Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 20, 2016
A few nights ago, husband Art texted from work to ask if I had any interest in going to Olive Garden for supper. After an afternoon spent cleaning, I was hungry. So I told him daughter Mariya and I would be over soon and we'd all go together. Mariya's girlfriend Miriam was working for Art that afternoon, so she joined us and we all piled in the car.
But part way there, I remembered it was prom night for one of the local school districts. I wondered if we'd have any trouble being seated.
When we arrived, there were youngsters everywhere decked out in typical prom finery, but our wait proved to be fairly short. And being hungry, we quickly got down to the business of ordering and eating.
But while we girls chatted, I noticed Art seemed to be distracted - more interested in what was going on around us, often smiling or laughing slightly. Curiosity piqued, I had to ask.
He explained that it amused him greatly watching the youngsters' attempts at acting like grownups and assessing their varying degrees of success. He drew my attention to various girls who were trying to master walking in high-heeled shoes. Some seemed completely at ease, while others walked with the grace of a circus stilt walker.
A girl at a nearby booth pulled from her purse a tube of what appeared to be processed cheese, squeezed a liberal amount on a bread stick she was holding in the other hand and then bit off the end. While that young lady may have had a way to travel on the road to maturity, there were others whose actions, dress and poise gave the impression they were indeed on the edge of becoming adults.
Some years ago, I asked Art if he attended any of the proms at his high school. His answer was, "Yes and no!" No, because he couldn't see the point of going since he couldn't dance. I could believe that because shortly after we were married, he asked me to sign us up for a dance class as he always wanted to learn. Women had told him that since he could sing, he surely could dance. But that proved not to be true. Art later answered such statements with, "Well, you can dance, so let's hear you sing!"
But he did go to a prom when he was a freshman in college. A good friend had been dating a girl a year younger. Mary wanted to go to the prom her senior year, but the Air Force had other plans for her beau. So Art took her ... and tried to dance ... a little.
I also went to a high school dance and didn't dance. My date wasn't allowed by his religion. Still, it was fun to go.
A little research revealed that proms - short for promenades - are really a relatively new development. In the United States, they first appeared in colleges in the late 19th century. The high school prom came much later as even as late as 1900, many youngsters only went to school through the 8th grade. A dance with nice clothing was sometimes organized as part of the 8th-grade graduation. As going to high school became more common, the prom became part of the activities surrounding the pending high school graduation and the promotion dances of 8th grade faded away.
But over time, rather than the prom being part of the celebration of graduation, it became an event in its own right. It has taken on the mantle of being yet another rite of passage, signifying the transition from being young men and women to the realm of adulthood. For the young man, it may be his first outing in a suit or even a tuxedo. But for his date, it is often a full-blown plunge into her impression of what it means to be an adult woman. An expensive formal dress and matching shoes are frequently combined with a trip to the hairdresser, perfume, blush, lipstick, earrings and any number of other things that, ironically, many already adult women are fleeing from as quickly as they can.
The prom is also a remnant of another aspect of the past. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dances were a common form of social interaction and a respectable place a woman might go with a man or to meet one. Proms were just another place where young men and women met to dance. But today, few places have live music and a dance floor. So the dance skills a young person once found so beneficial to possess, now don't have much value at any place except at a prom.
So, just as the Kardashian family is famous for being famous, the prom today is an important event because it is an important event.
Perhaps the most over-the-top example is the one held in Racine, Wisconsin each year and featured in a 2006 documentary titled - what else - "The World's Best Prom." Each year, the local cable company streams it live and there is a laser show and other assorted entertainment. It begins in the early evening and the Rotary-sponsored show goes on to after 3 in the morning. It is recorded and people watch it again and again throughout the year. Kids begin looking forward to being featured at the introductions when they are still in elementary school. One young man said he sometimes dreamed of arriving in a helicopter wearing a yellow tuxedo.
But I doubt most of our local folks out on the town would have wanted too much television attention. Art pointed out our cheese-on-a-bread-stick gal now had so much food in her mouth that her cheeks were bulging. Her date was nicely dressed, but his expression seemed to give the impression that he had never actually been alone with a young woman before. So, adulthood for them is still a way off, I think.
Left: Mariya with her prom date; right: Katie, second from right, with her prom date and friends.