My first high school senior prom was held in 1972, my second was held 39 years later, except this time I was attending as a chaperone as a favor for a friend. In the process, I saw a lot of similarities to my prom, and some startling differences. Nonetheless, it was an eye opening experience for me. Since my children are grown up, and I really didn't know any of the students there, I would like to believe I looked at it rather objectively.
The word "prom" is derived from the word "promenade" which means it is used to denote entrance into adulthood. As such, it is normally a formal black-tie affair to display your grooming, manners, and taste in dress. The only problem is that young people, ages 17-18, are still going through an awkward maturation stage of finding their identity. This was no different than my day. In terms of appearances, the women easily out shined the men. Although most of the ladies wore fine gowns and had their hair and makeup well in place, there were quite a few who looked more like participants from "Dancing with the Stars" with quite a lot of flesh on display. There were also a lot of women wearing tight spandex outfits which I thought had disappeared with the 1970's. It hadn't and was back in the form of some rather short and revealing outfits.
The dress and appearance of the young men in attendance ran across the spectrum. Some were well dressed and quaffed, but most looked uncomfortable and out of place in their outfits. Some men at this age can wear clothes well, others cannot, particularly those who never wore a suit before their prom. Then there are the "zanies" where they wore some rather avant-garde outfits with some rather strange hats. There was, of course, the hippie look, the loud suits with obnoxious ties, there was even one fellow in a complete white tux, tails and top hat, who I affectionately dubbed the "Ringmaster." Perhaps the strangest sight though were two young men who were dressed in Sgt. Pepper band uniforms, one looked like John Lennon and the other like a short Paul McCartney. Regardless, the outfits achieved what they desperately sought, attention. I would like to believe we were better dressed in my day but I doubt it. Keep in mind, the 1970's was when the leisure suit began to appear and tuxes came with frilly shirts, and the hair was much longer than it is today.
Alcohol has been a staple of the prom experience for as long as I can remember. Some need it to overcome their shyness for the evening, others for bravado. If you took a drink, you were cool about it and didn't overindulge and you most definitely did not flaunt it in the faces of the school administrators who were there to chaperone. This time though, there was one young man in attendance who was thoroughly inebriated and made no attempt to hide it. Consequently, the police contacted his parents to pick him up before they would be forced to arrest him.
Unlike my day, there was no smoking allowed anywhere around the venue, even by the chaperones like myself who craved a cigar. It was impossible for anyone to smoke any cannabis as there was no tobacco smoke to mask the smell of drugs. As such, we could not find any evidence of the use of drugs at this year's party.
One difference between yesteryear and today is that we had a band play at our prom, or at just about any other dance we attended. Today, DJ's are the norm who do a capable job of keeping the music loud and varied. I just wish they had some Sinatra in their repertoire.
All in all, the young people were rather well behaved...until they started to dance. One of the principal reasons for holding a prom is to make contact with the opposite sex. In my day, we did some rather strange rock-and-roll dances, as well as a waltz for slower songs. This time though, yes, I did see a slow dance now and then, but when it came to the fast songs I was stunned to see a dance whereby the woman turns around and places her posterior squarely into the groin section of the man who then humps away generously. As this was my first exposure to this "Dogs in heat" dance, I was taken aback. At first, I saw just a few couples doing it, but then I realized the whole dance floor was humping away in rhythm. It was quite a spectacle.
I noticed a handful of ladies who refused to do the step, but most openly welcomed the opportunity to release some sexual energy. I could only imagine what effect this was having on the men. Actually, I thought the ladies should have been paid on a per dance basis as it was some of the finest lap dancing I had ever seen. I just wish I had the condom concession afterwards.
I asked one of the more virtuous young ladies present (one that didn't participate in the humping) why the students danced in this manner. It was her contention the men didn't really know how to dance and this was the only primal form of dancing they could understand (which perhaps explains why they call such dancing "cavemanning"). I thought it was a rather over-simplistic answer, as I believe the move was probably learned from a television video. Besides, why bother learning to dance properly if your partner seems willing to let you hump her? Yes, we were probably just as horny in my day as they are today, we just weren't as flagrant about it.
The open display of homosexuality was also a bit of an eye opener as well. There were, of course, gays during my day but they tended to be somewhat discreet. We all knew they were gay, they just didn't want to create a spectacle about it. At today's prom, I saw just the opposite; lesbians dressed as men with their female dates, and a pair of openly gay men on the dance floor giving long, sloppy kisses for all to see. Oh yes, and a lot of humping right along with everyone else.
Despite the humping, and open displays of public affection, be it homo or heterosexual, I observed the police standing no more than ten feet away from "the action" but would not intervene, nor were the chaperones as it might infringe on the rights of the students.
The next day, my sister-in-law called to ask me what the prom was like. I replied, "Two words: Sodom and Gomorrah." I also do not believe what I witnessed at this high school prom was any different than any other high school prom, at least in our area. Now, I don't want to sound like some old fuddy-duddy. In fact, those who know me realize I have a rather ribald sense of humor. However, the fact remains there is a time and place for everything, and I believe the whole concept of prom has been distorted beyond its original premise. It is less about "coming of age" and more about flagrant sexuality.
I personally do not believe the prom should be abolished as young people need such a venue to socialize, but I would certainly make the following suggestions to bring it under control. First, have a pre-prom dance class where it is made clear what is permissible, and what is not. Back in my day, we learned to dance in Junior High (Middle School), but schools do not offer such programs anymore. Some simple dance classes could go a long way to overcoming the humping problem. Second, mandate that parents chaperone the dance, not just school officials. I think most parents would be surprised with what they would see at the prom these days. It would also inhibit the young people and force them to behave better.
As a writer I found the experience rather enjoyable, even if it felt like you were at a peep show. As a parent though, I would be deeply concerned what is going on at the high school prom these days. Then again, there are a lot of parents who simply do not care, e.g., "Kids will be kids." These are the same knuckle heads who haven't got a clue what is going on in the lives of their children and are perfectly content with having others raise them with questionable moral values.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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