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‘Senior’ Senior Proms: Why They’re Catching On

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonMay 23, 2016
'Senior' Senior Proms: Why They're Catching On

Who doesn’t love an evening of dancing and fun? Teenagers aren’t the only ones having prom night this month — communities nationwide are holding senior citizen proms for their elderly residents.

It’s time for boutonnieres, corsages, prom dresses and tuxedos — and not just for high schoolers. Everyone from local youth groups to retirement communities are joining in the latest senior living trend: senior citizen proms. It’s an opportunity for seniors to socialize, have fun and engage with their community.

Proms, Then and Now

Proms got their start with high schoolers, but it wasn’t always exclusive to high school. According to TIME Magazine’s Brief History of the Prom, the word prom or “promenade” simply refers to “the formal, introductory parading of guests at a party.”

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The prom as we know it began in 19th century America as a simple banquet held for graduating university students. As teen culture took root in the 1940s and 1950s, proms were centered on American high schools. It was in the 50s that proms were increasingly being held at country clubs and hotels, as the postwar economy recovered. The prom even made it to the White House in 1975, under President Ford and his daughter Susan.

Ever since its inception, the prom has become increasingly adaptable, inclusive and open, changing to suit the mores of the time — and now it’s evolving to include another group of seniors deserving of a night of fun: senior citizens.

Senior Proms: Why They’re Catching On

From dinner to dancing, and festive attire to fanciful decorations, prom for senior citizens bears a close resemblance to the prom held at local high schools. Themes like “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “A Night to Remember” abound. Most even include a coronation for the prom king and queen — complete with crowns and other regalia. But there are a few key differences, as you might expect. One thing the senior citizen prom provides that the senior prom doesn’t, of course, is alcohol: many a prom for older adults begins with a cocktail hour. Also, you’ll see a lot more guests dancing the night away in their wheelchairs.

Community members often volunteer to help — not only with organizing and setting up, but by attending the event, dancing and socializing with senior attendees. Everyone has a chance to enjoy the celebratory atmosphere, and considering how therapeutic music is for seniors, they are uplifted by being treated to a blast from the past of songs from their youth.

Even high school students, who are typically celebrating their own prom, have gotten involved in hosting proms for senior citizens within their community. Last month, West Orange High School treated “hundreds of senior citizens from West Orange” to a night to remember. The high school has participated in these proms since 2007 to “provide students with the experience of service to elders, and a social opportunity to interact with elders of their community.” The school district puts great value into integrating the senior community with the school’s community.

The high school’s Principal Moore was quoted as saying,

“This intergenerational experience is excellent in that students and senior citizens learn from each other through their positive interactions. It breaks down stereotypes and barriers.”

In February, New Dorp High School was the destination for “Staten Island’s first senior citizen prom,” where George Permahos and Angela Spadafina were crowned King and Queen out of nearly 80 seniors who attended. Spadafina said, “It’s beautiful, I like it, I was so happy to be chosen as queen.” Free gowns were provided to some of the seniors as a part of a Where to Turn program.

A Sampling of Spectacular Senior Citizen Proms

Just like some of history’s remarkable senior proms — like the 1975 White House prom for President Ford’s daughter — there have been some particularly memorable senior citizen proms over the past few years. Poughkeepsie, New York’s ninth annual senior citizen prom earlier this month was downright groovy, featuring authentic ’60s costumes and music, a full-course dinner served by local high school students, an address from the local state assemblyman, and even a fashion show.

One of the most heartwarming examples of a senior citizen prom took place in Connecticut. The Hillhouse High School Class of 1943 had their senior prom cancelled, as the young men of their school were called upon to join their countrymen in defending the United States in World War II. Marilyn White Unger and Anthony Pegnataro, 87-year-old classmates, decided to plan a reunion that would finally give the class of ’43 their chance to dance.

The success of these events is enough to make other communities nationwide eager to jump on the bandwagon. The Muhlenberg Senior Citizens Center in Greenville, Kentucky, held their first annual prom last June with live music from the Benny Pryor Band — and an unexpectedly huge turnout. All the proceeds went to a home-delivered meals program for area seniors. Considering the rave reviews garnered from guests and organizers alike, we’re sure to see many more senior citizen proms in the years to come.

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What are your thoughts about ‘senior’ senior proms? Has your senior loved one participated in one? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Sarah Stevenson
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Sarah Stevenson

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