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Monday, November 07, 2005

Guilty for Charity

This year, the CityStep party Guilty will be taking the place of the annual CityStep ball, which has been a yearly occurrence for at least the past seven years, and has always been touted as the largest school-wide formal thrown each year. While I don't know the details of why the decision was made to change it from the traditionally formal CityStep Ball to a club party called Guilty, I'm a little sad that this year there won't be a Ball.

Besides the nostalgia, there's also something about throwing a party called Guilty, with silhouettes of dancing people holding handcuffs, to raise money for a program benefitting kids that just doesn't sit right with me. There are a few arguments for and against this, most notably the idea that moeny, no matter where it comes from, is money, and the best way to get money is to do something that a lot of pepole will want to go to, and that may just be a club party as opposed to a formal. And besides that, what is it that is different about a club party as opposed to a formal? People will still dance on each other and arrive inebriated; one just involves tuxes and elaborate dresses, while the other doesn't. All the same, as I have said before about speaking about taboos and other (tangentially related) issues, how something is said is almost as important as what is said. (more in expanded post)

CityStep is a program that is all about gaining self-confidence and promoting self-expression through various art forms like improv and most importantly, dance. It's a great program and a great cause, and that is most certainly not the issue. At first I was very confused by the change, and the more I thought about it, the more the issues became hazy. Is it a hypocritical throwback to feel that intrinsically, a formal is a more "respectful" or "proper" way to raise money? And what about the financial burden that having to rent a tux, for example, may place on some people who would like to go without dropping that large a sum of money, only a fraction of which will go to the cause?

At the end of it all, though, the essence of a formal and a club party are different. They may be similar in some aspects, but that's just because we're all the same people and we like to have fun in similar ways. All the same, a formal carries very different connotations from a club party. A formal suggests to me having fun with the group of people or date that you went with, and appreciating a night of dressing up and unusual fun for a great cause. The tux (or dress) question, I think, is not as important as it may first seem: though it is black tie, no one will be turned away in dress pants and a shirt and tie, which shouldn't break the bank and are easily borrowed. A club party, however, brings in club culture and the associated dynamics of suggestive dancing and secondary motives, particularly a club party called Guilty. This all contributes to taking away from the focus of the cause, which is to give kids an opportunity to experience something they might never otherwise have gotten exposure to. My freshman year, the CityStep ball was held at the Children's Museum and I felt was a great tribute to the people that the formal was ultimately for. I'm not saying that "wholesome fun" is the only thing that happens at formals and only happens at formals or vice versa, because that's completely untrue. But what is most striking to me is the implication that the event itself holds, and not what people do on a person-to-person basis at the event. People will do what they will, but the organizers set the tone with their event, and while I don't think it's any reason not to go, I just don't agree with the choice that CityStep has made with Guilty.


At 3:16 AM, Anonymous Meghan V. Joyce and Geoffrey Johnston, CityStep Executive Producers said...

We are so excited to hear that the Guilty party is generating so much buzz around campus. (If we're cited on Cambridge Common, after all, we know we've hit it big.) We just wanted to respond, however, to a few concerns that have been raised about the event.

For over 20 years, CityStep has played a dual role on Harvard’s campus. On one hand, it is one of Harvard’s largest independent service organizations, providing education in the arts and self-expression to Cambridge middle schoolers. On the other hand, it is a student group and social institution, priding itself on its valuable contributions to the Harvard social culture.

The intent of the annual CityStep fundraiser has always been to throw a crazy dance party for the entire school to enjoy. Over the course of its long history, the event has adapted to the ever-evolving Harvard social scene. In the eighties and early nineties, the party was held in Memorial Hall (now known as Annenberg) – a giant party held in a space traditionally reserved for final exams. From 1998 to 2002, the party morphed into a ball that mimicked a social club or Greek event, with addressed personal invitations and formal attire. While the Children’s Museum event certainly reflected CityStep’s younger group of constituents, its main intent (like the Park Plaza event that preceded it and the Roxy event that followed it) was what it had always been: to provide a fun, innovative dance party for the entire student body to enjoy.

Over the past few years, however, the discussion we have heard and ticket sales we received showed that this type of event no longer made a majority of students feel invited or excited about the event. We were losing the inclusive element of the fundraiser when only freshmen felt truly invited, and were lacking the quality of party as students looked to other formats and events for a great dance party. We tested the waters last year at the Roxy, and our suspicions were correct: the venue, dress, and atmosphere of a club party were the best ways to maintain our intentions, to throw a great party for the entire school, and no less importantly, to meet our financial goals and adequately fund the program. (Not only did we sell more tickets, but club parties are less expensive than venues like the Children's Museum and therefore leave us with greater profits to put towards the program.)

The inspiration behind the “Guilty” theme was actually the type of music that will be played at the event: on one floor, Top 40 club music, on the other, all of the songs (you are embarrassed to admit) you know by heart. Madonna, Mariah, Britney – guilty pleasures. To be honest, handcuffs were an easy way to capture the “Guilty” theme in a single image. And if you look at the 40+ teasers that have been plastered around campus, they reflect our attempt to attract all students with a wide variety of different guilty pleasures… everything from Phish Food to the Kong.

We are personally excited about a venue with two dance floors, two DJs, and a full bar, that will play the music we love and let us party until 2am (none of which was offered by the Children’s Museum). And frankly, we’ve enjoyed those teasers that have been plastered about campus (we love Phish Food and the Kong… and we indulge in both quite often). CityStep is and has always been able to separate out its dual roles, and to provide a great service to the students of Cambridge while throwing a great party for the Harvard student community. We only hope that the members of that community will allow us to do so.

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