Drew Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Prom in October

by Jocelyn Freeman

6 mins read

For most, it is not common knowledge that the tradition of Prom began as a college phenomenon. “Prom” is the shortened version of “promenade” and was an important event for young adults at academic institutions, and Drew was no exception.

The earliest mention of prom in The Acorn is from 1932, back when Brothers College, as the school was originally referred to, was an all-male institution. The annual Spring Prom was held near the end of the spring semester to celebrate the year’s closing. These annual events were well attended by the men of BC and their female dates from the surrounding area. The event was typically a celebration of the seniors’ accomplishments and a last hurrah before graduation. These events were typically organized by the College Social Committee, which functioned at Drew from the 1930s until at least the 1990s. This committee was in charge of planning, decoration and promotion for all dances on campus. 

In conjunction with the formal event, an informal event was typically held for underclassmen. These informals were not exclusively held on “Spring Weekend.” They were also held throughout the academic year, allowing “a large number [of students]… [to be] entertained in a small space…[as] a good social mixer,” and they “require[d] little time and effort to promote,” as stated by a professor in a 1932 May edition of The Acorn

Students gather in the old Bowne Gymnasium to dance the night away at an informal soiree.
Image courtesy of The Oak Leave ‘46 Fall Formal

The tradition of both formal and informal dances continued through the 1940s, as social dancing took off during and after the war years, especially since Navy sailors were housed on Drew’s campus and were in need of entertainment. As noted in a yearbook from 1957, “the three formal, the Saturday night informals, and ‘come-as-you-are-parties’” were held each year by the Social Committee. Dancing, waltzing, square dancing and swing dancing were prevalent on campus, and Prom provided the perfect opportunity for showing off dance moves, social manners and social status as Prom Queens and Kings were nominated. 

The tradition seems to have faded out by the 1960s, and by this time most high schools hosted their own yearly proms. While formal proms dwindled in popularity for the Drew community, dancing has continued in the form of dance marathons, sporadic formals and holiday dances. 

Now, why talk so at length about prom and Drew’s history of its dancing events in the midst of October? Well, this week Drew Night Life recently hosted Drew’s very first Queer Prom to celebrate the closing of Queering the Forest! This in itself is ironic, as the original promenades of history were known as “coming out parties” but would have frowned upon same-sex couples taking to the dance floor. Yet, on the night of Oct. 14, the story was quite different. Queer Prom provided an event to celebrate the thriving LGBTQ community (and allies) on Drew’s campus. 

Crawford Hall decorated as the dance floor for the first-ever Queer Prom.
Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Freeman

For many attendees at Queer Prom, especially current sophomores and juniors at Drew, whose high school proms would have been canceled or modified due to COVID-19 risk, this dance was a second chance at making prom memories. Many attendees came dressed in their best and showed up to the event with many of their friends in tow. Overall nearly 150 students attended the dance. Unlike a traditional prom, Queer Prom was held on campus in the EC. There were refreshments, a light meal of pizza and fun crafts such as button and corsage making. Students also had  access to the “queering your closet” clothing drive. The night was filled with classic hits, line dancing and the crowning of Prom Royalty. Congratulations to Laya Ranganathan and Persephone Goldberg!

This event was not only a celebration of queer joy on campus, but it was a triumph over the pandemic that had robbed so many of a traditional senior year. While this event was not like the social dance of the past, for some, this was the first dance they had attended since the pandemic began. Some couples were dancing together while other friends danced in circles and sang along to their favorite songs. The packed dance floor was a reminder that, while COVID is still a risk on campus, people are starting to feel comfortable gathering again. 

Going forward, I think students would probably benefit from more social dances, both formal and informal. Continuing to use these dances to celebrate diversity and student identity on campus would be a wonderful tradition to hold on to!

Featured image courtesy of “The Oak Leaves” ’59

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