Matric ball indulgence
The matric dance has evolved from being just a farewell party for matriculants to a red-carpet event.
It has become one of the most exciting and glamorous nights for bright-eyed aspirant high school graduates.
Pupils make sure that their dresses and suits are designed months in advance.
Hair and facial appointments are booked early and nails are carefully manicured to ensure everything is absolutely perfect on the big day.
Matric dances resemble Hollywood-red-carpet-meets-motor-show events as the youngsters emerge from rumbling hot rods, Italian exotics, supercars, classics and limousines to the dazzle of camera flashes, cheering and ululating crowds.
But all that glamour and glitz come at a cost.
Typically, many schools host their matric dances in the first two terms of the year, but for various reasons, such as the availability of venues, some schools leave it until later in the year.
According to designers, the girls often have difficulty in finding impressive matric dance dresses off the shelf.
“Some children make huge and impractical demands about how their dresses should look,” said Pietermaritzburg designer and owner of Crazy Urban Fashion Studio Nkosi Mhlungu.
Mhlungu said the girls look to the world’s red carpets for inspiration and arrive at his studios clutching pictures of international celebrities.
“They are very specific about what they want.
“Sometimes we have difficulty sourcing fabrics for some of the designs that the girls want,” said Mhlungu.
He said that with the second half of the matric dance season starting, he has had his hands full with about 50 outfits to make for the occasions.
Mhlungu said that while there are cheaper solutions, like wearing borrowed gowns and taking care of one’s own hair, nails and make-up, many matrics cave in to societal pressure and insist on a high-end, unique and expensive look.
And, while girls face a hefty outlay, boys also have to fork out to look dashing on the day.
Mhlungu said three-piece tuxedos are trending with the boys. A custom-designed dress costs in the region of R1 800 to R2 500, while suits for the boys cost from R2 500 to R2 900.
Another Pietermaritzburg designer said parents do not mind spending big for their own child’s farewell, but where their son or daughter is accompanying another, hiring is a popular option.
Beauty and hair salons set up packages specifically for matric pupils.
Matric pupil Alanna Scott said that although she has not yet started shopping for her matric dance dress, she is aware that custom-designed dresses cost in the region of R1 000 to R4 000, while professional make-up could set her back between R300 and R600, and a manicure about R350.
“And then, for the after-party we need another outfit.
“Our matric dance is at the end of September so I got a holiday job in the June holidays to help pay.”
Silver Heights High School pupil Sibusiso Dladla said he is looking forward to his matric dance on November 30.
“Matric dances will always be relevant.
“Attending the matric ball represents a huge achievement,” said Sibusiso.
He said his parents have budgeted about R5 000 for the occasion.
The proper ride for an epic entrance
Once everyone is made over and looking splendid, couples need to be ferried to their function in style, and while many band together to hire a party bus, others opt to rent a limousine, celebrity-style.
Holby Limousine Hire owner Anton Holby said limo rides are popular during the matric dance season.
“Basically, they just want to rock up in a limo that has fancy lighting and loud music — it’s a party on the move. It’s not just to enjoy the ride; it’s more for the appearance.”
He said hiring a limo can cost between R1 500 and R6 000, depending on the travelling distance. Holby said stretch limousines, which can be shared by 12 to 16 people, are ideal.
He said the limousine comes with non-alcoholic sparkling wine, a red-carpet experience and security guards.
Pietermaritzburg-based businessperson Mike Wenstrey, who has been chauffeuring pupils to matric dances for 30 years, said last year he had about 20 requests. He said he offers pick-ups and drop-offs at a cost of R1 000 in Pietermaritzburg.
Durban-based Sky Safaris, which charters helicopters across KwaZulu-Natal, said it has received many requests to transport pupils to school dances. Owner Heather Swaisland said that while the pupils are willing to pay as much as R10 000 a trip, she declined the requests.
“The problem is that helicopters are not allowed to fly after sunset. Matric balls are at night and the SA Civil Aviation Authority only allows emergency helicopters to fly after sunset,” said Swaisland.
Necessary tradition or a waste of money?
While the exorbitant spending has been criticised, Weekend Witness readers agreed that the night gives pupils a chance to feel glamorous and socialise with their friends and teachers. It also signifies their success in reaching their final year of school.
Commenting on The Witness Facebook page, Pietermaritzburg resident Gugulethu Zungu said: “For some of us it’s one chance in the whole history of our schooling career that we get to dress up and meet outside school boundaries.
“I almost missed mine because my family couldn’t afford to send me but a teacher covered my costs and it ended up being the best memory of my entire high school years.
“When managed accordingly, and parents and pupils don’t spend excessively, I think it’s a nice tradition to have.”
Kathryn Hudson said that the hiring of cars and the “catwalk” the pupils do before the event is “ridiculous”.
“Too much pressure is put on the kids to dress and be made up to the nines to keep up with their peers,” said Hudson.
Beverly Bradbury, who said her son is having his matric ball on September 28, said she is looking forward to the affair.
“I’m so looking forward to dressing him up so he can look smart because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Looking back at her own matric dance, Bradbury said it was a memorable evening to reflect on her schooling years.
Denesh Ramdat Govender agreed that matric balls offer unforgettable memories, saying: “It’s a time to reflect and make memories that will last a lifetime. It’s your final farewell to your schooling career before you enter the real world.”
Hazel Montague Rampaul said: “Totally unnecessary ... it does not add value to their academic life ... keep the money to pay for studies in the following year.”
Jeswain van Wyk said pupils should be allowed to share the experience.
On the other hand, there are pupils who will not get to experience the event.
An Elandskop school matric pupil said most of her friends do not want to attend their dance as it is unaffordable and it is to take place in October, only weeks before their final exams commence.
“We have to contribute R500 each towards the event and still have money for our clothing and travel, etc. Not everyone can afford this. October should be dedicated to studying, not preparing for a dance,” said the pupil.
Another pupil said girls are under pressure to sport the best possible weave at the matric dance. “A virgin grade 8A weave of Malaysian, Peruvian or Brazilian hair can cost between R3 000 and R5 000, depending on length.”
The matriculant said she could not afford to foot the mega bill and opted only to attend the Grade 11 Spring ball.
“The after-party is another expense because even if you wear jeans and a special top, it must be new. You even need new underwear for the day!”
One parent said she is glad her daughter’s matric dance is over.
“It’s stressful for a parent as my daughter was a bit demanding. As a parent you give in and console yourself by saying it’s a once-off thing,” said the mother. “Roughly I have spent over R8 000 on clothing, hair, make-up, nails and all the other little things.”
Another parent bemoaned the fact that children didn’t even stay at the event long — “they are often far too eager to get to the after-party instead”.
Costs to consider
• A dress or suit — the largest portion of your budget and a wide price range
• Accessories — shoes, a clutch bag, jewellery
• Beauty — hair, nails and make-up
• Transportation — a shared limo or your own car
• After-party – set aside around R500 for cover charge.
Wild parties and ‘rites of passage’
The conclusion of the matric dance is generally marked by parties and drinking as most teens celebrate the end of an era.
Matriculants who spoke to Weekend Witness said most afterparties are organised by the pupils separately so while school formals and matric dances are carefully planned and regulated, the after parties are not. These often happen off school property and can get out of hand, particularity when alcohol is in the mix.
Every year, throngs of boozing, out-of-control matriculants hit the seaside towns of Ballito, Umhlanga and Margate to party. Matriculants, many of whom attend some of the country’s top schools, descend on these towns to celebrate the end of their school careers.
Often starting in early December and lasting until Christmas, the highlight of these “wild parties” is the popular Rage, often referred to as a “rite of passage”, held in Umhlanga and Ballito clubs.
Anthea Cereseto, CEO of the Governing Body Foundation, said there are no formal regulations for these matric dances and that the schools themselves decide on what is appropriate in their particular set up with their arrangements often set up according to their code of conduct.
She added that one must be careful in advocating responsibility and lay down some hard and fast expectations that are made clear to parents, so they know what the dances are.
Caro Smit, founder and director of South Africans Against Drunk Driving (Sadd), said parents needed to be proactive about drinking and driving.
“Car crashes are the leading cause of death in 15 to 29 years olds.”
She also said the number of parents who take their children for pre-drinks was also concerning, never mind illegal, saying: “The binge drinking contributes to our crash statistics.”
Provincial Education spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said schools have to seek permission before holding a matric dance.
Mthethwa said although the department cannot regulate afterparties, pupils are urged to have fun responsibly.
Television personality and all-round slayer Bonang Matheba is giving away three of her favourite red carpet dresses to lucky matriculants in South Africa.
Queen B, as she is affectionately known, has invited matriculants to send their motivation as to why they deserve to win a Bonang Matheba red carpet dress and a makeover.
“I’ve had a most blessed month and want to share in my success by acknowledging others and encouraging individuals to feel strong, beautiful and empowered.
“So, I’m giving three young ladies the chance to win one of my red carpet stunners and to be the queen of their matric dances,” said Bonang.
Entrants need to send their motivation to womenofthefu email@example.com.
Winners will be announced live by Queen B from Times Square, New York, on September 10.