The Problem with "Prom"

As part of my "Shall We Dance" and "Welcome to the Ballroom" panels, I discuss how the choice of "prom" as advertisement for social dances does more harm than good.

Why is "prom" a problem? In short: it discourages actual dancing.

From my point of view as a dancer, a con "prom" is more focused on people wearing extravagant costumes and sorta half-dancing, mostly standing around or the hold-and-sway.

"Prom" encourages the idea of a con formal dance as "something you can only do with a romantic partner." A lot of non-dancing friends and acquaintances have turned down attending these dances because they "don't have a partner." We need to dispel the myth that you MUST have a partner to attend a social dance, particularly one where there are lessons held beforehand! Any partner dancer will tell you that you learn faster, make more friends, and have just as much fun if you attend class without a partner. Classes often rotate partners so everyone has a chance to practice (none of that "shadow partner" business - leave that in Welcome to the Ballroom, it's not helpful!). A formal dance should be no different. Even though I have a romantic partner, I often show up at dances without a singular dance partner. I want to dance with as many people as I can!

Let's say you show up at "prom" without a romantic or dancing partner. What about the Disney portrayal of meeting one's true love, one's Royalty Charming at a formal dance? I can't tell you how many doe-eyed attendees tell me they're hoping to find someone special at the dance. That's simply not a reality. Firstly, you can't expect to sit in a chair and wait for someone to ask you to dance. You should stand toward the edge of the floor if you're actively seeking a dance partner. But formal dances aren't speed dating. While you may meet someone you click with, if you go in expecting to meet someone special, you'll be disappointed by the end of the night. If you go in expecting to meet new friends and practice some dance, you won't be as disappointed. We need to normalize dance as a social activity that isn't tied to eventual marriage.

Now, it's also true that most "raves" have renamed themselves to "electronic dance," which leaves little use for another event being named a "dance" in a convention's schedule. I prefer using the term "Formal Dance" over something like "[Anime Con] Prom." However, even "Formal Ball" doesn't appropriately designate these events as social dances. I wonder what we can do to encourage dancing by thinking of what a name connotes. A personal pet peeve of mine is that "prom" also might give the impression that one must wear something like what they wore to their actual high school prom, but "ball" also implies "ballgown." Often, people who wear those outfits aren't accustomed to moving in them, much less dancing. It can be a safety hazard.

Lastly, the music at a "prom" isn't geared toward dancers and is likely to be limited to either "pretty" pieces (Viennese waltz after Viennese waltz, due to dj ignorance of how tiring that dance is and how very few people know it anymore) or pieces you can't dance to. I think if we're going to host formal dances at Japanese anime conventions, we should honor the culture of social dance as an activity all can enjoy. For a con to offer lessons in social dance but play music you can't practice dance to in the formal doesn't make sense and is unfair to those who want to learn something. If your formal ball contains music that's danceable and from nerdy, quirky sources, the dancers will be delighted and the non-dancers won't even notice!

I'd rather foster an atmosphere of learning and community than a "prom night" stereotype, so I'll keep spreading the joy of dance the best I can!

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