MOSCOW (AP) — Moscow's International Kremlin Cadet Ball is a picture of discipline, pomp and splendor. Girls in billowing dresses twirl across the dance floor, immaculately dressed young men line the hall in orderly rows, and teachers bark out orders, trying to get their students to keep time.
Backstage, however, chaos reigns. As lipstick is applied and hair frantically braided, girls jostle for position in front of floor-length mirrors, trying to capture the perfect selfie.
"Red lipstick is absolutely forbidden!" shouts a teacher, causing the room to go silent. "Cadet girls should be girly, not womanly!"
For many at Tuesday's ball, it's a fairytale chance to experience the grandeur of Russia's czarist traditions. With its string quartets, traditional dance routines and patriotic speeches, the event harks back to a bygone era.
"I'm a bit scared, to be honest," said 13-year-old Masha Pavlenkova, one of a family of six. "I don't want to make a mistake."
More than 1,000 students, from both general and military schools, travelled to Moscow from 42 different regions for the ball, including the Sakha Republic in Russia's Arctic North and the Crimea annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
"The main thing is to do your best, to study well and to believe in yourself," said 13-year-old Andrei Amurskov.
Patriotic pride underpinned the evening. Lyudmila Vanina, one of the ball's organizers, says the event offers children an opportunity to meet and talk with war veterans and heroes of the Soviet Union.
Contrary to its image, the ball is not the preserve of the rich — many children come from poor family backgrounds or orphanages.
"There are lots of people from different family backgrounds, anyone can be a cadet and that's really shown here," said Leonid Dontsov, 16.
For a group of orphans from Krasnoyarsk in eastern Siberia and a cadet school from Yakutia in the Far North, the event offered students their first chance to visit the Russian capital.
Natalya Miroshkina, a teacher from Samara, noted the "huge diversity" of children from different schools, regions and backgrounds.
"For us, this was a unique opportunity to represent Samara at this wonderful event," she said. "We have to teach our children the importance of patriotism. They need to value their history, love their past and protect their future."