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SSC Newspaper : August 2012
plucking by eligible suitors, it's now just an exciting social event. “Many people have this idea that these debutante balls are not fun and it's just about curtseying and waltzing,” she says. “ Yes, we do some of the traditional procedures but ultimately our debutantes enjoy coming out. “If they didn’t enjoy it, they wouldn’t do it. It’s the highlight of the social calendar for us and the debs can bring their friends; it’s something different.” Shliapnikoff also says these balls are important as a cultural and traditional event. The speeches are made in Russian and there are many dignitaries that attend these events. “ We have a much smaller Russian community now than we did 20 years ago,” she says. “ When I came out as a deb, there were around 20 couples, but now it has been reduced down to around 10. “But most Russian and other cultural community schools still have these debutantes. It is a lovely event and we are trying to break down the misconceptions about what it is to be a debutante.” Australia’s queen of grace and poise June Dally-Watkins says debutante balls teach young ladies and gentlemen proper manners and etiquette, important lessons which she believes have diminished over time. Miss Dally, as she prefers to be known, says she has not been requested as a consultant for a ball for close to five years. “I can’t even remember the last debutante I was invited to,” she says. “There was once www.ourstrathfield.com.au Strathfield Scene 17 life "Maybe [debutante balls] are obsolete but they are part of learning good manners." – deportment educator and businesswoman June Dally Watkins in kindergarten. She told the Scene she had been looking forward to her debut for years. “The reason I’m doing this is because it’s an exciting event on the school’s calendar,” Katya says. “Most of the students in each year 10 class make their debut and we don’t think it’s old-fashioned at all. “It’s an important traditional thing that we do, but at the end of the day, it is a nice thing to get your hair and make-up done and to wear a beautiful dress.” The debutante season was once governed by strict rules: no diamonds worn until the evening, tiaras worn only in the presence of royalty, lessons in how to curtsey at a dancing school, long white gowns with a train, three ostrich feathers and long white kid gloves. It’s hardly surprising that many families couldn’t afford such extravagance. Shliapnikoff says that institutions such as St Alexander Nevsky subsidise the cost of their debs, which makes the practice more affordable for students and their parents. “Our debs don’t have to pay for things such as the tickets, hiring out the halls and a teacher to teach the waltzes, because the school pays for that,” she says. “But regardless of this, the costs can vary depending on how much the girls want to spend on their dresses, shoes, make-up and hair. It can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.” Shliapnikoff admits that the concept of a debutante ball has changed drastically, since she came out. Rather than presenting young women as prize chooks ready for the “It’s an important traditional thing that we do, but at the end oftheday,itisanice thing to get your hair and make-up done and to wear a beautiful dress.” a time when I would be invited to many debutantes and I would teach the young ladies to curtsey and they would occasionally be presented to me. “Times have changed and perhaps it is now too expensive and, some would say, a waste of time. And maybe they are obsolete but they are part of learning good manners.” Miss Dally says she has been criticised for being “old-fashioned” and that many parents and students think the idea of a debutante ball is stuffy and outdated. Schools such as Meriden, PLC Sydney and MLC Burwood once had debutante balls, but this practice is fast diminishing. Principal of Meriden Dr Julie Greenhalgh says debutante balls were once a time-honoured tradition, with each ball presenting around 20 debs, but she says the students are no longer interested in making their debut. “Meriden no longer holds a debutante event,” she says. “It was phased out a few years ago due to lack of interest. “But there are options available outside the school, within various cultural community groups, for girls wishing to make their debut.” Though these balls might be thought of as old hat by some, perhaps we may soon see a resurgence – Miss Dally was recently contacted by Santa Sabina College to consult for their 2013 debutante ball. “This will be the first ball in around five years that I’ve been consulted on,” she says. “I am extremely excited – it might be a revival of the debutante ball.” OppOsite page main picture: the proud and excited debutantes of st alexander nevsky. this page tOp: 15-year-old debutante Katya shliapnikoff; above: the debutantes must practise for weeks before the event.