Spring dance season is cranked full blast. Got a kid stricken with boogie fever? We break it down and take a peek at today’s middle and high school blowouts.
Raise your hand if you remember your first school dance.
I remember throngs of middle schoolers unleashing rabid energy in a gym or cafeteria – two rooms impossible to make nice because of their size and their smell, regardless of the decorating skills of dedicated parent volunteers.
Now flash back to your senior prom: a respectable sit-down dinner with friends at an elegant country club followed by hours of glow-inducing boogie woogie.
While today’s kids are more likely to floss than cabbage patch out on the floor, these tween-to-teen rites of passage are alive and well – and leaving a trail of lifelong memories (and Insta pics) behind.
So what’s the lay of the land? Traditions vary by district, but there are some definite trends. As your kid sashays into this turf, get savvy about dates, posses, dresses, suits, flowers … and the fine art of the promposal.
High school dances
Generally, high schools still have three dances during the school year. Here’s a breakdown of each one.
The all-school celebration held during the end of football season is, for most attendees, a semi-formal or better-than-casual event.
Groups of friends attend together, a DJ spins and the whole Saturday-night event is over in just a few hours.
The weather is typically warm enough for outdoor photos, and some parents host cider-and-doughnut socials before the dance to give kids extra time in their finery.
The winter semi-formal
This dance is sometimes still called “Sadie Hawkins,” after a character in the 1937 Lil’ Abner comic strip, but it’s also called Turnabout, Snowcoming and, in the Rochester area, it’s called Tri-High, a newly branded collaborative dance for students at Rochester, Rochester Adams and Stoney Creek high schools.
Each school can sell 400 tickets and then takes turns hosting the event, which gives students the chance to enjoy one big dance, says Jen Taylor, a Rochester mom of one son and three daughters – the youngest a junior at Rochester Adams.
The “promenade,” modeled after the common coed banquet held at universities in the 19th century, took hold in high schools in the booming post-war economy of the 1950s.
According to Time, Susan Ford held her 1975 senior prom at home – a Washington, D.C. residence better known as the White House.
This is still a huge event for kids. Some schools welcome juniors and seniors, some just seniors, and others allow freshmen and sophomores to attend as the date of a junior or senior.
Yes, the quintessential “prom date” still exists, but tons of kids prefer to party with friends as a “prom posse.”
Dances for tweens
Younger students can also get in on the fun by attending dances thrown throughout the year at local venues.
For example, since mid-century, the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, has hosted youth dances, including eight per year (plus an eighth-grade graduation dance) where about 300 residents and students of the Grosse Pointe middle schools bounce to “clean versions” of modern hits, according to Jessi Kaminski, the War Memorial’s manager of communications and programming, and Denise Fry, director of community engagement.
Harry Potter, Hawaiian luau, school pride, sports and white-out themes are popular, and kids are especially encouraged to dress up for the Holiday Ball.
“We give families in the community an opportunity on Friday nights to get their kids out, try something new and meet new people,” says Fry, who adds that parents often recall their own middle school dance days – and even some War Memorial weddings can be traced back to a middle school dance.
As far as middle school dances go, though, some middle schools have done away with dances completely, while some throw a couple each year, and others have after-school activities instead, where kids can eat pizza, play games and dance a flawless Fortnite floss.
Irene Kiousis, a mom of two from Troy, helped organize the eighth-grade dance – the only dance at Boulan Park Middle School – which is an annual DJ-entertained event that follows the class graduation.
“It was more meaningful for the kids because it was their last day together as a class,” she says.
Formal wear tips for girls
High School kids tend to dress somewhat down for homecomings and winter formals, but a school dance is still a great opportunity to dress up. Julie LaFramboise of Berkley negotiated with Maggie, her high school junior, on the length of her dresses – a challenge when hemlines are high and your daughter is 5-foot-11.
“She’s so tall that mini-dresses at Forever 21 are like T-shirts,” she says. “What kind of underwear do you wear under that?”
Gaggles of middle school girls in short, short dresses and Vans, Converse or Dr. Martens give way to more sophisticated high school footwear: heels and platforms … and more short dresses.
“Prom senior year is the one (dance) when they want to wear long dresses,” says Lisa White, a mom of a son and daughter who attend Bloomfield Hills High School. (Get tips on how to save on your child’s prom dress here).
As a professional stylist with Bell & White in the Birmingham/Bloomfield Hills area, White watches trends, and she says expect to see bodycon red carpet style.
“They all want fitted. They all like backless,” she says.
Yellows, reds, blues and greens are popular, and metallics are having a moment, too. Extra points for sequins and embellishments, which are edging out elaborate jewelry – with one exception.
“Chandelier earrings are big right now,” she says.
Style tips for guys
Imagine the freedom of dressing to match your personality, rather than your date’s dress.
“Major changes in the last two years, and one-third of my customers are not taking a date to prom,” says Dan Wesner, manager at Wesner Tuxedo in Sterling Heights. “Now they wear what they want.”
And what they want isn’t what the tux reps are touting.
Each February, Wesner invites 25 students from seven area schools to spend a couple of hours eating pizza and talking trends.
And from this face-to-face market research, Wesner stocks his store.
Here are some tips based on the things he’s learned:
- Fit: High and tight, with shorter jackets that button only when the wearer breathes in deeply.
- Ditch the vest for suspenders.
- Bow ties are back! “Ninety-six percent will wear them,” Wesner says.
- Tiny pops of color in the bow tie and a pocket square.
- Cost-conscious kids may like loafers to match their tie, but often won’t spend the money.
And if your child is gender non-conforming, everyone looks great in a black jacket with tails paired with black dress pants – or in a vest that shows off personality.
Hair and makeup
Getting ready for the event is part of the event. Makeup and hair for 11 homecoming-bound freshmen?
No problem, says Tiffany Elie of Huntington Woods-based Tiffany Elie Makeup Artistry & Associates. But prom is when parents are more likely to splash out.
And the look is dewy and fresh, not dramatic. No smoky eye! Bold pink or coral shimmer on the lips and cheeks, natural highlights, natural brows and “definitely glitter liner.”
Hair is beach waves, high ponytail or half-up with thick, soft braids blended with a couple of smaller braids for a natural, romantic look.
When Elie does work with eighth graders and bat mitzvahs, she keeps makeup light and fresh – no false lashes for young girls.
A picture of the dress is tremendously helpful when planning flowers, says Elizabeth Viviano DeLapp, product development consultant for Viviano Flower Shop in St. Clair Shores and across metro Detroit.
The hand-picked look with plenty of botanical greenery is big this year, perfect for wrist corsages, even “flowers as body art” in the form of bracelets and bohemian-style garland wreaths that encircle the crown of the head.
Peach is the color of the year, but blues, burgundies and blush pinks are popular, too. The biggest growth area in dance-related florals? A corsage for the daddy-daughter dance, says Elizabeth Viviano DeLapp of Viviano Flower Shop.
… And favors
The memento I just can’t forget from my own prom? A wine glass etched with the date and theme (Precious Moments!) was such a bad idea for alcohol-curious 17-year-olds.
My own kids came home with monogrammed picnic blankets – a much better choice. More practical, too!
Getting the Insta-worthy pics
“Pictures are a big deal, and where you take them is almost as important as who you are going with. The kids go overboard. Pictures are like a party,” says Dan Wesner of Wesner Tuxedo. “They go to George George Park (in Clinton Township), and have backup plans for when it rains. Somerset or Lakeside Mall, or a hotel with a nice lobby, or near a fountain.”
In Huntington Woods, Mary Kay Davis Park is known year-round as “Prom Park,” and the entire neighborhood turns out to share the fun.
But Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township actively involves parents in a special way. An hour before the dance starts at Palazzo Grande, parents set up barricades that flank a red carpet.
Kids pose for hundreds of photos during the “Parent Paparazzi.” The hidden benefit, says Wesner, is hundreds of watchful eyes.
“You might sneak by your principal with alcohol, but you’d never walk past 200 parents. That lowered pre-drinking. It was a big move and it was cool.”
A mom’s advice
By the time your kid is old enough to attend prom, you’re happy they are arranging the party bus or limo, finding friends to fill the seats and collecting the cash to pay for it all. But it’s smart to keep a sharp eye on this choice.
Many transportation companies operate legitimate services, but in 2015, some Berkley High School students were stranded at prom when their driver was arrested for “violating probation relating to a felony assault conviction” and their bus impounded.
Police may not have been alerted to the situation if it weren’t for a couple of students getting sick from allegedly eating brownies laced with pot.
Talk to your student about school dance rules, because they absolutely exist. As a parent, you want your kid to make memories, not bad choices, so don’t be afraid to discuss appropriate behavior with regard to smoking, drinking, drug use and sex.
We have Brad Bain to thank for the promposal origin story. It was 2001 when he asked his girlfriend to prom over the loudspeaker of the Plano, Texas store where they both worked.
The trend went viral and balloons, flowers, chocolates, sushi, teddy bears and pizzas with the word “PROM?” desperately spelled out in pepperoni accompany the big ask.
Creativity is the name of the game, but don’t worry about your kid getting rejected – social circles are thick, and word spreads about who will say “yes” to whom.
What ever happened to Jen and Brad? They were married in 2008. Awwww!
Do you have any advice to help your child make the most of an upcoming school dance? Drop your thoughts in the comments.