Saturday, February 14, 2009


The last time I wore a tuxedo was at the Atlanta Ski Club’s casino night at Dave & Busters in Atlanta many years ago. That same year I believe that I wore that tux to the Atlanta US Ski Team Benefit at the historic Fox Theater. With my Scots heritage firmly cemented and all my gear in place, my Sherrifmuir or Prince Charlie with kilt has been the de rigueur since and my preferred and very socially acceptable mode of dress for formal occasions.

Despite an entreaty to wear my formal Highland garb to the recent twenty-third annual Dallas Symphony Orchestra League Presentation Ball, I opted to wear the tux again and allow the forty-six debutantes especially the daughter of our hosts to be the center of attention. Though this probably would not be the case in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chattanooga, Savannah, Mobile, Birmingham, Richmond, Charleston, Washington, DC and even New York, Dallas and Texas in general does not appear to understand their significant Scots heritage and the importance of their contribution to this great nation and even to the formation of the Republic of Texas. But, that’s another story and, yes, there was a piper at The Alamo, the inspired and colorful John MacGregor from Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland.

Lest we think that this rite of passage is a purely Southern institution we need note that Debutante Balls aka Cotillions are now held all over the world and unless you’re a KA, we’re not dealing with an exclusive and nostalgic Southern mentality (though that would be OK by me).

I ventured into the inner sanctums of the magnificent Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas with no expectations save memories of my first Cotillions in Providence, Rhode Island where my first year (1962) I was in white tie and tails and the Escort of Phoebe Gifford a close and dear Family Friend (cousin) and surrogate daughter to my Mother. In 1963 I was incorporated into the general cadre of Honor Guards that escorted the Mothers of current debutantes. The Cotillions were held at the “Grand Dame of Providence” the Sheraton-Biltmore Hotel built in 1922 as the city's premier hotel and now on the National Historic Registrar. The Sheraton Biltmore (now the Providence Biltmore) was the venue for many of the most significant Debutante Balls in the United States. Most of the young ladies were the daughters and scions of American families (the upper crust) of the Providence and southern New England Social Register though many more young ladies from New York and Boston chose Providence to “come out” into the world of adults. It was an extraordinary spectacle that captured the grandeur of the gilded age that then and now exists in nearby Newport.

As an aside, the Biltmore housed the Falstaff Room a bar that conjured up the spirit of Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff, the portly and comedic glutton who was characterized by his loose tongue and copious consumption of alcohol (whatever). It was in these gilded and old English environs where many a young man of eighteen was served his first legal drink. Shortly after my eighteenth birthday in 1961 my Father escorted me to the Falstaff room for my rite of passage with alcohol. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that one of my football coaches at Lenox had already taken the lead in New York State (all legal, mind you). So, the Sheraton was the home for two great rites of passage and always of great significance to me. In was in that great spirit that I entered the Myerson…

I’m guessing that there must have been some 1,500+ folks in attendance at this Cinderella-like event; the debs, escorts, Family, Friends and socialites of all persuasions - dressed to impress. The exquisite gowns of Vera Wang, Badgley Mischka, Carmen Marc Vavlo, Carolina Herrera, Donatella Versace and other top designers graced many beautiful ladies who with the requisite cleavage were regaled in their Family jewels. Beautiful People literally filled the lower level Lobby where long drink lines didn’t prevent me from securing a Rex Goliath (free range) Chardonnay and a Tunnel of Elms Cabernet of dubious origin (a seven dollar bottle) though they really weren’t that bad. At 8:00 PM the debutantes were presented on the Myerson stage musically accompanied by select members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO).

I was in for a treat and didn’t know it was coming even as the first debutante was introduced. Along with the rest of the Debs she wore a gorgeous, extravagantly layered, bouffant white ball gown with either hoops or scores of petticoats to maintain its shape. She was accompanied by her Father who escorted her to the front of the stage, kissed her on her cheek and then released her to the world. I expected the perfunctory St. James Bow and curtsey as performed by Phoebe and the other Debutantes I have seen. She smiled and as if blossoming, slowly raised her arms to her side, parallel to the stage as if ready to fly whilst holding a bouquet of at least a dozen orange roses in her white gloved right hand. Everybody in the Myerson was holding their collective breaths. Like thousands of Texas Debutantes around the world before her she steadfastly looked forward then slowly sank to her knees lowering herself to the floor while maintaining her balance, upright posture and, most importantly, her dignity. It was as if she literally and gracefully melted into the floor. While still facing the audience she leaned over and only when she was almost enveloped by her gown did she look down bringing her face into her dress while she hovered just above the floor. Her gown had blossomed and spread out around her like an open chrysanthemum.

Everybody in the Myerson was quiet as she slowly looked to her escort who steadfastly came to her side and taking her left hand provided some assistance as she gracefully lifted her head up and then seemingly without effort and in a fluid motion unseated herself and slowly rose to a standing position. An appreciative audience politely though enthusiastically applauded while her Friends and Family offered a few Texas He-Haws, Whoops and Rebel Yells. Well done, Aye, Y’all.

This bigger than life embellishment of the curtsey is known formally as the Full Court Bow and referred by many as the Texas Dip and by others as the Texas Swan Lake maneuver. This was no great surprise as in the Lone Star State we do things with a little more bravado, drama, flair and style, Let there be no doubt that this is a big brave thing to do in front of God, the world and lots of Texas folks.

That exercise was repeated forty five more times and far from fictional Willow Bend, Texas and Linda Francis Lee’s tongue-in-cheek Carlisle Wainwright Cushing character and her failure to properly execute the Texas Dip, the 2009 class of DSO Debs were superb in their effort with several approaching near perfection.

One of my high points was seeing none other than one of my personal heroes and PGA golf great, Lee Buck Trevino escort his daughter and facilitate her ascendency to maturity. I entertained and amused those around me with an exclamatory, “That’s Lee Trevino!” He was grand as ever and my only disappointment that evening was the failure to find him later in order to thank him for years of incredible athleticism and entertainment. Thank you, Lee, for all you have done. Our best to you and your Family.

The introduction of the debutantes was followed by a superb three course dinner that was swiftly served by a consummately professional banquet staff. As a veteran and graduate of the food wars (been there, done that) and specifically Carr’s Catering in Rhode Island (next door neighbors) and the Radisson in Atlanta, my compliments for their impeccable execution.

The dance band (Cuvee) wasn’t even a remote facsimile of Lester Lanin and his Orchestra, the New York band with the big band sound that played at so many debutante balls throughout the Northeast (and the world) including the 1962 and 1963 Cotillions in Providence. I was an early beneficiary of the Parent’s League dances at the Agawam Hunt Club (est. 1897) in Rumford, RI where Lanin and his orchestra officiated at many a dance rite of passage especially for most of us that lived on the east side and College Hill area of Providence. We grew up dancing to his music and he was us…

The Cuvee band which has apparently catered to most of the young folk of exclusive Highland and University Parks within Dallas could not carry the bags of Lester Lanin and to compare their music is like trying to herd a bunch of cats. One of their admitted high points was playing at Dennis Hoppers 60th birthday… OK? Maybe they just had a bad night, but they were just loud with their real talent hidden somewhere within those 150 db frenzies. The DSO oversold the function and the excess of guests turned the dance floor into a Standing Room Only saunter. Disgusted, I didn’t dance one step, choosing to conservatively drink the wine and have some great conversation with new Friends. Aye!

Some Dallas critics offered that this celebration was an extravagant excess, not appropriate to our current economic situation, a debauched vestige of our decadent past and that it sent all the wrong signals. Well, my anthropology and College Hill genes protest! I certainly believe that events such as this sends all the right signals and first and foremost that it’s OK to grow up and evolve in a world where change is the mantra. We need to recognize that sacred transition and metamorphosis from adolescence to adulthood as a significant event. We can also point out that this generated employment for perhaps hundreds of citizens and had a positive impact on the local economy (more later).

Having said that there is no doubt that elitism and self indulgence played a small part in this exercise but isn’t that all part of the human experience? As the song goes, Tradition! We can still concede that the world has changed and that Women are equals and probably our superiors. Many of the young Ladies present appeared to be more engaged in networking and that ultimate CEO slot rather than looking for a husband. What a great way to preserve the better part of our past and have a great time doing it!

As they say in the Lone Star State: Where there’s a cause, there’s a charity and where there’s charity, there’s usually a party. That surely was the case here as the Dallas Symphony League has raised over $9M these last twenty-three years for the DSO Education and Community Outreach Programs. The DSO annually spends more than $700,000.00 US on community outreach literally serving thousands of young people in Dallas/Fort Worth and north Texas.

This was an enjoyable evening spent in the company of Friends and a noble, civilized, time honored tradition that helps us to be the best that we can be… My genuine and heartfelt thanks to our hosts and my Best Friend.


Ned Buxton

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