On a cold winter night around the middle of January, you can expect to find students forming a line around the block waiting to get into Ida Noyes Hall wearing…well…not much. This is the Lascivious Ball: UChicago’s most underrated and underdressed event, where students are encouraged to express body positivity by wearing anything that they feel comfortable and proud in, whether it’s lingerie or even a parka.
The Lascivious Ball has had a complicated past and was even banned on campus from the mid-1980s to 2008. Its revival reveals a commitment to self-love and free expression.
The most recent ball was a smashing success—all three floors of Ida Noyes were filled with students intermingling and dancing in their sexiest outfits. Many arrived wearing nothing but their underthings, but some took it up a notch, donning different costumes and lingerie outfits. The point of the event, however, isn’t necessarily to wear the most scandalous thing you own, but to feel empowered to openly express yourself in whatever way you want in a judgement-free space. “If you want to show up in a nun costume or in a full Eskimo costume, we don’t want to impose judgment,” joked 2016 graduate and former co-director of Sex Week, Angie Wan.
Last year’s event, however, was definitely a departure from the original aim of the Lascivious Costume Ball (LCB) when it was instituted in 1970. Held annually, the LCB was created as a movement against UChicago’s most well-known social event, the Washington Prom. Similar to the current Fall Formal or Snow Ball, the Prom was by far the most successful student event on campus, and since 1894 it had drawn students together in formal attire for an evening of dinner and dancing.
Unlike the Fall Formal, however, the Prom took place on campus and was open to faculty and administrators as well. By the 1970s, The Prom was a symbol of the administration, tradition, and antiquity. The Lascivious Ball provided baby boomers in the College a counter-culture protest: students yearned for an event that was less stuffy and supervised. So, the LCB was created as the Prom’s polar opposite; held at the same time and day as the Prom, it invited students to revel in its unorganized nature and to wear as little as possible.
Artist: Meera Joshi
As the event continued throughout the years, the party eventually became too out of control for the administration to handle. The University President of the time, Hanna Gray, banned the LCB in 1984.
An old Chicago Tribune article from the final LCB before it was banned gave readers insight into what it was like to attend. Men usually showed up completely naked, with only a strategically-placed calculator or frisbee. Women opted for lingerie, leather or silver chains.
Upstairs, attendees had the opportunity to watch strippers or X-rated movies. And, back when Ida Noyes had a pool in its basement, LCB gave students the opportunity to swim au naturale.
Part of the reason LCB became so out of control could be due to the fact that students, wanting to sexually express themselves but afraid to, turned to alcohol in order to loosen up. Societal mandates at the time dictated that revealing clothes and revelling in one’s own sexuality was demeaning and immoral. Those who wanted to attend the event often had to pass by a number of campus protesters. One protester wrote to The Chicago Maroon, saying that the Ball was “vulgar and demeaning.”
Ultimately, administrators had no choice but to shut things down. “Too many students were ending up in the emergency room; it had become an occasion for seriously dangerous alcohol consumption,” said Gray in an email.
Years passed, and in 2008 the Ball was brought back to life as a completely reimagined the event, emphasizing aspects of self-expression. The LCB is now hosted as a part of Sex Week, a week-long event that promotes discussions, workshops, and seminars exploring the nature of relationships, sexual preferences, and personal expression. Since its revival, the Ball’s purpose has shifted—students might still be getting undressed, but for different reasons entirely. Not only that, but the event is far more supervised with private security to make sure things don’t get out of hand.
The 2015 ball featured a variety of performances from campus RSOs. Groups like Vox Circus and Rhythmic Bodies in Motion performed beautiful lyrical compositions, the campus favorite New Orleans style jazz band Dirt Red got UChicago students moving on the dance floor, and even the improv troupe Off-Off Campus made an appearance and had the whole audience in stitches.
Artist: Sarah Komanapalli
“All [of these groups] agree with the goal of Lascivious,” says third-year and director of Lascivious, Tian Zhenying. “They want to use their own means of expression—dance, music, comedy—and art to fit within the theme of the Ball.”
According to Zhenying, the Ball was brought back because of overwhelming student demand. “We were envious of other schools that have Sex Week, which include Harvard and Yale,” she says. “There was a space that was missing for frank discussions about sex that Sex Week and Lascivious fill. Technically, the sexual revolution happened in the 1960s, but there is still so much taboo about the subject. [Ultimately], we’re trying to [change] things that are viewed as counter-culture into something normal in our culture.”
Given that UChicago students come from all different areas of the world, all with different cultures, customs, and sexual education practices, Lascivious and Sex Week provide a much-needed education in a context that is safe, non-judgmental, and inclusive.
“Some of our workshops answer questions as basic as ‘how to use birth control,’” says Wan. “These are questions you can’t ask in any of your classes at UChicago and you might feel uncomfortable asking them to a doctor. We give students a place to turn to if they want to learn more about their options [for self-expression].”
The Lascivious Ball, even with its scandalous past, is an important part of UChicago’s history and its future. The dance is a testament to the accepting and loving community that the campus can foster; it brings people together in a way no other event can. “Even though it only lasts for two and a half hours, you’re entering this place that’s different from the normal world,” said Zhenying. “Everyone is completely comfortable in their own skin. There’s nothing that makes me happier than that.”
Not only that, but it’s also teaching students how to love themselves and make themselves comfortable, asking some tough and personal questions about their sexuality and how to best express it. Both Lascivious and Sex Week provide a low-pressure and ultimately fun medium for students to do what they’re supposed to do in college anyway—find themselves.
“This isn’t just a ‘sexy ball,’” Zhenying stresses. “We’re [ultimately] providing a safe space for bodily expression."