By Susan Shinn, Catawba College News Service
They came in groups of twos and threes and more than that, chilled by the bracing January night.
Things heated up quickly inside the Crystal Lounge, however, during the annual Winterfest semi-formal dance at Catawba College.
Held consistently for the past decade, the dance is attended by some 500 Catawba students. It's sponsored by the college's Helen Foil Beard Society, a service club for young women. Beard was Catawba's first female student. This year, sophomore Ashley Acken of Marietta, Pa., stepped up to serve as the group's president.
"I'm a little stressed out but I think it'll be OK," Acken said before the dance. "It's actually one of the most well-attended social events of the year."
The Student Government Association pays for snacks, giveaways, a disc jockey and commemorative Winterfest mugs. Given to the first 125 attendees, the glasses were spoken for in short order.
"It's a good event to start the new semester," Acken said of the dance. "Students get dressed up and it's a free event on a Saturday night."
The group's adviser is Sarah Rossini, director of housing, who paired a blue cocktail dress with sensible flip-flops. There are about 20 young women in the club, a "good, solid number," she said, with all classes, all majors represented.
A popular stop for students was the photography area, in which they could choose a wintertime background for a keepsake photograph.
Among the first couples in line were freshmen Taryn Jenkins of Lexington and D.J. Colson from New London. Colson wore a red tie, coordinating with Jenkins' red, white and black dress. Colson said he'd heard about the event from upperclassmen. "My sister talked about it last year and how fun it was," Jenkins said.
Zack Cashatt '09 attended with his girlfriend, junior Rachel Barbee of Salisbury, who agreed that it's "just a fun event."
Stopping to have their photos made was a quartet consisting of junior Blake Rushing and senior Amanda Williams, both of Indian Trail, with juniors Josh Owens and Whitney Mullis of Landis. Williams wore cobalt blue and Mullis wore gray, and their dates coordinated accordingly. "We have good boyfriends," Williams said.
Inside the Crystal Lounge, a winter theme pervaded with white tablecloths and chairs, along with table decorations in blue and silver.
Students snacked on sub sandwiches, meat and cheese hors d'oeurvres, chicken nuggets and cookies. They knotted on the dance floor, talking, laughing, and of course, dancing with energy grown-ups only dream about.
As the evening wore on, more students poured in. They were greeted by Beard Society members Bianca Boone and Lorrin Howard, both seniors from Charlotte. The young women have been in the club since their freshman year. "They don't have sororities here, so it's the second best thing to do," Howard said.
The attire of choice for many of the young women was the strapless cocktail dresses, which required no small amount of tugging, paired with impossibly high heels. After a short amount of time on the dance floor, however, the heels came off.
In the lobby, students continued to greet one another, exchanging hugs and taking photographs that would surely be posted later on Facebook.
Freshman Ginny Weant of Salisbury was attending her first Winterfest. The ever-ebullient Weant said she decided to come "because of my awesome friends and I love to dance — and the food!"
Sophomores Chelsea Starr of Weston, Fla., and Jaclyn Lawrence of Waxhaw met up with sophomore Lizzle Davis of East Bend to have their pictures made together and dance. "I love to dance. I've been dancing since I was three and I made her come," Lawrence said, nodding at Starr, who looked game.
As the trio headed for the dance floor, students waited in line for photos and continued to come and go, dashing out into the starry, winter's night.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.
PHOTOS: Winterfest 2011