A majestic winding staircase led up to the foyer outside Westfields’ Grand Dominion Ballroom, where a bevy of girls in flowing, Cinderella-style gowns mingled. Pale pink, pastel blue, and silky black dresses dotted the foyer, creating an elegant kaleidoscope of color outside the ballroom where the presentation of the 2006 debutantes was to take place.
"Please welcome Miss Wallace to society," Charles Diaz, the Master of Ceremonies for the 15th Annual Debutante Ball, proclaimed, and with that, the presentation of the 2006 debutantes was completed. The ball, organized by the Old Dominion Cotillion, was held Saturday, July 15, at the Westfields Marriott.
During the cocktail reception, excited Pages, Future Debutantes (in pastel-colored gowns), and Post Debutantes (in black) milled about in anticipation for the ceremony. Pages are generally siblings of one of the debutantes and help out at the night of the ball. Future Debutantes are freshmen or sophomores in high school, and, as Gallagher explains, "…they attend all of the functions throughout the year … in preparation for their debut year." Last-minute reminders were heard among the Pages and Future Debs who were to be introduced as well — "You walk to the end of the dance floor, stop, smile..." — until the bells rang, signaling the call to be seated.
Rose petals were strewn across the tables in the low-lit ballroom. Crystal chandeliers and The Olivera Orchestra playing in the background set just the right mood for the formal presentation of the six young ladies dressed like royalty in full white ball gowns. The ceremony began with the inspection of the Virginia Military Institute cadets who were to escort the debutantes. Francine Gallagher, who is in her 10th year as director, gave the welcoming remarks in which she tearfully announced the engagement of both her daughters, Julie and Leslie, debutantes of the Classes of 1992 (the first debutante class) and 1997, respectively.
Next was the introduction of the pages, followed by the recognition of the Alumnae and Legacy Council and the Post Debutantes. After the Future Debutantes were introduced to the music of "Isn't She Lovely," it was time for the 2006 Debutantes to make their entrance. Making their way across the dance floor to their own signature song, such as "She" and "Summer Wind," the debs were escorted by cadets. Throughout the presentation, each debutante also shared a dance with her father. Dinner and dancing followed the presentation, and the ceremony culminated with "The Rodetsky March" and a last dance.
The debutante ball marked the end of the Social Season, which ran from September through July, during which the debs, a group of juniors and seniors in high school, participated in various events, etiquette seminars, and dance lessons. From the annual Invitational Tea, which opens up membership and invites potential debutantes to learn about the cotillion, to the Pink Tea, a mother-daughter tea in celebration of Mother’s Day, from the etiquette seminar "Social Graces" to the Kentucky Derby Party, the girls are well-prepared for their entrance into society come July. The girls also do 10 hours of volunteer work each, usually at the Oatlands Plantation, as Gallagher explains, "It’s a historic site of the National Trust … it has tours, a gift shop, and the girls help with all that." The activities the debutantes take part in vary from year to year, depending on the group of girls’ particular interests.
All in all, future, post, and debutantes alike praise the skills they acquire by participating. "It's a good bridge for the transition from being a young girl to becoming a young woman," said Kristin Watrud, who was in the Debutante Class of 2004. "You learn how to present yourself neatly ... and become a lady of society."
Brooke Valliere, a Future Debutante who attends Centreville High School, agrees. She heard about the ball from her brother's girlfriend who participated. "I got involved last year ... It seemed like a lot of fun," Valliere said. "Oh, and the cadets," she added with a mischievous smile and approving nod.
Although there may be some that dismiss debutante balls as obsolete, Gallagher responds demurely, saying simply, "Learning to be a lady with grace and poise is never obsolete."