Prom Night, Then and Now

Because the month of May is when so many high schools hold their proms, an acquaintance asked me to re-publish this post from last year.

As women will do when gathered together day after day, when I worked in an office, we often found time to switch into “chat and gossip” mode. On one particular day in my memory, I recall that a supervisor had proudly displayed to a group of us ladies the prom photos taken of his oldest daughter. That sparked a discussion of school dances in general, and prom gowns specifically.

Each of the women present took turns describing her beloved senior or junior prom gowns and favorite dance dresses. I stayed on the periphery of this conversation, volunteering nothing, and fortunately each of the women was too wrapped up in fond memories of her own Cinderella moments to note my reticence.  My relief was enormous; I didn’t know what I would have said if they had turned to ask me about my dance dresses.  Made something up, perhaps – probably – because admitting the truth would have been humiliating: that I had never had a prom gown, nor even a dance dress.  I never wore one because I never went to a dance or a prom.  I did not go because I was not asked.  Without a date, a young woman of my generation didn’t have the opportunity to attend her own school prom.  She did not dare walk alone through the door onto the dance floor.

All of the women involved in the conversation that day were fifteen to twenty years younger than I. I knew that they could not possibly understand.  Contemporary young women would likely reel in disbelief and shock if faced with the restrictions we girls lived under in the late 1960s and early 70s.  If one did not have a date for a dance or a prom, one simply didn’t get to attend.  I seriously doubt that a single girl would have been sold a ticket for her own prom—or, if she had somehow wrangled a ticket, would not have been allowed to walk in alone. We, the overflow of plain young women without boyfriends or dates, simply bowed to the reality of the situation: we would not be asked, we would not attend. If we chafed under the restrictions, we were told that there was absolutely no point in railing against the situation.  It was just the things way were.

But somehow, at some point, it stopped being the way things were. The daughters of  “women’s libbers” and “hippies”, imbued with a sense of combativeness and personal worth that had been sadly absent in earlier generations, struck out on their own and refused to be tied to some male just in order to gain admission to their own school dances.  Happily single, they demanded tickets.  They bought their own corsages, slipped on their lovely gowns, tucked their feet into brand-new dancing shoes, and off they went.  Even if asked by a boyfriend to be their prom date, these brave young innovators sometimes refused to be coupled to one person and instead attended in groups of girlfriends, free to dance (or not) with whomever they pleased.

I not only admired those young women, but I was fiercely glad for them.

When my daughter and I went to a showing of the Disney movie Cinderella, I found myself biting my lip and blinking hard against tears when the title character is barred by her stepmother and sisters from attending the ball.  Later, as we left the theatre, I told my daughter, “That’s what it felt like, on the night of my senior prom.  That’s how I felt.”  Her own eyes sought mine in compassion and she squeezed my hand.

There were no fairy godmothers for the Cinderellas of my generation. And I had not the needed courage, perhaps, to change the sad state of my own affairs. But I have nothing but admiration for contemporary young women who neither need nor want fairy godmothers, nor pumpkin coaches, nor glass slippers—who reach out with no magic wands but that of their own self-assuredness and hard work to create the lives they want. And I hope every one of them dances, like the twelve dancing princesses of another fairy tale, long past midnight and until their shoes are worn through.

The Dance at My Daughter’s Wedding

The TV show Gilmore Girls began to run in 2000, and I missed the first few episodes. But I still smilingly  recall the evening I arrived home from some errand or engagement, and found my teenage daughter viewing an early episode.  Intrigued, I sat down with her to watch while she explained the premise of the show to me, and the interactions of the characters; the close mother-daughter relationship. Then she said something to me that I will take to my grave as the loveliest compliment my daughter has ever given me: “I think they’re a little bit like us.”

The force of the compliment struck me then, yes, but even more so later, as I began to watch every episode of the program with her. This was a production which portrayed  a mother and daughter who loved, cared, disagreed, fought, struggled, and laughed with one another. It was a tale of an extended family who made terrible mistakes in their treatment of each other, and yet somehow managed to at least pretend to get along, if not to  resolve their differences.  It was an on-going story about not just family, but friends who were more than family, and who, in the end, continually supported and appreciated one another, even when they disagreed.

“I think they’re a little bit like us.”

No mother could ask for higher praise.

By the end of the series, watching the show together had become a weekly ritual that we rarely missed, along with about half the female population of the United States. We laughed and cried and commiserated with the Lorelai and Rory, and their wacky, loveable, wish-it-were-real town of Stars Hollow.

But there was one thing my daughter and I did that was probably not a habit of many of the other viewers: at the end of each episode, we got up and danced together to the theme song. Laughing and making up steps as we went along, dipping and whirling and twirling,  week after week, we danced.  When she gave me the CD of the music from the show one Christmas, we danced to it again.

We danced. And it struck me once as we did so that, “Someday at your wedding, we need to have a mother-daughter dance!”

Why not? There is always a father-daughter dance on the reception floor.  But why not a mother-daughter dance?  Who, of anyone, but the mother of the bride has been involved in this whole shebang in the first place?  Who, in fact, created this wonderful young woman, this now-beautiful bride, out of the very essence of her own body?  Who more than Mom deserves the acknowledgement of a special moment on the dance floor?

A mother-daughter dance. It should, I realized, comprise a part of every wedding reception.

Dancing with my daughter at her wedding
Dancing with my daughter at her wedding

And so it happened that, at my daughter’s wedding, we danced. She and I, in fact, danced the very first dance, still giggling and whirling, and making up steps as we went along—no, not to the theme song of Gilmore Girls, but to ABBA’s “I Have a Dream”—the beautiful, meaningful words and the Greek-like melody so perfect for the wedding day dance of my daughter, who is one-quarter Greek in ancestry. Abba Dance Blog 1

Abba Dance Blog 2

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