Attending a Marine Corps Birthday Ball is an exciting honor for Marines and their guests, but if this is your first time attending, you’re probably worrying about what to expect. While the event is heavy on tradition, protocol rules are reserved for service members. There are no firm etiquette rules for military spouses and dates other than general politeness and common sense. Still, there are a few things you should know before attending the Marine Corps Birthday Ball:
What to wear
Military balls are formal events, which means your Marine will be wearing his or her dress blues. Female spouses and dates should wear formal dresses that are either floor length or fall just below the knee. Remember to keep it classy. Don’t show too much skin or wear completely sheer fabrics, and apply good judgement to hair and makeup choices as well. Male spouses and dates should wear a dressy suit and tie—a tuxedo is not required, but guests are free to wear one if preferred.
What to do in the receiving line
Before the ceremony, dinner and dancing, guests usually visit the receiving line for formal introductions. Fortunately, your Marine will take the lead, introducing you to the first person in line. That person will then introduce you to the next person in line, who is usually the guest of honor. Shake their hand and offer a polite greeting. Then continue down the line, allowing your Marine to introduce you to high‐ranking officers and their guests. Don’t carry a drink with you in the receiving line, and if you’re wearing gloves, remove the right glove for shaking hands.
What to do during the ceremony
The Marine Ball ceremony is the most important part of the evening. It’s a commemoration of the history of the Corps and includes speeches, birthday messages, and a formal cake‐cutting ceremony. The ceremony lasts about an hour and involves a great deal of standing and sitting. You can easily take your cues from the rest of the attendees and sit and stand when they do. It’s important to be respectful during the ceremony, so refrain from chatting with others at your table, or texting or otherwise playing on your phone. An incredible amount of effort goes into the planning of such an affair, so be sure to maintain a positive attitude even if parts of the ceremony are not as exciting as you’d like.
What to do during dinner
The dinner portion of the evening isn’t as formal as the ceremony—you won’t need to worry about which fork to use or holding your glass a certain way. The dinner is also a perfect time to get to know others at your table and make small talk, but it’s usually best to avoid serious topics of discussion like politics and religion. It’s important to make a good impression on the other guests—or at the very least, not a terrible impression—because you may see the same people at the ball again next year.
What to do on the dance floor
If your ballroom dancing skills are rusty or nonexistent, don’t worry—dancing at military balls is usually modern in style with a DJ playing current hits and classic dance favorites. Marines are allowed to let loose on the dance floor, so feel free to enjoy yourself and bust a (respectful) move. In other words, maintains your sense of modesty and avoid any dance styles that you’d be embarrassed to perform in front of your grandma.
Other things to remember
Marines and their guests are encouraged to have a blast at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, but here are some other ways to ensure you’re a respectful guest:
● Don’t drink too much. Some balls offer open bars, which makes it easy to overdo it on the alcohol. Limit your consumption to avoid embarrassing yourself or your Marine.
● Remember to say “please” and “thank you,” and address all others as “Sir” or
● Some military balls include a souvenir such as a commemorative wine glass, but don’t raid the tables at the end of the night for souvenirs that were left behind.
One last suggestion: Bring your Marine a gift!
This November, the US Marine Corps will celebrate its 242nd birthday, and while the best gift you can give the Corps as a whole is your patriotic appreciation, you might consider giving your Marine an actual gift to commemorate the occasion. Bullets2Bandages is offering officially licensed USMC .50 Caliber Bottle Openers, available in a variety of colors and finishes, in honor of the Corps’ birthday. The custom engraving and special gift box will send a distinct message of appreciation to your Marine. You’ll both also be happy to know that we donate 15% of our annual profits to veterans charities.
Posted by Kevin Kelly
Marine Veteran & Content editor and creator.