Friday, November 5, 2010

Lighting the Ballroom

When it comes to choosing lighting for a ball, I have several convictions that I have developed over the years. I believe in setting the lights quite bright.

 As an example, I am inordinately fond of our dances at the Astor’s Beechwood. Early on, I noticed that they set the lights brighter than, say, Rosecliff ballroom. I found the energy in the room exhilarating. Everyone seems to sparkle. You notice the glint of tiaras and the fluff of ostrich plumes, the glow of old silk and the depth of velvet.

 You might say that this sparklyness is better suited to the time of gaslight than the time of candlelight. I counter with the words of Florence Hartley. After she discusses the floor, and the musicians and the flower arrangements, mentioning several times the "brilliant" lighting, she says, "One rule you must observe; have abundance of everything. Other entertainments may be given upon economical principles, but a ball cannot. Light, attendance, supper, every detail must be carefully attended to, and a ball must be an expensive luxury." (1872) 

For the people of the 1860s, the lights of a ballroom were brighter than their normal evening lights and they did experience the same sparklyness. If you were ever to set up a ballroom with full chandeliers of candles, you'd be amazed by the amount of light in the room.

The question for us remains: do we try to recreate the exact lighting of a ball, or do we try to recreate the feeling of the participants? If your hall’s insurance will allow, do try the many candles approach. I am convinced that there is no substitute for hundreds of glowing, flickering flames. If you are not able to use candles, I believe that you should feel free to use modern lights to boost the sociability and energy of the room.