What is the Prom?

School Prom DressesIn the United States and Canada a prom, short for promenade, is used to describe a formal dance held at the end of an academic year. In the United Kingdom, the term is more widely understood to be in reference to a season of classical concerts or “proms”, which have been held between July and September since 1895, today run by the BBC. The British synonym for the North American event would be Valedictory Ball, Leavers’ Ball, Leavers’ Dinner or informally Leavers’ Do, closer to the Australian description (see below.) In Canada the terms Grad or Formal are most common and the event is usually only held for those in their graduating year of high school or middle school.

While proms at smaller schools may be open to the entire student body, large high schools may hold two proms, a junior prom for those finishing their 11th grade year and a senior prom for those who are finishing their high school or middle school years. The name is derived from the late nineteenth century practice of a promenade ball. The end of year tradition stemmed from the graduation ball tradition.

Boys usually dress in black tie (a dinner jacket and bow tie), sometimes with brightly colored cummerbunds or vests, though any sort of formal wear can be worn. Traditionally, girls gave boys matching boutonnieres to be worn on the tuxedos. Girls traditionally wear formal gowns or dresses adorned with a corsage given to them by their date. Many boys also match the color of their tie to their date’s dress. Often, boys and girls will dress according to the theme of the prom – e.g. pastel suits for a Miami Vice-themed prom.

School PromCommon prom activities include dining, dancing, the crowning of a prom King and Queen, and socializing. In some cases, high school students accumulate funds for their class prom through fundraisers over the four years they attend their high school. High schools in or near large cities may rent ballrooms at expensive hotels or, to be unusual, venues such as a pleasure cruise boat. Many students group together to take limousines to their proms. Often costs are cut by using the school gym, which challenges the decorating committee to somehow mask the gym odor and drab surfaces. Music played during the dance portion of the event is normally the genre(s) most popular with the attendees.

Some high school students feel that the prom is the most romantic night of their lives. They may go in a group that includes a person they have known for years; other times, students just try to find a date that they like. Many find it to be just as fun to attend with friends, not worrying about the dating aspect of the prom. The occurrence of inappropriate conduct and occurrence of violence or alcohol/drug abuse is common though discouraged.[citation needed] In some high schools, to prevent parties that go out of control and traffic accidents, they hose A.P.E., or an After Prom Extravaganza, where the attendees usually return to the school after prom and spend the night as a “lock-in.”

Some universities and colleges have proms as well, depending on the size of the graduating class in a faculty or department.

PromA Prom King & Queen are high school students, often seniors, who are elected to be traditional prom “royalty” at American High Schools. The honor is usually bestowed by fellow students casting votes and electing their king & queen from a set of nominated candidates called the Prom Court. Recently, however, some schools hold raffles to avoid a popularity contest amongst students and pick the Prom King and Queen at random. It is usually tradition to have a royal dance between Prom King and Queen and the rest of the Prom Court to celebrate. Queens are often given a tiara while kings receive a crown or a scepter.

The practice of crowning a Prom King and Queen is uncommon in Britain though widespread in the USA.

Some American Christian high schools and colleges that disallow school-sponsored dances will host a Junior/Senior. Rather than dancing being the main planned event, a banquet is served. Typically, students still dress in formal attire and even bring dates. The tradition of Junior/Senior is popular at small Christian colleges such as Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky and Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois.

As described in the introduction, in British English, such an event might be called a ball, although in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland it is also often called a School Formal as well as a Ball. In Australian schools the terms used are either School Formal (although most commonly abbreviated to ‘Formal’. The same event for students not occurring in their final year of school is referred to as a ‘Semi Formal’) which is not relegated solely to the final year or sometimes as Dinner-dance, Leavers’ Dinner, Debutante Ball or also Valedictory Dinner, prom dressesusually so when the night includes a meal and is in the final year of high school.

In Sweden this kind of event is usually known as Studentbalen. The word “Studentbalen” is in this case a proper noun meaning “The Student Ball”, while the word studentbal is a common noun that can refer to any formal dinner and dance at a Swedish university. Studentbalen is usually held during the last weeks before graduating (Swedish: “Ta studenten”) after three years in secondary school (Swedish: Gymnasieskola) and can be a quite formal, white tie event though the practice differs greatly between schools.

In Ireland, this formal dance is called “The Debutantes’ Ball”, or informally, “The Debs” (an abbreviation). This is also a formal dance for students who have just graduated from secondary school (high school) and is traditionally held at some stage during September and October, after the students have finished all their exams and have even got their results. The same formal dance is also occasionally known as Grads among students in all-male schools, but who would therefore invite girls from other schools and is, therefore, the same as a Debs.

In the U.S. a “formal” is typically a similar dance that is held by a fraternity or sorority affiliated with a certain college or university. In Australia and Britain, the term “prom” has also come into sparse usage because of the influence of American movies and television.

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