Mormon Proms

For those who have overdosed on discussion of the PBS doc, below is an article on a Mormon Prom that took place in Naperville (the stake just to the south of me in Illinois). I read this in the Chicago Tribune while on the train home last night. The deejay mentioned is a friend of mine, a patent lawyer here in Chicago:

Mormon prom a modest good time
Skimpy evening gowns, dirty dancing not fashionable for this teen celebration

By Sara Olkon and Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune. Steve Schmadeke is a freelance reporter
Published April 30, 2007
Saturday night marked a new sort of spring ritual for about 300 Chicago-area teenagers: a prom night free of hip-grinding dance moves, plunging necklines and racy song lyrics.

Billed as the region’s first-ever Mormon prom, teens from Hebron to Sugar Grove gently swayed under a sparkling disco ball inside a gymnasium in Naperville. A banner overhead read “Reflecting Eternity 2007.”

“I think it’s really cool because when you go to school dances, it’s all kind of dirty dancing,” said Abby Holyoak, 17, of Rockford. “Everyone here has the same standards, so you don’t have to worry about it. It’s pretty much amazing.”

Lytal Morgan of Aurora and Kristina Palgen of Warrenville, both 18, came up with the idea at a sleepover in the winter. The teenagers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“My friend and I were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what if we have like a Mormon prom?” recalled Morgan, who said she was horrified after attending last year’s Waubonsie Valley High School prom.

“People were hardly wearing anything. It was gross,” she said. “I stayed for like five minutes and left.”

To avoid any confusion, the black admission tickets to the Mormon event spelled out the dress code: “Sunday dress or better” and referenced a well-known church pamphlet that outlines conduct for youth.

Teens are asked to avoid music that “drives away the Spirit” and to avoid “positions and moves that are suggestive of sexual behavior.” Couples should keep enough space between their bodies to fit the Book of Mormon.

“Technically, the term is you have to be a Book of Mormon-width apart,” Holyoak said. “But actually when you dance, you’re like 10-12 books apart.”

Some teens at the dance avoided the issue altogether, choosing instead to stand in circles and snack on lemon bars and heart-shaped brownies.

Bernard Beck, professor emeritus of sociology at Northwestern University, said the Mormon prom reflects a societal divide.

Two paths

Some teens are pushing the envelope and engaging in risky behavior at younger ages, while other teens are experiencing a religious-reawakening.

“Young people are the battleground,” Beck said. “Kids themselves may want relief and are attracted by the idea they won’t be expected to take so many risks.”

Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the church in Salt Lake City, said such proms are beginning to “pop up,” noting a similar event earlier this month in Salem, Oregon.

“They are celebrations more in keeping with their own personal standards,” Farah said.

For teenage girls, finding appropriate dress is a challenge.

Morgan made her own dress, working on it Saturdays during a church sewing circle. She complemented the outfit with a pair of battery-powered flashing heels whose glow was just visible under the hem of her dress.

“I find when you wear modest dresses, it makes you feel more like a princess,” she said. “You’re not afraid somebody’s looking at you.”

That’s a standard Logan Black, 18, and a senior at Naperville North High School, said he appreciates.

“When you see someone scantily dressed, you do get feelings,” he said. “I am a lot more comfortable at a church dance than at a school dance.”

Chaperons abound

During the prom, adult chaperons stood or sat around the perimeter of the dance floor. Other adults watched the exits and parking lot closely.

One chaperon, Carl Blackham, spent part of the evening carrying around spare ties for the forgetful or mildly rebellious boys.

Female leaders were also ready with shawls for girls who arrived with shoulders exposed.

Three guys who walked into the church without the required neckwear were quickly corralled.

Sean Visick, 16 of Vernon Hills and Aaron Ahmu, 17, of Long Grove wore white-collar shirts and dress pants but no ties. Eric Gnigler, 18, of Mundelein likewise lacked a tie.

“I forgot to bring one,” said a sheepish Visick to Blackham. Gnigler wasn’t so pleased with the “kind of ugly” blue paisley tie he was given, but he put it on without complaint.

‘Clean’ music

The deejay was Bishop Jeff Duncan, a Naperville patent attorney, who spun tunes from a pair of iPods.

He generated his sets using a spreadsheet purchased from a Web site offering “clean” dance music.

“There’s a guy in Texas … with almost 2,000 songs that are certified as danceable and appropriate, so not a lot of gangster rap, not a lot of sleazy stuff,” he said, holding up a sheet that listed songs, some marked with F, for fast.

The teens rushed the dance floor when Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” came on.

Then what could be called a mini-Mormon mosh pit — a group of dressed-up young men bumping chests — formed when Duncan blasted Christian rocker Switchfoot’s 2005 single “Stars.” After Ricky Martin’s “The Cup of Life” ended, the teens shushed each other as an adult leader led the group in a closing prayer.

One more song — Michael Buble’s “Home” — and the teens headed out into the cool night air.

Landon Goggins, 18, of St. Charles and Kirsten Spears, 16, were off to the home of their friend Amanda Oscarson, 17, of Naperville.

Oscarson and Spears carried boxes of leftover treats. What were their plans?

“Cookies and milk,” said Goggins, laughing. “I have brownies too,” Spears said.

It was nearly 11 p.m., but this night probably wouldn’t go too late. Some teens, like Goggins, had church at 9 a.m. the next day.

- – -

Youth standards

* Don’t listen to music that drives away the Spirit, encourages immorality, glorifies violence, uses foul or offensive language, or promotes Satanism or other evil practices.

* When dancing, avoid full body contact with your partner. Do not use positions that are suggestive of sexual behavior.

* Never lower your dress standards for any occasion. Doing so sends the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval and that modesty is important only when it is convenient. Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach.

Source: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “For the Strength of Youth.”

———

solkon@tribune.com

Questions:

1. I’ve been seeing a lot of media articles about “Mormon Proms” the last few years. Do you have any experience with one of these affairs, either as a participant or as a chaperone? Any stories or experiences you would care to share?

2. The article was unclear on the extent to which the local community was invited to come to this dance, although my guess is that 300 reflects more than just the stake youth.

3. Do you think these alternative proms are a good idea? Why or why not?

Comments

  1. Kevin,
    No to numbers 1 and 2. To number 3, I’m warming to the idea, largely because I think prom is becoming less and less relevant. It seems (from the movies I’ve seen)(like, say, Back to the Future) that in my parents’ generation, prom was some sort of coming-of-age thing, something that everybody had to pass through. Frankly, I don’t remember almost anything from my prom 13 or 14 years ago, except that it didn’t mean much, even at the time. There was music I wasn’t into, I went with a girl I kind of knew, together with some other friends and their dates, but we mostly went because it was something that was done. I think that, if these kids can recreate prom as a ritual that is both meaningful and fun for them, more power to them. (My one concern would be that it would make the teenagers more insular and disconnected from their non-LDS friends. But the ones I’ve read about don’t prevent non-LDS kids from coming, provided they meet whatever the Stake’s rules are. If that’s the case here, it sounds good.)

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m kind of fascinated by this topic because it is prom season (my secretary’s kids just went, and my niece will be going soon), yet I never went to prom when I was in high school. So it is something I’m very curious about.

  3. I really like the idea. I wasn’t a member when I was a teen, but I did attend my proms.

    It seems like the real value is in creating a meaningful ritual. There is the insular factor, but the divide between what we (as members) expect of ourselves and our kids and what the world encourages is becoming so much greater; does it really matter?

    What will the standards be at school proms in 12-15 years when my kids are in high school?? I shudder to follow that trajectory.

  4. lamonte says:

    Kevin – We’ve had a Mormon prom here in Northern Virginia for several years now involving multiple stakes. Our specific stake usually holds a dinner party at the our stake center before the kids move on to another stake center for the larger dance.

    I think they are a great idea, not just for the standards but also for the fact that some who would never go to their high school prom end up going and having a great time. I remember in the early days there were some kids who mocked the idea but I think they ended up being embarrased by their attitudes because the majority of the kids embraced it wholeheartedly.

  5. I’m from an area with very few LDS and so this wouldn’t have been a very viable option for me–church dances were awful enough (rather sparse attendence). I loved my high school’s proms but agree that things are getting out of control. I like the idea of a community alternate prom–not LDS centered but where “good clean fun” is emphasized. I have heard of some schools going this route. Maybe they could be instigated by LDS youth but held at religiously neutral locations (and minus the opening and closing prayers) so that the wider community could participate. It seems like this could be an option in places where LDS youth are leaders in their schools.

  6. I’m not clear on how it’s different from the stake and regional dances I went to as a kid.

  7. Mike Parker says:

    Here in Southern California, my wife works on occasion for a company that provides food and beverage service at high school formals and proms. The stories she brings home are simply shocking. “It’s like a porn video, only with a little more clothing.”

    For these stories alone, I wholeheartedly support church proms.

  8. Mark B. says:

    I just noted (and deleted) that James Taranto’s Best of the Web email listed this story as one of its “Bottom Stories of the Day.”

  9. Mark B. says:

    That was singularly illiterate. I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.

  10. Aubri E. says:

    I noticed that there was a reference to a Mormon Prom in Salem, OR earlier in the month. I know that there was an event held in Corvallis, OR (home to Oregon State University) as well. Could be the same prom… My little brother attended the event in Corvallis, and had an absolutely fantastic time. It was his first “real” date, and he actually could have gone to his high school prom as well, but he and his date decided not to. They preferred the church-sponsored dance for the same reasons the kids in the article did. I think that these so called “Mormon Proms” are a great idea, but why not try to open them up to all Christians… I know that there are a ton of good, modest, clean kids that would LOVE the chance to go to a dance that they felt comfortable at.

  11. I think my parent’s stake did one of these. My younger brother went, I think. I doubt it was very many people though. 300 people is a pretty spectacular turnout, so I image it was across several stakes.

    My opinion on stake dances and other church activities when I was a youth (its only been a couple of years since I’ve been out off YW) was that going to anything beyond simply church and possibly mutual was lame, because these activities were primarily attended by the losers that had nothing else better to do on a Saturday. As bad an attitude as this was, it wasn’t without merit. I’m sure there were plenty of great youth in my stake, I just didn’t know them because they all had the same attitude that I did. If something like a “Mormon Prom” could entice all or most of the youth into coming out to an activity and getting to know each other, and really made it special, then I think that would be a great thing. I’m just not sure if it would work…

  12. R James H says:

    I used to live in Columbia, SC and we had an LDS prom there (I assume they still do). My 3 daughters all went to it and enjoyed the event. I helped with various duties a few times – setup and cleanup, chaperoning, etc. It was a good event. I don’t know of a good reason not to do it.

  13. Matt W. says:

    When I went to prom, it was mainly for evil reasons, so a mormon alernative is good. My wife put on one of these last year and it was a big success. In truth though it was just a fancy stake dance where the girls got a bit more dressed up. The boys didn’t take it seriously and most still just wore their second best sunday clothes.

  14. I think it’s a very good idea.

    The high school proms really are getting appalling.

  15. Justin says:

    Church leaders in the Folsom, Ca area held a similiar event.

    The youth in my area tend to go the other way. I notice youth trying to become more like the youth subdued by popular culture. My heart breaks everytime another one breaks away for trying to be like everybody else.

  16. My son recently went to his high-school prom (no Mormon Prom here… monthly massive multi-stake dances make it a no-need thing).

    But he took three girls. Hey, if you’re gonna be judged by the stereotype, why not live it? They had a great time, and were home by just after midnight.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    A Mormon triple date. I love it!

  18. S.P. Bailey says:

    But he took three girls.

    Wow. So how does this work? I always strugged to scrape together enough money for one elaborate asking ritual/corsage/tux rental/picture/fancy dinner/after event. I suppose there would be some ecomonies of scale (he only rented one tuxedo, right?). But still! And it always seemed challenging to keep one moody high school girl living out a princess fantasy happy over the entire course of a marathon date. Did he manage to keep three happy? Was there any jealousy or cattyness? Did this remind anyone else of the episode of Family Ties in which Alex P. Keaton asked two girls to the prom? (Of course, those girls didn’t know about their counterparts until late in the story arc…)

  19. Robert Durtschi says:

    Not a prom, but My kids attended multistake dances here in Central CA. They went with their non-member highschool friends, which often was roughly half the group. When the friends were informed they had to have an interview with the bishop for their dance card my kids would assure them they had nothing to worry about. “It’s just Ian’s dad, you know him.” Ian was one of the more popular boys at King City High and Bishop Jacobs volunteered at athletic events there.

  20. In Dallas, there have been a couple of multi-stake proms. All very well attended. They also usually do it so that the kids can opt to attend the HS prom, if they want.

  21. gbfitzger says:

    There were six stakes invited including your Schaumburg stake. It wasn’t necessarily billed as a “prom” to the kids, but would offer an alternative to kids who were so inclined. It was a priest/laurel only activity, so kids 16 and up.

  22. Anthony says:

    My wife and I took 13 of our youth to this event – we traveled about 2 hours to attend. We all piled into one big van for the social experience. Some of the kids had dates and others went solo.

    We started out the whole event with all the girls coming to our home the night before to do nails, hair, etc. We had mom’s come over during the day to help make the flower things for guys and gals. One of the members of our ward is an avid photog, so she came to do the pics.

    The girls looked terrific in their gowns and the boys looked sharp – they dressed to the occasion. We have one girl who always wears jeans and a baseball cap. She turned into a princess that night – the transformation was incredible.

    I went to non-mormon Prom as a youth – 1/2 the kids were drunk and most of the girl’s dresses were very skimpy. The difference between this prom and my youth prom were a great illustration of where the world vs church are heading.

    aj

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the on the ground reports, guys. It sounds great!

  24. Heidi (Anthony's wife) says:

    For clarification, the Mormon Prom in Naperville was open to youth of other faiths, as long as they agreed to follow the standards mentioned.
    Anthony mentioned that we took 13 of our youth to this dance. It really was a memorable experience. Those who planned it tried to make it more than just a regular stake dance by lots of extra nice details. Only 16 to 18-year-olds were invited. The dress was more formal than a regular stake dance. The decorations and atmosphere were more festive. Dinner was served at the beginning of the dance. A portrait backdrop was set up and pictures were made available on-line.

    Prior to the dance, as my husband indicated, we had the young women at our home getting ready. Some of the younger girls who weren’t going helped do nails and hair for those who were. We made corsages and boutonnieres for each of the youth and had portraits taken at a beautiful location in a nearby park.

    Why all the fuss? We wanted the youth to have an event that they would remember; one where they looked and felt and were treated like individuals with great potential and worth. I think they got the message.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s another press account of the Naperville Mormon prom, complete with a couple of pictures.

  26. I am a teenage girl and I went to an multi-stake LDS prom last night in Carlsbad, CA.
    1)I had a blast! I went with a group of my friends, including one nonmember girl. The decorations were really good. The theme was “Under the Sea”; in fact, there is a website you can see the pictures at, http://www.underthesea2007.com.
    2)This prom was open to teenagers 16 and up, priest and laurel age. The event was open to the public, technically, but only promoted through church networks – meaning, only member youth were informed. Members could invite people to come. Dance cards were pretty much required, but if not you were shown into a room and told the behavioral expectations. Dress was “church or formal wear.”
    3)I think these alternative proms are a good idea; the envirnment is much more wholesome, law-abiding, enjoyable, etc.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    ecw, thanks for the fun pics and for your personal report.

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