Viva Las Vegas

Just before 6pm on Saturday, June 8, a blue Plymouth rumbles up to the Sir Don Rowlands Event Centre at Lake Karāpiro.

Isla Gerrand, Amy Wright and Jess Stewart climb out of the 50-year-old car and walk down a red carpet to glass doors at the building’s entrance, watched by a smattering of onlookers.

Saoirse Herewini and her boyfriend Soul Martin drew on their Maori heritage to create their stunning outfits.

The three friends are some of the first students to arrive at Cambridge High School’s 2024 Las Vegas Casino Ball.  They’re greeted by three teachers seated at a table just inside the entrance, who check their names off a list.

Amy, wearing a red velvet gown she found at the Cambridge Trash ‘n’ Treasure Market for $20, admits to feeling a little nervous.

“It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to for so long,” she says.

Jess is also wearing a $20 Trash ‘n’ Treasure dress.

“There wasn’t a lot put into this,” she says of her outfit.  “I didn’t do make-up or hair.”

(From left) Jesse MacDonald, Blake Taylor, Raghav Kaushik and Luke Sickelmore grab glasses of punch in the refreshment room.

It’s her first ball and she’s just hoping it isn’t a boring, “standing in the corner type situation”.

“So far, from what I can see, it’s promising,” she says.

In keeping with the Las Vegas theme, Isla has gone glamorous.  She wears a ruffled white shirt, gold sequined jacket, black pants and light-up shoes, sourced from a website for $15.  She hopes they will last the night.

As the trio heads into the function room, health and physical education teacher Stephanie Vervoort hobbles into a small room off the foyer and wraps sticking plasters around her little toes.

“They’re definitely suffering but it’s okay, they’re good to go now,” she says.  “These shoes are not very comfortable, that’s for sure.”

Stephanie has teamed up to run this year’s ball with commerce teacher Jeff East and a student committee but, unlike many students, she has not been planning her outfit for months.  Her elegant champagne dress, inherited from a friend, was hastily altered yesterday at the mall.

“The ball definitely overrides anything I wear,” she says.

At exactly 6.15 pm, music begins to thump from four speakers at the front of a stage.  Four rotating lights above send pink beams floating around the carpeted function room as more students filter in.

By 6.40pm the space is half full of students, who are chatting together in groups and sitting at tables tucking into trays of finger food.

Outside, about 200 people have gathered to watch students arrive.  Many have travelled in classic and luxury cars.

Ball committee members Ruby David (left) and Daani van Dijk with friend Lizzy Lord (right).

At 6.45pm one group pulls up in a bright green John Deere tractor.  Orange lights flash above the cab and its driver beeps the horn.

“Woo hoo!” one woman yells, as a man beside her notes it is probably the “most expensive car of the night”.

The crowd is three-people deep around the red carpet when year 12 student Sylvie Keightley arrives, admitting ball preparations have been slightly testing at times, but fun.

“Well my hair took an hour and a half,” she says, “but we all made pizzas together before at Emily’s, it was really nice, the four of us”.

Sixteen-year-old year 12 students John-Ross Fivaz, Jay Jay Du Bruyn and Malakai Eade have gathered in the foyer.

“It’s definitely something new, pretty cool,” Jay Jay says of his first ball.

Unlike Sylvie, he has poured minimal time into achieving his look.

“It was about a 10-minute shower, it took 10 minutes to get dressed, then I had photos for about 15 minutes at the town hall with mum and dad,” he said.

His friends report similar stories.

He and John-Ross arrived in a Subaru WRX borrowed from his brother’s mate with Malakai in convoy, chauffeured by his mum’s friend in a 2014 Dodge Challenge.

In a refreshment room off the main function area 18-year-old Saoirse Herewini is drinking fruit punch with her boyfriend, Soul Martin.

Saoirse wears a fitted black satin dress, a red korowai and bone jewellery gifted by her family.

“We just went for a Māori theme tonight to stand out, do something different, represent,” she said.

(From left) The night is young for John-Ross Fivaz, Jay Jay Du Bruyn and Malakai Eade, all aged 16.

The stunning outfit has been planned down to the smallest detail; the fourth fingernail of each of her hands is painted with a tiny tino rangatiratanga flag.

Saoirse runs her own business drawing Māori art on gumboots, Hiriwini Moko, and has decorated Soul’s black shoes with silver koru.

He wears a black turtleneck jersey, a bone necklace and a black suit with an eye-catching taniko flourish.

“We ordered a taniko band online and sewed it to the lapels and suit cuffs,” Soul says.

“There were definitely a lot of eyes looking at us when we got out of the car…it’s good to represent where I’m from and stuff and keep the culture alive.”

Soul has Ngāti Haua heritage, while Saoirse is from Ngā Puhi.

Also enjoying a drink are ball organising committee members Ruby David and Daani van Dijk, who poured hours into planning tonight and decorating the venue.

“It looks so good,” Daani said.  “There’s a surprise later in the night, so hopefully everyone likes that.  We’ve got a band coming, Sure Brake, with our head boy Levi Lamb in it.”

Helping the event run smoothly are junior student executive members, who are collecting empty glasses and delivering trays of sushi, baked potatoes, fish sliders, rice paper rolls and sweet treats.

Year 13 student Brooke Cameron is having a blast.

“I think it’s really fun to socialise with the whole school,” she said.

The 17-year-old chose her outfit, from Runway Rentals in Christchurch, last year and began getting ready for the ball at 11am today, driving to Hamilton to have her make-up done.

Caitlin Cotter, one of the students in charge of the ball committee, said planning one of the biggest social events of the year had been stressful at times.

Giant dice welcome students to the ball.

“But it’s turned out really well to be honest,” she said.

By 7.40pm there is little dancing, but the party atmosphere is revving up.

Students continue to arrive at the event centre, where a sizeable crowd remains outside.

At 7.43pm, Nicole Robinson, mother of 16-year-old Hannah-Mae Robinson, rushes in from the car park to stand beside the red carpet.

Her daughter and her friends disembark from their car and she claps and calls “have fun girls” as they head inside.

“I’m very excited,” Nicole said.  “She’s my last of four.”

Like many at the ball, Hannah-Mae has dedicated a lot of time to assembling her look.

“There was buying the dress, looking at everything online and only being able to get one size, which was a large and she’s a small, nana doing all the alterations, nails, hair, last-minute shoes, we’re talking four days before,” Nicole said.

“Only two of my daughters have been to balls and I think this is one of my favourite parts, watching them walking down the red carpet.  You watch it on TV, you know, so this is for the real people; it’s as close as we get to it.  It’s quite exciting.

“All these kids, a lot of them I’ve known since they were five at Leamington primary and, even though I’ve not seen them, you watch them walk up the red carpet and, oh my gosh, their name pops into your head.  It’s really cool.”

Shortly before 8pm, with three and half hours left in the party, Cambridge News’ reporter heads home as a caravan arrives to deliver another group of excited students to the red carpet.

(From left) Lucas Murray with his girlfriend Annaliese Jenner and Brooke Cameron with her boyfriend Jack James.

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