A Very Potter Evening

Maranda Li picks up her bow and holds it poised above the tightened strings of her cello, glancing left and right at the other members of her string quintet. There’s a moment of complete silence, then as if set like a clockwork, the musicians all drag their bows at the same time, and the familiar opening hum of a song all Harry Potter fans hold dear to their hearts fills the room. It’s the song that Harry himself could barely waltz to as a fourth-year Hogwarts student and competitor in the Triwizard Tournament — but the couples swaying now in front of the quintet seem to be doing fine. The second annual Yule Ball is off to a magical start.

Orchestrated last Monday night from 7 to 10 p.m. by UCI’s Harry Potter fan club, Dumbledore’s Anteaters, the Yule Ball serves the same purpose as the Yule Ball in J.K. Rowling’s universe — it’s a formal dance to encourage frivolity and camaraderie between students. Only this Yule Ball is held in Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom, not in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, the giant castle of a wizarding school. And the male waltzers are clad in sleek suits and ties, not in traditional wizarding robes. Still, the DA planning committee, chaired by cellist and head of the Ravenclaw house, Maranda Li, worked hard to replicate the original ball’s wintery allure.

“In high school, I was never a big fan of school-organized dances and didn’t go to prom,” says Li, a third-year genetics and music double major. “The Yule Ball” — which the DA members lovingly refer to as “nerd prom” — “was a chance for me to fill that void while creating a memorable ballroom experience that was rarely ever offered to college students.”

Katharina Schmidt, a first-year biology major and a member of the DA, also sees the Yule Ball as the prom she never had.

“There’s not just pop music, but live classical music, which I’m excited about, because I didn’t enjoy the kind of music that was played at my high school prom,” Schmidt says with a laugh.

The Pacific Ballroom is dotted with tables and chairs, leaving spacious room in the center for a dancefloor. Glass bowls spewing silver streamers adorn each table, and other silver ornaments attempt to reproduce the ice castle look of the original Yule Ball Harry, Hermione and Ron attended around Christmas time.

Most of the attendees — the DA had collected over 150 tickets by 7 p.m. and were still counting — munch on snacks and watch the five-or-so couples waltzing from their seats, but with each passing minute, one or two more couples shyly make their move. It’s become rare for college students to have opportunities to dance in a formal style, so a few weeks ago while advertising the Ball, the DA shared a few YouTube videos on “how to waltz” and strongly recommended all attendees  bring a dance partner to partake in the tradition. The DA takes the Yule Ball seriously.

Like most campus organizations, the DA meets once a week in a reserved room in Humanities Hall. Every meeting begins with an introduction of new members, and then the leaders sort them into their Hogwarts Houses based on a “what would you do” scenario question.

“Depending on their answer, the other club leaders and myself decide whether the new member best fits the bravery of Gryffindor, the perseverance of Hufflepuff, the love-to-learn approach of Ravenclaw or the ambition of Slytherin,” says Li.

The meetings vary in content. There are game nights with fun games like “Guess My Name.” Some weeks are craft nights that have members making their own wands, golden snitch ornaments and Valentine’s Howlers. Other nights, the DA functions as a book club and holds debates over how particular characters are treated.

Always trying to dive deeper into the fandom, the DA sometimes holds more serious discussions. Second-year drama major and DA member Katie Mills recalls a discussion she led in which she drew parallels between Harry Potter and the history behind World War II.

“I’ve always loved Harry Potter and wanted to have fun outside of my academic classes,” says Mills as she runs coat check outside the Ballroom. “But Dumbledore’s Anteaters also gave me opportunities to connect the fictional world with the real world.”

The DA also prides itself on remaining inclusive of all fandoms, and some meetings are spent discussing other franchises, like Doctor Who.

A few Whovians wander the ballroom tonight and mingle with DA members and non-members alike. There’s a line forming at the punch bowl holding butterbeer, the popular wizarding beverage described by Rowling as tasting “a little bit like less-sickly butterscotch.”

Guests sink their tortilla chips into “Professor Sprout’s Spinach Dip,” and empty platters offering only crumbs boasts that “Aragog’s Coconut Cobwebs” and “Fleur’s Fancies Vanilla” were big hits.

While containing all the little details that Professor McGonagall herself would approve of, the Yule Ball is simply a space where students can eat, dance to the strings of the quintet — all of whom are in UCI’s orchestra — and escape for a few hours from the stress of upcoming midterms.

However, there was a student by the name of Louna Nguyen in attendance whom Harry Potter fans couldn’t resist calling “Luna Lovegood” for the rest of the night.