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The Veiled Prophet Pages: A Time-Honored Tradition - Ladue News: Society

The Veiled Prophet Pages: A Time-Honored Tradition

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:47 pm, Thu Dec 27, 2012.

Even though it was more than 50 years ago, Janice Hawk remembers her first night as a 6-year-old page at the Veiled Prophet Ball like it was yesterday. “This was in 1958,” she says. “When the music started playing and the curtains opened, I thought I had entered fairy land—the real fairy land was the Queen and the beautiful Maids with their dresses. It was just a moment never to be forgotten.” Now the director of the page program, Hawk says she still sees that awe in the young girls’ eyes today. “When these girls see their Queen or Special Maid, they’re meeting a princess. This is their princess, and it’s magical. That moment is wonderful, but then they come back to reality—now they have a job to do. They have to remember everything we’ve practiced and put it into play.”

The tradition of the pages goes back at least to the early 1900s, Hawk says, and may be as old as the Veiled Prophet Ball itself. “I know the lady I trained with and assisted for many years, was a page herself in the 1930s.” The tradition has stuck around for one very good reason, she notes: In addition to putting on a performance, the pages do an important job. “It’s not something where, if they’re not there, the show still goes on; somebody has to carry the trains or the girls literally cannot get up and down the steps and go to their seat.”

There are several different types of pages with different roles: The two youngest girls hold the train for the new Queen, the next oldest hold the trains for the Special Maids, two Jewel Bearers carry the crowns (containing real jewels), and two Fan Bearers carry fans made from peacock feathers that flank the Veiled Prophet during the procession. “The Special Page has the most coveted position,” Hawk notes. “She takes care of the retiring Queen, and carries the scroll from the Veiled Prophet to the Court Announcer, and he announces the Special Maids and the new Queen.”

Hawk says the important role the pages play often is overlooked, “because they make it look so easy. It’s truly a difficult job and they practice so hard to get it right. The trains are sometimes 14 feet long, and they can be heavy—although they have gone to lighter trains than they had in the ’60s and ’70s, when many were velvet,” she notes, adding that trains have been made from everything, including fur, lace and satin. Most of the pages get to see and touch the gowns before they’re pressed for the Ball, but the retiring Queen’s is an absolute secret until the day of the event. “One year, the retiring Queen’s train was made completely from peacock feathers. My page just took one look at that, and I could tell she was freaked out. The look on her face said, What do I do with this? But you do what you’re trained to do. It turned out great!”

This year, Hawk says there were 15 pages, a number that varies based on the number of Special Maids. They range from ages 6 to 17, and were chosen at an audition from about 60 girls. The girls come from area dance studios; and during eight practices, they learn to do their specific job, to stay in character, think on their feet and troubleshoot. “There’s a special walk that all the pages do, and in addition to their job, they must perform and smile, and be graceful and poised,” she says. “Not only are they performing, but they’re taking care of someone else out there.”

In the end, many of the girls come back in hopes of being picked again the next year, Hawk says, and some go all the way through the ranks, eventually becoming debutantes themselves. In several families, it is a tradition that spans two or three generations. “What I love about it more than anything is working with the girls and young women. I love to watch them blossom and grow and become these confident young women because of the small part we play in their lives. They have a wonderful sense of accomplishment.”

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