The Problem with "Prom"

Over my years of teaching and hosting formal ball events, I've noticed that the use of the word "prom" for anime con formals has created certain expectations for attendees at all kinds of formal dance events.

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

From my point of view as a dancer, a con "prom" implies wearing an expensive outfit, taking your romantic date, and sorta half-dancing, mostly standing around or the hold-and-sway, set to pop music or stereotypical "party" hits.

"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 social 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 dedicated dance partner. I often 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-like 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 realistic expectation. 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. It also may cause distress to people who can't afford a prom-level formal outfit.

Speaking of affordability, a lot of "proms" are ticket-only. Conventions already require admission, and on top of that, some convention formals require another ticket on top of that to attend. Tickets may be in the form of a "donation" or just a straight cost. I find that not only does this decrease attendance at the formal event, but it shows that same ballroom culture exclusivity found on the professional floor: you have to comfortably afford that ticket cost. While I don't mind if a donation is optional, I do mind seeing formals with a mandatory cost. The largest and best-quality anime convention formal ball in the country does not require an extra ticket. In fact, it offers two and a half days of dance lessons followed by six hours of no-extra-ticket-required formal ball. There's very little precedence for an anime con formal event to require a ticket.

Lastly, the music at a "prom" isn't geared toward dancers and is likely to be limited to either pieces that "sound pretty" (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 social partner 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 use to apply what you've learned at 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 the effort of selecting all social partner dances!

I'd rather foster an atmosphere of learning and community than a "prom night" stereotype. Wouldn't you?

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