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Marine Corps Birthday Ball Do’s and Don’ts

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Marine Corps Ball Do and Don't
U.S. Marine Corps officers march in formation during the 2012 Commandant’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball Nov. 10, 2012, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tia Dufour/Released)

Keep it classy, make new friends, and don’t forget the reason for the night: celebrating our Corps

The Marine Corps ball is one of the most anticipated events of the year, and it’s just around the corner. If you’ve never been to a ball or it’s been a while since you’ve attended, here’s a rundown of what to expect.

Dress to impress

The Ball celebrates the birthday of our Corps, which fittingly started in a tavern on November 10, 1775. Each year the Corps celebrates in style with traditions, remembrance and fun.

Of course, this isn’t just any party. It’s an event to be celebrated, so make sure your Blues are looking tip-top and your haircut is in order. Civilian men are expected to dress in black tie or a smart-looking suit, and women are expected to wear floor-length evening gowns. Past attendees have shown up in a short cocktail dress or even sported a business casual look, but my advice is always to overdress so that you fit in. Remember, what you wear is a direct reflection of your Marine, whether you’re a date, spouse, family member or friend. 

Ladies, make sure you choose a gown that fits properly. You won’t want to put on a dress that’s too tight because there’s a lot of standing up and sitting down throughout the evening as the ceremony progresses, or even bustin’ a move afterwards on the dance floor. Spend the extra time and money to buy or tailor your dress so it fits.

On a related note: Make sure your bits are covered. I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve seen on the Internet of a dress that has been hiked up too high, breasts that have accidentally fallen out, or a slit in the dress that has accidentally exposed all while the lady is cutting a rug on the dance floor.

Finally, remember to wear shoes that are comfortable. It’s better to skip the super-sexy heels and choose the shoes that you can walk and dance in all night.

Observe the traditions

Every Marine Corps Ball brings the same ceremonial traditions and typically begins with a video message from our Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. If you won’t be attending, you can still view the ball message online when it’s released.

Following the message, the Guest of Honor, the unit’s leadership, and the colors (our nation’s flag and Marine Corps flag) are filed in. Next, the youngest and oldest Marine in the unit or room will proceed down the aisle, followed by the birthday cake.

During the cake-cutting ceremony, typically two slices of cake are cut with a sword and served. The first piece is always given to the Guest of Honor at the Ball. The second piece is served to the oldest Marine and is then handed off to the youngest Marine, “signifying the passing of experience and knowledge from the old to the young of our Corps.”

Ceremonies of late often include pictures or a slideshow of fallen Marines and deployment that the unit has recently participated in. These videos are very moving and can leave most of the audience in tears. Don’t forget to bring some tissues.

The last event of the ceremony is the Guest of Honor’s address to the Marines and guests at the ball. Shortly thereafter the ceremony is concluded, dinner is served, and dancing begins.

Raise a glass

Enjoy the cocktail hour. If your Marine is busy, mingle with other people. Ask questions. Notice how lovely all the ladies look at the event and pay a few compliments; chances are they’ve spent hours getting ready for the night and a few kind remarks are appreciated.

If you have some extra pocket change, buy a few rounds for the folks behind you in line or pass some around for the junior Marines at the event. Drinks are never cheap at these events, and a free drink is always welcomed.

Live the night to its fullest, but don’t forget to drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. Plan on eating the food at the event, even if it leaves a lot to be desired. You’ll be able to get a lot more traction out of the night. Don’t plan on drinking too much, because you don’t want to be that person everyone is talking about or worse, get removed from the event.

Finally, remember to take a lot of pictures and make some new memories. Enjoy the evening!

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