Anna Pyne and her seventh-grade friends for weeks have been talking about, thinking about and texting about tonight’s sold-out Maria M. Love Charity Ball.
The Buffalo brew of social-media-fueled cachet, fun and dress-up sent desperate mothers to Facebook to ask for help scoring extra tickets.
“It’s awful wanting to go to the Charity Ball, just wanting,” said Anna, 12, who has invited her City Honors School friends to get ready at her house.
At the “before” party, her mother serves bite-size fruit and veggie snacks because the girls are too excited to sit and eat a proper meal.
“It’s kind of hard to think about how much I love it … It’s so, so fun,” Anna explained.
One of her friends put a daily countdown on her iPod. Another views it as a reward for all the tests she’s been slogging through.
The 110-year-old ball, to these 21st century girls, is like a present in the lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Once you have a ticket, there’s the outfit. That means dress shopping or raiding an older sister’s closet. Then there’s hair to be curled in the short time between the end of the school day and the beginning of the dance.
“Some people don’t even get their hair done because there’s not enough time,” Anna said.
And the shoes, which can be a problem for a fashionista girl. Anna wanted to go higher than her mother would allow. One to two inches was OK; not four.
“I don’t want to wear flats,” she said.
The Maria M. Love Convalescent Fund, which gives away about $108,000 a year to people in need of medical help, has held its December fundraising dance for young people since 1903. In generations past, young ladies wore white gloves and carried dance cards.
Now the ball manages to stay modern – and tweets.
“Weeeee’re Reeeeeaaady!” Charity Ball said on Twitter a few days before tickets went on sale a month ago.
For decades, the ball was mainly attended by city children from private schools who were finishing up a season of lessons in the cha-cha, fox trot and waltz taught by the Etiquette and Ballroom Dancing School.
But the ball now draws from public and private, suburban and city schools. Its blue blood, humanitarian namesake Maria – pronounced mah-rye-ah – Love was known for pioneering community services for the poor. While traveling in France, she noticed nurseries for children of working women. In 1881, she set up one in Buffalo. The fund she left behind pays to fix one-time medical problems, like buying a talking blood pressure machine for a blind patient or a new fridge for a family to keep insulin cold for a diabetic child.
Nancy Stevens, the fund’s executive director, figures the decision a few years ago to sell tickets online and this year’s Tweets helped the ball sell out its 2,400 tickets.
“There’s been a hype and a frenzy … We, as a board, have decided to be more inclusive rather than exclusive,” she said. “Kids don’t have an outlet for getting together as a group.”
The 1,200 tickets for the high school dance that starts at 9 p.m. sold out within two days.
The 1,200 tickets to the earlier middle school dance sold until Thanksgiving.
“Call the hotline if you need them,” the Charity Ball tweet announced.
Parents who didn’t act fast enough tried the waiting list and called friends who might have an “in.” The Pyne family heard that desperate neighbors, stopping by with coffee, wooed a Charity Ball board member until a sign appeared on her front door: “No more tickets.”
“You get kind of stuck,” Stevens said. “There’s so many disappointed kids … We always feel terrible.”
One solution: Sign up online as an “Angel” and buy a $75 advance ticket instead of paying the regular $45. It’s something Anna’s mother, Melanie Pyne, has been considering. She bought tickets the afternoon they went on sale this year, but the mothers of her daughters’ friends weren’t as fast. They had to network and email around until everyone had a ticket.
“One of my friends had an extra, so I grabbed it,” she said. “It was always like plugging holes here and there.”
In her family, the dance has evolved into a tradition with a get-dressed-and-get-your-hair-done party. Sometimes Pyne wonders if she has more fun than her daughters, Anna and 15-year-old City Honors freshman Emily. Each girl invites about 10 friends, who come and crowd the bathroom mirror. Their aunt, a baker with a talent for hair, comes to help do the curls – left to dangle since updos usually fall apart while bouncing and shimmying to pop music.
Last year, Pyne was taking pictures even as her husband and his dressed-up and hair-curled carload was ready to drive off to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. She lived up to her nickname, a combination of mother and paparazzi.
“They call me Mamarazzi,” she said.
On Thanksgiving weekend before the ball, the Pyne girls and two friends sat on their couch and contemplated the upcoming dance. As seventh-graders, they had a shot at the center of the dance floor, prime space that older kids claim and don’t share.
“In sixth grade, we tried to get to the middle of the dance,” she said. “It didn’t really work.”
The more they talked, the more the ball smacked of lessons that could come in handy later in life. Dresses were best if they had just the right amount of flowers, puffiness or sparkle.
“Too much of a good thing is a bad thing,” said Natasha Panepinto.
As for the ones who couldn’t get tickets, maybe it was time for the Charity Ball to expand and have another dance, maybe in the suburbs.
“I feel like everyone should have a chance to go,” said Emily.
Her mother figures the ball’s little chunks of wisdom and change help make the bittersweet trip from little girl to young woman easier.
That includes the compromise shoes Anna found to go with her little red dress. Black, open toe, 1½-inch heel. Not flats, not too high. Just high enough for her to feel like she’s grown up.