by Gunnar Ward

Echoing music booms from towering speakers as flashing lights gleam off gems on sparkling dresses. Bodies shuffle on the dance floor, and an atmosphere of fun descends onto the venue.

Welcome to Prom Night! Hours of preparation build up to this moment, with ties being tied and makeup being carefully applied.

For many, Prom Night stands as the high point of high school. But the days when prom is  expected to be an unforgettable night shared between two people is mostly a thing of the past.

At today’s prom, the perfect blend of tradition and pop culture, the night of dressing up and dancing is a blast for all students — and a date is optional.

“Students, in general, enjoy doing things with their friends as much as they do with dates,” said Stacy Mann, a science teacher at Manchester Valley High School. “They form study groups together and go to see sports together. So extending that “with friends” approach to Prom Night is a natural shift.”

“I felt like going [with friends] was a lot more fun,” said Winters Mill High School graduate Jordan Satori. “You didn’t feel pressured to stay with one person, you can move around and be with different people.”

Despite these changes, prom remains a high school highlight, but the event has become more than just dancing, and friends who go to prom together can enjoy the fun as much as the couples.

“The students love the photo booth. They can go in as many times as they want and be silly,” said Lea Nappier, school counselor at Manchester Valley and the Class of 2018 adviser. “We also have dinner, desserts and a slushie bar. The dinner tables flank the sides of the room so students have a place to hang out, talk, and eat.” Nappier estimates that of the anticipated 350 to 500 prom attendees, half of them go with groups of friends.

“Don’t feel pressured to have a date,” Satori said. “Going with friends, you have a lot more fun.”

Manchester Valley health teacher Shelly Brezicki offers dance lessons prior to prom so students have more confidence as they try out a variety of dance moves.

“Even if you want to dance with a guy, so many come by themselves or with their own guy friends,” Morris said. “There were people who didn’t come with a date and danced with three or four different [partners].”

One of the special things about prom is the sense of unity and friendship it creates, bringing students of all backgrounds and interests together. Whether it’s the captain of the football team, a computer fanatic, or a theater kid, Prom Night inspires them all to go out on a limb and get together for a fun night.

“I got to hang out with people I wouldn’t normally hang out because we were all having fun and dancing, which was unusual, because I don’t dance!” Satori said with a laugh. “It was fun doing things I wouldn’t normally do myself, but I felt comfortable because everyone else is in the same boat.”

And the fun doesn’t end after the special night. Fodder for prom-related “I remember when …” stories is plentiful.

“This guy was in the middle of a dance circle and jumped right in the center and ripped off his shirt in the middle of prom,” said Ashley Morrison of Taneytown, a Francis Scott Key graduate. “Everyone stared at him, and the principal rushed him to put his shirt back on.”

And after the final song plays and the final flash of light dances across the venue, the festivities continue. “After-prom” events keep the party going, and help ensure that students celebrate safely after the celebration.

Students who attend schools that don’t offer post-prom events often create their own plans, such partying all night, then watching the sunrise.

“I went to McDonald’s with my friend to get ice cream, and then we went and played with puppies in our prom dresses,” Morrison said.

“You should go to prom at least once — and see what it is like,” Satori said.