High School Halls: Under the Disco Ball: School Dances

Turn down the lights and let the disco ball turn. It’s time for a school-sponsored dance on Deep-Fried Friday as part of my High School Halls series.

First, let’s all pause and wish that our high school dance had been like this:

I don’t remember dancing like that at any of ours.

That Was Then

My school had two major dances: Winter Ball and Junior/Senior Prom. If memory serves, I went to all of them. The Winter Ball was a semi-formal affair held at the campus. Guys wore suits or slacks and ties, while girls wore nice dresses–the kind of thing you might wear to a play or even church.

Prom was available only to juniors and seniors and their dates. It was held off site at a hotel ballroom, usually in downtown Corpus Christi near the bay. Guys wore tuxes, and girls wore formals.

The nights were themed, although the only one I remember is my senior prom which was simply called Caribbean Nights. (I loved the homecoming theme in Tiffany A. White’s Football Sweetheart. No, I’m not revealing it; you must read for yourself!)

At both dances, we had a DJ. The music was mostly contemporary, with some classics thrown in. We danced as couples, groups, and in line dances. I’m pretty sure The Cotton-Eyed Joe featured at every school dance, but as I’ve talked about before, that may be just a Texas phenomenon. I also vividly recall dancing the Schottische at my senior prom.

Here are a few pics of my dance days. Since I didn’t ask permission, I chose not to reveal my dates.

Sophomore Winter Ball
Sophomore Prom (with a Junior)
Junior Prom

Not exactly the cocktail dress from Pretty Woman, you know? Or even Molly Ringwald’s homemade dress design from Pretty in Pink. But they were reasonably fashionable for the 1980s.

This Is Now

Dances still abound. There are Homecoming dances, winter balls, spring formals, and graduation dances. I suppose teens will always want to dress up and strut their stuff onto a dance floor. They will always gyrate and shimmy under the disco ball and then fold themselves into a deep embrace for a slow song.

The general notion is the same, whether in the 1950s, the 1980s, or today. However, the appearance has changed.

Gone is the church dress look. Now it’s cocktail dresses and long formals all the way. It seems like the party dress section never leaves the department store these days. There’s always a dance in season for which teen girls are purchasing attire.

While I suspect the cost of my dress and everything else for me to attend any dance was easily less than $100, nowadays you can fork over an arm, a leg, and a kidney to attend a prom in style. Visa conducted a national survey this past spring, in which families said they would spend $696 to $1,944 on their kids’ prom costs (MSN Money). Way back in 2002, ABC News reported prom dresses, accessories, flowers, beauty products, and other prom-related expenses made for a $2.75 billion market. Indeed, some couples spend as much for prom as other couples spend on their wedding.

Prom Movie (2011)

(If you’re a teen reading this, I suggest that you won’t remember your flowers or the hairdo ten years from now nearly so much as the dancing and the friends. Save your money and go to Europe one summer instead.)

If students don’t have enough money for a proper dress or tux, they can check out local Prom Angel or Prom Princess offerings. Some school or charities now host shopping events for gently used formals.

Dances are still themed. Looking at 2012 prom themes, I found Parisian Nights, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Unmask the Night, Grecian Garden, Feelin’ Jazzy, Under the Sea, Bright Lights Big City, The Lion King, Masquerade, and even the literary-inspired Emerald City and Hogwarts Castle. Of course, not all literary themes are appropriate: No one wants to attend The Hunger Games prom. Themes all seem to come with the requisite streamers, balloons, confetti, and photo backdrops that give the night a special sparkle.

Bite Night Prom, anyone?

As for the music, I’m betting the Cotton-Eyed Joe has given way to the Cha Cha Slide and Gangnam Style. Fast dances will still mix with slow dances, and both couples and groups will find their way onto the dance floor.

Yes, you will remember these dances. Perhaps for the fun you had with friends or the fact that you waited all night long and that stupid jerk never remembered that he promised you a dance or the way that you felt like a king or queen as you danced the night away. When the lights go up and the disco ball stops turning, you will have your memories. Whether they are good or bad…is mostly up to you.

So what do you think? How was your prom? What do you like/dislike about school dances? Do you have any fond memories?

NOTE: I’m aware that many teens choose to drink alcohol on these evenings. If you drink, PLEASE do not drive. You do not want to remember this evening for the wrong reasons. For more information, see Natalie Hartford’s blog post about the I Promise campaign.

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16 thoughts on “High School Halls: Under the Disco Ball: School Dances

  1. Oddly enough, I didn’t go to my school dances. Freshman & Sophomore year we went to a church school that felt dancing was the gateway to fornication (not quite as extremely as Footloose, but close). They had banquets. I only participated in one and only because I was excited about finally leaving that school and heading back to public school.

    Jr & Sr year the only dance I went to was homecoming in a neighboring town. I went as friends with a football player (who I wasn’t interested in for any purpose but friendship). Back then my boyfriends actually lived in neighboring states, were out of high school or went to boarding school. I probably could’ve gone to my school dances but had very little interest in doing so, preferring instead to go into downtown Chicago and hang out in 18 or over clubs like Medusa’s. I left the school dances to my sister. 🙂 (I couldn’t see spending all my hard earned money from my after school job being wasted on cocktail dresses and limos.)

    1. I think it matters a lot whether your high school friends are into these events. Lots of people didn’t go.

      And I never had a limo. In fact, at almost 45 years old, I have still NEVER ridden in a limo! 😉

      1. LOL! I lived in a very affluent neighborhood…the kind that you mentioned dances costing as much as some people’s weddings. We weren’t rich. In fact, the only reason we lived there was because the apartment was price controlled, hospital owned property. You had to be employed by the hospital to live there and they had waiting lists. (And limos are not that big a deal)

        Many of my friends opted to go, but I was a bit rebellious in my choices of boyfriends. I wasn’t into self absorbed, snotty (though not all of them) rich boys. I also wasn’t into “serious” back then. Our family was still recovering from the loss of my brother and I was working on regaining my self esteem from the time spent in private school. Those kinds of dances just didn’t draw me in.

  2. I’m like Kitt. I didn’t go to any of the dances.

    We’ve discussed (in person) teaching your kids financial responsibility. My parents did a good job of this. If I wanted to go to any of the dances, It was up to me to fork over the cost–dress, flowers, whatever. I must have been born a grownup (at least in terms of money) because I always had my eye on what I was really getting for my money. I saved my money for TVs, CD players, CDs, and designer jeans I could wear all year.

        1. Yup! I always had an after school job so I could afford all the things I wanted (mom as a single parent couldn’t afford to provide those things). 🙂 Sounds like we had a lot in common back then!

  3. Fun memories that you’re stirring up again, Julie! I remember dancing to the Cotton-eyed Joe at every dance, too. We had a formal every year with the all-girls drum & bugle corps I was in. Senior Prom was just for the seniors at my school. My senior year, I went to two proms because my boyfriend went to a different school–three formals total that spring. I had some great dresses, too–most of them my mother sewed for me. I loved it because I never worried about someone else wearing the same thing. 🙂

    1. I just counted up my formal dresses. I went to seven formals in high school. One dress was a hand-me-down (free!) and my mom made four of the dresses. I wore two of them twice. We were all about the dances in my crowd. 😉

  4. I never went to prom or any senior ball or anything. I attended an all–girls high school and didn’t have much opportunity to meet guys, hence I never attended these functions. I was asked to go to my senior prom but it was by a guy who’d just broken up with my best friend. I turned him down, of course.

  5. We had school dances starting in the 9th grade… I broke up with a boyfriend at the College Day school dance in the 9th for biting my lip during a kiss. I still remember the Texas Tech sweatshirt I was wearing. LOL. In high school, I helped decorate for dances my sophomore year as a member of the student council, but didn’t attend any. But, all of that changed my junior year… I was a junior class officer and we were responsible for throwing the Jr/Sr prom. I had a blast… Our wardrobe more resembled that of a formal. Long gowns. Gloves. I don’t think that’s the same today.

  6. Never heard of Cotton-eyed Joe – not an Ohio thing I guess. I went to two proms and a Christmas dance (back then you could still call it that) with guys I was just friends with. The dances were all pretty forgettable. What’s funny is my date from the Christmas dance reconnected with me a couple years ago – and works down the street from me! We go to lunch once in a while.

  7. I went to all the dances in high school, but I’m not brave enough to share the pictures. I’ll just say that I had a couple dresses in black, an electric blue, black and pink, and for my senior prom I had white like everyone else. Mostly I have fond memories from the dances, they were a good time. For Homecoming and Prom (the two formal dances) we did get limos and the day after prom we all went to Cedar Point, an amusement park in OH. I don’t remember spending much on the dresses, that was a different time I guess. I do remember Cotton-eyed Joe, but not from our dances, I’ve heard it in movies. I do remember dancing to A Groovy Kind of Love, now that’s a sappy love song. Thanks for bringing these memories out, I may need to go looking for those pictures today, maybe 🙂

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