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"Harry Potter" fans ages 12 to 19 are invited to show off their magical dance moves at the Viridian Event Center's fifth annual Teen Yule Ball on Friday.
The tradition began shortly after the Viridian, the Salt Lake County Library System's principal event center and home of the system's West Jordan branch, opened in 2012; the "Harry Potter" tie-in seemed a natural way to draw teenagers to the library. Interest has grown every year, with nearly 2,000 young wizards attending the 2016 ball, so this year's event will be ticketed. Admission is free, and tickets can be reserved online. Costumes, needless to say, are encouraged.
David Woodruff, one of the Viridian's three event coordinators and principal organizer of the Yule Ball, said he isn't aware of another regular library-based "Potter" event on this scale anywhere in the U.S. directors at other libraries report that attendance at their events numbers in the dozens, he said. It seems Utah is a hotbed of "Harry Potter" fandom, said Woodruff, who met his wife at a "Harry Potter" event in which both cosplayed as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry professors (he as Gilderoy Lockhart, she as Sybill Trelawney).
Staff members tweak the lineup of activities each year. Dancing and trivia contests are constants. New this year are Famous Witches and Wizards cards that attendees can trade; the activity is designed to encourage mingling, and collectors can earn points for their respective Hogwarts houses by completing a set. In early editions of the Teen Yule Ball, a traditional sorting ceremony identified the aspiring witches and wizards as bold Gryffindors, hard-working Hufflepuffs, clever Ravenclaws or ambitious Slytherins, but Woodruff noted that pretty much every "Harry Potter" fan nowadays self-identifies with one of the four houses. So they'll be allowed to self-sort, choosing colored ribbons to attach to their Hogwarts badges and announce their affiliation to the crowd. Team Gryffindor was a fan favorite when the Yule Ball began, but now Woodruff reports the biggest rivalry is between Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
Another new twist is Gilderoy Lockhart's Quest for Magical Beasts, in which Woodruff in character as the pompous author and erstwhile Hogwarts professor from J.K. Rowling's novels will send guests, armed with their smartphones or other QR code-reading devices, into the library to find the creatures he has foolishly released. Specially prepared books planted throughout the building will include QR codes that unlock animated clues. Woodruff said the STEM-oriented treasure hunt will have the side benefit of teaching teens about the resources the library has to offer.
The Viridian's main event hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Castle's Great Hall through the magic of digital projection, with a corridor leading guests to Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron, where they can enjoy the wizard world's signature beverage, butterbeer. Woodruff said the Viridian staff worked spent three days with a caterer to refine the recipe for the nonalcoholic concoction. "Our tongues were numb" by the time they reached the right balance of cream soda, caramel and butterscotch, he said. Live owls (under human supervision), fortunetelling and crafts will be available in other areas of the building.
"We always try to tie it back to libraries and literacy," said Woodruff, who noted it's easy to recruit library staff and teens from the community to help plan and run the event. "They are so creative and dedicated to the story."
Adults can drop off teens at the door or hang out in the library during the three-hour event; Woodruff noted that the ball draws attendees from as far away as Logan.
Planning for next year's Yule Ball will begin soon after this one ends, as it's one of the most high-profile events on the center's year-round schedule. But don't put away your wizarding robes just yet: An all-ages Hogwarts event is coming this summer.
Yule love it
The Teen Yule Ball, inspired by the popular "Harry Potter" book and movie series, offers games, dancing, crafts and more for guests ages 12-19.
Where • Viridian Event Center, 8030 S. 1825 West, West Jordan
When • Friday, Jan. 13, 7-10 p.m.
Tickets • Free, but must be reserved at viridiancenter.org/yuleball
Note • The West Jordan Branch Library will remain open to adults who wish to wait for their teen wizards there.