Experiencing prom in college

Reminiscing on the prom I never had


Recently, the 55th Annual Restoration Ball went down at IX Art Park with glitter and honey-roasted peanuts to boot. As many Instagram captions cleverly declared, Resto was basically “Prom, College Edition.” Imagine long, sequined dresses and strapless bras, bow ties and crisply ironed shirts and lots of white people jumping up and down to “Don’t Stop Believin’” — your typical prom experience.

Except, I have no idea what a “typical prom experience” is. Shocker — I never went to prom. All my prom knowledge stems from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” When people say “prom,” I picture Troy and Gabriella lip-syncing and looking at each other a lot on a roof.

Since I spent my high school years abroad, I missed out on some of the stereotypical American high school experiences. Exhibit A — I still don’t have my driver’s license. Exhibit B — I never had police dogs sniff out my classmate’s locker for weed. Exhibit C — I never had prom.

It wasn’t that my school was unaware of prom — they had seen “High School Musical 3.” They weren’t necessarily opposed to prom either.  

The problem was the dancing.

Yes, like the classic movie “Footloose,” my conservative, private school had long ago decided dancing was unlawful and banned it from the premises. Specifically, students were forbidden from “moving one’s hips,” because we all know hip swinging is especially salacious.

It wasn’t that we were entirely dance-less. It was permitted for 1) cultural dances on Multicultural Day 2) line dancing and 3) square dancing. Yet spontaneous outbursts of youthful gyrations? Strictly not allowed. Of course, this meant prom with all her impromptu fist pumps and macarenas was forbidden.

I still remember one dark night my senior year, a spontaneous dance battle broke out in the quad. The next day we all got an email revoking our curfew privileges — the extra hour given to seniors — and reminding us the dangers of “late-night dancing.”  

I don’t write this to bash on my old school. Overall I loved my school in all its crazy, quirky ways. In all honesty, I barely noticed that we weren’t allowed to dance. I wasn’t some angsty Kevin Bacon just dying to boogie a little — my hips were quite content not swinging. Instead of prom, juniors and seniors attended an event called Banquet, or BQ. Like prom, everyone dressed up and had dates but rather than a dance, BQ was a classy dinner and show. The juniors were in charge of coming up with a theme, decorating the school’s auditorium, cooking all the food and putting on an original play. I guess the school thought channeling our hormonal angst in play-writing was the better way to go. 

In my junior year the theme was “The Chronicles of Narnia.” So, for an entire four-day weekend, we made Narnia. We built the White Witch's Castle, concocted Turkish Delight, and practiced our best “Mr. Tumnus.” Then on the night of Banquet, all the juniors and seniors tunneled through “the wardrobe” into a snowy paradise. 

Throughout Resto Ball, my friends reminisced about their own proms, recounting the memories threaded into the glitzy dresses they were wearing again four years later. I listened to their stories quietly in my dress borrowed from someone else’s bygone prom. Rather than feeling like I was missing out however, I reminisced in my own way. Banquet was a great weekend, filled with lots of class bonding and creativity. I loved dressing up and stepping into a space that we had made together. I loved seeing the work of each of my classmates around me, whether it was through a beautifully painted winter mural or a carefully practiced British accent on stage. 

As we jumped with all the white people to “Don’t Stop Believin’” at Resto, I laughed inside. It was four years too late, but here I was in the thick of the quintessential high school prom I had always wanted. I yelled out, “Living’ in a lonely world,” at the top of my lungs with some of my most cherished friends — what a way to pretend I was 16 and acne-ridden again. Yet what made it sweeter was that the experience didn’t take away from what I had already experienced in my own crazy, quirky school. 

Though I sometimes wish I led a more “normal” life so I could relate to my college friends, I would never trade my high school experiences for anything. Where my friends have dried corsages resting on their window sills, I have paint-covered clothes from building the White Witch’s castle. Where my friends see Nicki Minaj and hear her pumping through the gymnasium speakers, I walk past street lights and see the homemade Narnia lamppost welcoming me into Banquet. In 10 years I can listen to Journey and remember that night at IX Art Park while still wax nostalgic at the sight of Turkish Delight. I can cherish my own high school memories, but now I can also move my hips as salaciously as I please. 

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