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What to Expect at a Mardi Gras Ball in Mobile
Ballgoers on Dance Floor at the Civic Center
A Ball? How I Long For A Ball!
Mardi Gras balls in Mobile last from 8 pm until 2 am. There are different types of balls but always the dress code is costume de rigueur. Occasionally, there may be an option to wear black tie. Most today are the large (for Mobile anyway) groups of 300 or more active members, as parading is quite expensive for an organization. While there are many venues, the typical locale is the Civic Center. Only a few are table dances, where guests are assigned a mystic society member's table. The smaller the membership, typically the more exclusive it is. These may be held at Fort Whiting, the Athelstan Club, the Country Club of Mobile or the Battle House Hotel's Crystal Ballroom.
Make sure you have your invitation to hand to the invitation committee. They will be collecting them. Bring an ID if you look young. The larger groups hire policemen to police the entrances and they will check them, as you must be 21. There will be open bars and usually food, but not a great food selection. Eat ahead of time! The same policemen will be watching as you leave for extreme drunkenness so drink water in between each drink. Some groups will send members around to ask you to NOT drink on the dance floor because it's a safety hazard.
Order of Myths Documentary About Mobile's Mardi Gras
Queen of a Ball
See the Parade!
One way to see the parade is to go ahead and dress up but wear some tennis shoes and bring a bag to catch your throws. You'll likely catch more than most because the mystic society members will see that you are going to their ball. Later, you can change out to dressier shoes and check your parade shoes with your bag in the coat check (at the Civic Center); usually around $5.00. Otherwise, it is difficult to go to both parade and the ball.
Mystics of Time Parade
Have you ever been to a Mardi Gras Ball?
Types of Balls
An Example of Call Outs for Larger Ball
Is it Okay Tableaux Off the Tableaux?
The mystic society will have a theme and will present it with a short tableaux , a short story that describes the theme and pronounced "ta blow", at the beginning of the ball. Unfortunately, your idea of "short" may be quite different from the mystic society's. They can be long and tedious, even up to one and a half hours. Call outs are simply when the members are called out, bow and throw doubloons(fake minted coins) before the president and/or emblem of the society, and present themselves to the audience. Sometimes the members do small dances which makes it excrutiatingly long.
If it is a parading society, they have to get off the floats at the end of the parade (if it started on time!) and come straight to the ball, so there is a high chance the ball will not start on time. The large (and small) groups will not know if you are there for the tableaux, so many Mobilians go out to eat around 7pm and then arrive after the tableaux around 9:30 pm or 10 pm. It's not that the tableaux is that boring; it is that many times, the open bar is shut down during it. Many Mobilians cannot go without alcohol that long! So it's not the end of the world if you time your arrival to skip the tableaux. I know that it seems rude but as a mystic society member, I really just want you to have a good time.
The tableaux should be seen at least once though, even if to remind you to thank the good Lord that today we have television and don't have to rely on the tableaux for entertainment. If you do decide that you must see the historic tableaux, arrive at 8 pm, get two drinks just in case the bar is temporarily closed (at any rate, you don't want to get up again and get a drink) , and they will usher you in to the upper levels of the Civic Center to sit down. There will be a point when the doors are locked to late arrivals (no disruption to the tableaux) , so you need to make it no later than 8:30 pm or just wait until 10 pm, when the doors will reopen. Later, after the call outs, join the giant crush of people trying to get down to the various rooms. Each member belongs to a "room", where the room members arrange a caterer, bartenders,etc. This is another reason many of us skip the tableaux. Why not just come to the member's room around 10 pm?
At most balls, there will be a big band orchestra on the left and a pop music band on the right. They will alternate sets all night. For the really large ones, like Mystics of Time, there will be two more bands near the entrance, usually a country band and a R & B band. We walk around the circular Civic Center to visit friends in various rooms and socialize.
The Mobile Carnival Association presents the King and Queen of Mardi Gras, each having an extensive history of monarchs in their family tree. For some groups, these two will appear, such as at midnight they appear at Mystics of Time to meet Father Time, the emblem or symbolic personification of their mystic society. This can be highly entertaining as the King and Queen, and their accompaning parents, have been earlier at the King's Supper. I still remember one of the mothers being slightly tipsy, yet still drinking out of a flask.
There are other queens singled out elsewhere, though. Each men's group will present their queen, a young, college-aged daughter or relative of a member, or in some cases, like the Infant Mystics, several daughters of the members. Even to be the queen of a large men's mystic society is costly- one father told me he spent $30,000. Typically, the men's group will have a room where the queen will receive guests, so pay your respects and visit it.
Finally, remember you have been invited by a member, so behave in a classy manner. They can be fined for your misbehaviors. A common problem with men is they get hot and take their tails jacket off. Women wear uncomfortable heels and want to take their shoes off. These would be minor infractions, but for instance, if a mystic society member comes to your group and says,"Put on your jacket/shoes," you had better do it. Besides, you do not want to walk through the wet floor barefooted anyway.
The worst case scenario is you can even be put on a "banned to attend" list, which means your name is on a list to be double-checked by the invitation committee. If your name is listed on the list, the inviting member will be told the reason why you cannot attend. Some of the reasons are fighting, stealing decoration items, etc. So let the good times roll, but don't get crazy!