Mardi Gras duchesses and island debutantes must master the ultimate curtsy
Any debutante can perform a simple curtsy. But it takes equal parts grace, flexibility and courage to curtsy in the very extravagant way young Texas women do while being formally presented to society.
Each year, just before Mardi Gras festivities begin, about 21 young women from the island and universities across the nation faithfully practice an extreme curtsy, or bow, known as the Texas Dip. The women will be required to execute the Texas Dip when they’re presented as duchesses at the Knights of Momus Coronation Ball, which this year is Feb. 7.
Of course, no duchess or debutante wants to be remembered for wobbling during the Dip, which entails far more than a mere bend of the knees and bow of the head. Rather, it’s a multi-step maneuver that begins with a duchess holding her arms out at her sides and ends with her slowly lowering her forehead to the floor by crossing her ankles, then bending her knees and sinking. This all must be done, mind you, in front of a lot of people, and without getting lipstick on a custom-made gown.
Although the Texas Dip is practiced across the state and even among debutantes in New York, it’s a ritual and a source of pride for island duchesses and also for debutantes presented at the Galveston Artillery Club’s Annual Ball.
“It’s a very fun and a very cool tradition,” Alex Brown, 20, said. Brown will be among the duchesses at the Knights of Momus Coronation Ball.
But luckily for Brown, she already performed the Texas Dip when she was presented as a debutante at the Galveston Artillery Club’s Annual Ball in late November.
Still, Brown concedes that among all the preparations to be a duchess, getting the curtsy right is the most anxiety inducing. Before making her debut at the Artillery Club, she practiced the Texas Dip as many as five times a day, she said.
Before this month’s Coronation Ball, Brown, a Rice University student majoring in English and Kinesiology, will likely brush up on the bow. Unlike some duchesses who wear flats, Brown will attempt the feat in heels.
The exact origin of the Texas Dip is murky, but some believe it to be a regionalized twist on the less dramatic St. James Bow. In the English court of St. James, according to online resources, the parents of young, affluent women were looking to find suitable matrimonial matches. The first party of the season involved the presentation of these women to the Queen. The bow to the Queen is now referred to as the St. James Bow.
These days, debutantes likely aren’t looking for suitable husbands at balls and galas, and mostly just enjoy the rituals. But they do take the bow seriously, so much so they enlist the aid of islander Gerry Hornstein, who since the mid-1980s has instructed hundreds of young women on the curtsy.
Hornstein, a former debutante, mastered the bow in the 1960s. She taught her daughter, who was Queen of Momus in the late 1980s, and began helping other debutantes and duchesses over the years.
“Every duchess and debutante wants to do it right,” Hornstein said.
But if they happen to falter or wobble during the curtsy, it isn’t the end of the world, Hornstein tells them.
“I tell them do their very best,” she said. “I try to make them feel comfortable and not to worry too much.”