A society dance held to raise funds for charity. Often an important part of the social season, as wealthy folk feel better about their wasteful extravagance if some of the money is going to the deserving impoverished or suffering people. If it's less formal, it may be combined with a Bachelor Auction, and often there will be a "theme" such as "Casino Night" (less dancing and more gambling, with all the house profits going to the charity).
A very common twist in fiction is for criminals to attempt to steal the proceeds; this was almost the entire use for charity balls in Pulp Magazines and Golden Age Comic Books. In aid of this, the Charity Ball may also be a Masquerade Ball to make it easier for the crooks to infiltrate.
In romance plotlines, it's a chance for the heroine to see some important personality traits of her prospective love interests.
Examples in fiction:
- Mark Twain once wrote a spoof newspaper article about the proceeds of a charity ball being diverted from wounded Union soldiers to a pro-miscegenation society. It was very poorly received.
- Shallow Grave: Cameron is mocked at one of these.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The Phantom Stranger takes Batman back in time to witness Bruce Wayne's parents attending one.
- Batman & Robin had one too.
- There was one of these on The Mentalist to raise funds for the CBI.
- The Casino Night variation appeared in Tim Burton's Batman (1989).
- The Mask with Jim Carrey, also had Casino Night.
- There was an episode of Castle where the main cast went to a charity ball in order to track down the murderer of the week.
- Gone with the Wind has Scarlett O'Hara scandalously go to one (despite being a recent widow) raising money for the Southern cause. There is where she reconnects with Rhett Butler.
- Frasier features them semi-regularly, usually because Niles, Maris or both are involved.
- Repeatedly in the Batman comic books, since Bruce Wayne is a wealthy playboy, and the series started at the tail end of the Great Depression.
- Futurama: "The Mutants Are Revolting" features a charity ball for a mutant scholarship program.
- The characters on Gossip Girl frequently attend these.
- General Hospital has a perennial Nurses' Ball, which has picked up Real Life sponsors in later years.
- Jedi in The Gungan Council that end up hosting the Yule or Masquerade ball usually turn the dance into this.
- Vandalizing Valhalla, a short piece of machinima made with The Movies, is about two criminals competing to rob a charity ball before the other. In the end they're both killed by its socialite organizer.
- Dave Barry mentioned these once, along the lines of "Charity Ball To Fight Gout" sounding better in headlines than "Rich People Amuse Themselves".
- Red Robin: Tim and Steph team up to protect Dr. Leslie Thompkins at a charity ball where they rightly expect some ninjas to try and assassinate to good doctor.
- In Relativity there's a charity carnival. As usual for these kinds of stories, a bad guy shows up.
- The casino variant (used to get funds for Springfield Elementary) is used on the opening scenes of The Simpsons episode "The President Wore Peals" (y'know, the one which parodies Evita). Things go belly-up when the adults discover that the "casino" does not provides cash prizes (Martin sent out ads saying this well in advance, but nobody bothered to read them) and then burst into a riot.
- In the South Park episode "Safe Space", a group of celebrities organize a charity ball to promote awareness for online shaming. The living embodiment of Reality crashes the ball and calls out the very concept, saying that only $300 was raised while the celebrities spent half a million to treat themselves.