Ring Dance is an annual event with an unknown year of origin. It is a one-night celebration to commemorate the academic accomplishments of Westhampton College junior women, for which parents fly across the country to escort their daughters down the stairs at the Jefferson Hotel and to see the white-clad group form the "W" at the bottom.

This is the Ring Dance that University of Richmond has grown accustomed to, and this year will be the last time we see Ring Dance as we know it.

Although the original Ring Dance date is unknown (photos from the event first appeared in a yearbook in the 1930s), the event has evolved numerous times since its inception. After this year, the women will wear black dresses instead of white, and will no longer be accompanied by an escort down the stairs.

These changes have been put into place to shift the focus of Ring Dance back to its original purpose, and to remove some of the socioeconomic barriers that have hindered the event from being all-inclusive, said Juliette Landphair, Westhampton College dean.

"That was what May Keller, the original dean of Westhampton intended with this," she said. "It was very important for her to affirm the academic capabilities and identities of women students at a time when there was a lot of doubt about that."

Since several of the current Ring Dance traditions developed informally, the perception of the event has changed in the eyes of the students who will attend it.

"It just reminds me of a debutante ball," said sophomore Lea Ruwaldt. "People get to dress up for once in a long time and wear nice gowns, and get to go down the grand stairs in a nice hotel ball room."

Though the tradition of the white dress emerged over time, it had never been directly encouraged by Westhampton College administrators, Landphair said.

Now that the demographic of Richmond has changed drastically over the past decade, that tradition has discouraged some students from attending the event.

Landphair said shifting the dress code to black aimed to include students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, because, in general, black dresses are less expensive than white ones. And removing the escort part of the ceremony seeks to encourage students who don't have a "father-figure," or don't have the means for that person to attend Ring Dance, to still participate, she said.

Although escorts will no longer be a part of the Ring Dance ceremony, family and friends will still be encouraged to attend the event in the future.

"That has grown into one of the hugely popular aspects of this," Landphair said. "It's so fun for the families to get to know one another, and the students love it. We would never do away with that in my time."

This year, 310 women are planning on participating in Ring Dance, and Westhampton College has sold around 1,400 tickets, Nathalie Ivers, WC junior class president, said.

At the Jefferson Hotel, preparations for Ring Dance began months ago. The Jefferson opened their rooms for reservations on May 7 and had booked every room within two hours.

Jennifer Crisp, public relations manager at the Jefferson, said via email that the hotel prepares for Ring Dance by making sure the concierge team has supplies on hand to assist guests in formal attire. They will be equipped with extra sewing kits for mending dresses, spare collar stays and there is additional laundry staff on alert for emergency laundering or pressing.

Even though next year the Jefferson concierge team will change their extra sewing thread to black, Ring Dance will still represent the values it embodied when it began--even if we don't know when that was exactly.

The celebration will take place Saturday, Feb. 8.

Contact reporter Clay Helms at clay.helms@richmond.edu