Sunday, May 20, 2007

Prom Night



Bethel’s high school prom is an event unlike any prom anywhere else. To understand why that is, you must understand Bethel.

This is a dusty, grimy little river town with mostly dirt roads and wooden boardwalks. To say that the dress code here is “relaxed” is an understatement. I would wager that well over half the adult men in Bethel do not own a suit. Women rarely wear high heels and most don’t wear makeup. Getting “dressed up”—for Sunday church, for a wedding or a funeral—generally means that your jeans are clean and have no unintended holes in them, and that you scraped the mud off your boots.

A formal event is a rare occurrence here, and requires extensive planning. Bethel has no dress shops, tux rental shops, shoe stores, florists or limo-rental services. We have no department stores, and no mall. Shopping for clothes in Bethel is pretty much limited to browsing the jeans and t-shirts in the clothing sections of the two grocery stores. Not exactly prom appropriate.

Bethel Regional High School is a small school with a total student body of about 225. This year, 35 seniors will graduate. In my high school of 800 students (250 in my graduating class), the juniors and the seniors each had a separate prom; here there is a single prom for both juniors and seniors and whomever they choose to invite.

Preparations begin months in advance. Rented tuxes are ordered online and mailed out from Anchorage. For the girls, a shopping trip to Anchorage is generally required. The state wrestling and basketball championships earlier in the spring (with travel paid by the school) offered excellent opportunities for shopping. The girl’s basketball team was eliminated early, and the girls dedicated the rest of their time to the pursuit of the perfect prom dress. Corsages and boutonnieres must also be ordered early, and they cannot be bought in Bethel.

In my day (granted, a few years ago), not to have a date for the prom was a social black mark of the highest order. If you didn’t have a date, you spent the last school day before the event talking widely about how prom is nothing but a stupid and juvenile social ritual and a huge waste of money and you wouldn’t go even if someone had invited you. What you did NOT do, under any circumstance, was show up without a date, either alone or in a party of your same-gender friends. It just did not happen.

What also did not happen at prom in my day was the appearance of parents. There were a handful of chaperones—favorite teachers, invited by the Prom Planning Committee to serve that function—but no other adults.

This is where Bethel’s prom is different than any other I ever heard of. It is a community event, and one that inspires quite a stir around town. It is the one opportunity to see our young people really dressed up.

The prom starts at 8:00 pm, and only the attendees are allowed in the door. By 8:30 the community starts lining up at the door—families, little kids, neighbors, anyone who wants to come. At 9:00 the doors are opened and the crowd surges in. The focus of the prom decorating committee has been the creation of a stage-type backdrop and runway. Once the crowd has gathered around the runway—cameras ready—the Grand Promenade begins. An announcer introduces each couple individually and they walk “onstage”, pause for photos, and then proceed down the runway with several more pauses for photos. Dozens of flashes going off at once, it resembles a Hollywood Grand Opening. And this year’s prom theme is “Hollywood.”

Those attending without a date are introduced alone. Several girls were introduced as pairs; not that they are lesbian (though they could be, and that would be fine), they just decided to come together since they didn’t have dates. Plenty of girls were dancing together, too. The mores of the 70’s (at least in the Deep South) did not allow such flexibility; sometimes change is a very good thing.

The Promenade lasted about an hour. Afterwards there was much milling about and more photo-taking. Then the non-promers were invited to leave so the kids could get on with their Big Event. Dutch and I were quick to skedaddle, and left hoping the rest of the adults would do the same.

Not having kids in the school system here, I have not previously attended the Grand Promenade. This year our young friend Michael, son of Joan, was attending for the first time (he’s a junior), so of course we had to go. Now we will probably show up every year, just to see the kids dressed up. In Bethel, there is nothing like it.



All photos by The Tundra PA. Michael is that handsome dude in the next to last photo.


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10 Comments:

Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

That is just so cool! Our school district has kind of a video version of that, and they run it as a loop on the school cable channel. Oh, to actually be there and see them in the (young, nubile) flesh instead of just a few posed seconds on video.

Sunday, May 20, 2007 5:14:00 PM  
Blogger c'est moi said...

Hi Tundra PA,

I came across your site while surfing tonight. I am in arctic Canada and have seen the unique grads held by the Inuit in my community over the last few years. It, too, is unique.

A quick look around your site revealed some spectacular photos and interesting topics. Your bit on new puppies was interesting too. Over here, if you want a dog, you ask one of the locals who has pups. If he hasn't given them all away or isn't using them himself, chances are you can have a dog.

Anyway, I've bookmarked you and will be back. Thanks for sharing your stories.

Sunday, May 20, 2007 7:05:00 PM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

#1 Dino--it really was amazing to be there. I usually see these kids in baggy jeans and sweatshirts. The transformation to formalwear, accompanied by faces that radiated excitement (as opposed to the usual cool and bored expression), was truly heartwarming. I can't believe I've lived here for 8 years without participating in this event. Joan's boys have brought me into the loop of high school activities--wrestling, basketball, science fair, speech competition--for which I am grateful. Thanks for commenting!

c'est moi--Thanks for stopping in to visit, and for commenting. I'd love to compare notes with you about Inuit/Yupik similarities and differences. I asked a Yupik friend who had seen The Long Runner if she could understand the language; she said no, it was very different from Yupik. Glad you enjoy the blog!

Monday, May 21, 2007 8:40:00 AM  
Blogger Lin said...

I love to see the kids all dressed up. They look so different. And when the photographer's prints arrive, oh the squeals! Even they are impressed with how they and their friends look. I would love it if we had the public show down here in the lower 48.

I so enjoy your stories.
Lin

Monday, May 21, 2007 7:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Tampa Turtle said...

AWESOME! The Bethel kids look amazing. I grew up in Anchorage (graduated in 1996) and did all the dances too. It was always the best time. I am glad that you guys make it a community-involved event. It's really important to young people to have these memories. I hope they all had a great time- they certainly look fabulous. Thanks for the report!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007 1:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Momba said...

I graduated from BRHS and the prom was the most fun I think I've ever had! I'm glad to see that it hasn't changed from way back when I graduated....awesome pictures.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 4:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Kj said...

They all look stunning....
Proms over here are a little different but the whole community turns up to see the students arrive and take pics so it pays to make an entrance then the rest of the night is your own.....
I went to an isolated country school so we had to plan in advance too with shopping trips to the city planned months before, or fabric ordered so the mothers of the district could fire up their sewing machines and get everyone looking their best....
It was totally acceptable to turn up alone, or with other girls/guys... and no one ever missed out because they didn't have a date...who needs a date anyway, there are always others there who don't have dates either and so never a lack of dance partners!!!

Ahhh the good old days....

These fullas will look back on the night for ever as the night they got to be gorgeous and the centre of attention...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 6:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent! What a great looking group of kids! I hope they will keep the gowns available for 'rent' for next years crowd. They do that here a lot, especially for those who can't afford to buy. Gowns are donated and cleaned and kept on the ready for another days use!

Saturday, June 16, 2007 4:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...not that they are lesbian (though they could be, and that would be fine)

It's fine to be a lesbian? You've got to be kidding. Homosexuality is destructive to the individuals and to society.

Thursday, August 09, 2007 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Yes, anon 8/9/07, I believe that it is fine to be a lesbian. The Tundra PA takes an inclusive view of humanity and does not discriminate because of race, religion, creed, place of origin, body size or sexual preference.

Friday, August 10, 2007 7:34:00 AM  

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