Sadly, documentation of the dance in The Oak Leaves tapers off around this period. But the paper continued to advertise and cover the festivities. In 1961, a short history of the event was provided by writer Gerie Snell in the December edition of The Acorn. Snell’s work helped paint the picture of dances’ past and inform readers that the Holiday Dance was “one of the favorite social events of the year.” They wrote about the different locations the dance has been held, such as the Bowne Gym (now the Shakespeare Theater of NJ), the Great Hall and off campus at the Morristown Women’s Club. But in the year of 1961, the dance was held in the University Center. By the end of the 60s, the dance no longer received such attention in the paper. 

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the dance picked up the name “Holiday Ball.” Sadly there are fewer reports of the dance during these years. This may be due to the fact that there was a change in the finals schedule which placed them before winter break, like they are now, so The Acorn, which typically refrains from publishing during final exams, may not have had time to cover the event. From photos found in The Oak Leaves, it can be seen that the dress code for the event became more casual. By this period, social dancing had mostly fallen out of fashion! 

Despite the lack of coverage in The Acorn, the Winter Dance has continued to today. The event has gone through many name changes throughout its existence, but perhaps that’s a part of the tradition in its own right. Last year, the dance was held on a cruise down the Hudson River, which only allowed for around 300 students to attend. The event was praised by some and disliked by others, but it allowed for an event to be held in a manner where proof of vaccination was required in an attempt to keep students safe from the COVID-19 virus. 

This year’s event was held in the EC and took amazing advantage of the space. The theme was “Enchanted Forest,” and decorations helped transport students into a magical night away from the stress of their upcoming exams, projects and papers. A light dinner was provided along with a huge spread of sweets. Students were able to take photos with their friends, decorate cookies and dance to their heart’s content. While the music wasn’t necessarily the kind of tunes that everyone likes to dance to, a majority of the students had a blast! Some attendees even stayed from 9 p.m. all the way to 1 a.m. to enjoy every minute of the festivities. Overall, it was the perfect night for those who enjoy a school dance!

Hopefully, the event will continue to be a tradition that is looked forward to by Drew Students despite the stress of the end of the year! Continuing to have the event in an accessible way is something important for future event planners to keep in mind. 

I also wanted to take a few lines to say thank you very much for reading this new column. I have enjoyed exploring Drew’s social history and being able to share it with students who are interested in learning more about our school. I wish you the best of luck with all of your finals, and I will return in the Spring Semester with more history to share.

Jocelyn Freeman is a sophomore triple majoring in history, English, and Chinese.

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