Ring Dance is a celebration of Westhampton College that is believed to date back to the 1940s, but the original year remains unknown, according to the 2019 Ring Dance program. The ceremony contains several traditions and is a rite of passage to recognize Westhampton juniors becoming upperclassmen and honor their respective achievements.

A Ring Dance invitation from 1986. Photo courtesy of Sue Dean Dyke, '86.

Originally called Junior Prom and hosted in April, the ceremony’s most significant tradition has always been the presentation of class rings, according to the 2019 Ring Dance program. The acceptance of the ring became such a prominent symbol that the ceremony became known as Ring Dance.

In 1973, Ring Dance went through dramatic changes that made the event more formal, according to the 2019 Ring Dance program.

Photo courtesy of Sue Dean Dyke, '86.

Before 2015, Westhampton juniors used to wear white or cream gowns, Kerry Fankhauser, associate dean of Westhampton College, said. Presently, Ring Dance is a black-tie event and Westhampton juniors wear black. 

“Black is more practical and better symbolized in our society,” Fankhauser said. “Black is also not required. If students want to wear red, go ahead. Wear red.”

Some Westhampton juniors have chosen to steer away from the traditional dress.

“One of my classmates decided to wear a black suit rather than the traditional white dress,” Alexa Gruber, '12, said. “And nobody had a problem with it.”

White dresses made it easy to identify who was being honored, Allison Vogler, '78, University of Richmond Spider Club Director, said.

The white gowns made it feel “like a giant debutante ball for 400 girls,” Gruber said. The white dresses were also usually floor-length, Sue Dean Dyke, '86, added.

The first Ring Dances were held in Keller Gym, according to the 2019 Ring Dance program, and the only attendees were Westhampton juniors. The inclusion of additional people who matter, such as friends and family, became an exciting aspect of Ring Dance after moving the ceremony to the Jefferson Hotel in the 1970s, Fankhauser said.

Including family makes Ring Dance a special time for parents to celebrate their children’s accomplishments while being completely disassociated with graduation, making it more celebratory, Vogler said.

The grand procession down the lobby stairs of the Jefferson Hotel remains one of the only unchanged traditions since the ceremony moved off-campus. Every junior is individually named and honored for their achievements throughout their Richmond career. At the end of the procession, the juniors stand in a “W” formation on the lobby floor to represent Westhampton College.

In 2015, junior women were supposed to walk without escorts during the procession. Prior to this change, fathers typically escorted their daughters. Several students rebelled by having their fathers walk them down the stairs, which caused the processional to stop for 10 minutes before resuming and allowing escorts. 

Then the policy changed again in 2016 because of the previous year's controversy: students would now be allowed to have up to two escorts of their choosing walk with them. 

“During my Ring Dance, there were no issues with escorts,” Meredith Gibbons, '92, said. They would have just substituted in a grandfather or uncle if a father was unable to attend, she said.

The names of escorts used to be announced during the procession, but that ended because there was a lot of resistance, Fankhauser said. Juniors may now choose whether they want to walk with someone, and escorts are not announced. This change  increases the focus of the event on the juniors, Fankhauser said.

“I did not attend my Ring Dance because I am originally from Florida and assumed my dad would not be able to attend,” Vogler said. “I like that the event has evolved into not needing your father because that is the exact reason why I decided not to participate.”

The beauty of Ring Dance is its rarity. It is a unique event that people should be able to make their own, Fankhauser said. 

“I want people to feel comfortable honoring themselves and feeling authentic at such a special ceremony,” she said.

Gruber echoed the rarity of the event.

“It was an amazing party and a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Gruber said. 

Contact features contributor Julia Schmuckler at julia.schmuckler@richmond.edu.