Private proms during pandemic: 'Footloose' or loose cannons?


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Bedford High School canceled its senior prom, and a persistent pandemic means prospects for dances to be held this fall are slim to none.

But nearly 100 recent grads got dressed up last weekend for a private prom, one of several held around the country just as the debate over safely reopening schools ramps up.

In some places still ravaged by the virus, plans were called off. In New Hampshire, at least, officials are largely staying out of the way as long as organizers and participants follow distancing guidelines meant to keep the coronavirus in check.

“We’re asking folks to be smart about it, but I’m not going to be the guy in ‘Footloose’ who says, ‘No dancing in my town,’” Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said last month.

New Hampshire rules for wedding and event venues don’t prohibit dancing but strongly discourage it unless dancers stick with members of their own household or remain 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

In Missouri, Jefferson City High School seniors organized their own June 30 prom after their original event was canceled. In Michigan, Chippewa Valley High School parents have scheduled a combined prom, after party and senior awards banquet for Wednesday.

But plans to host private proms were abandoned this month in Montana and Georgia amid rising numbers of COVID-19 infections. And health officials in Illinois said 10 people associated with an “unofficial prom” held at a home in June later tested positive for the virus.

The Bedford High prom was held Saturday in a tent at the Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown. While more than 300 seniors graduated, attendance was capped at 100 tickets, and not all were sold.

Carol Justic, whose daughter attended and who was there herself as a chaperone, said she had initial concerns about food service and dancing but ended up being impressed. Chaperones made sure no more than six teens were at each table, and students wore their masks when entering and exiting the tent, she said.

“As a mom it makes you proud and teary because they’re doing the right thing,” she said.

Though the students posed together for a group photo, they were instructed to stand near friends with whom they had arrived or were sitting, said Andrea Gately, who helped organize the prom for her son and his classmates.

She cited two main reasons: The “right of passage” the event often represents and “the girls who had always dreamed of going to senior prom and they buy these fabulous dresses, and they don’t have an opportunity to wear them.”

“Everyone I’ve talked to is saying, ‘Thank you for doing this for the kids,’” she said.

Justic said she did see some criticism on social media, but that most parents were supportive. And unlike in the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie “Footloose,” in which rebellious teens defy authority figures to hold a dance of their own, there wasn’t much dancing on Saturday.

“They were a little nervous, but they also were a little done at that point,” she said. “Once they got to see each other and say their goodbyes, I think they’d turn the page a little bit.”

More From

  • Missouri bill targeting Black prosecutor spurs backlash

    Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s contested call to give the attorney general the power to prosecute homicides in St. Louis has spurred backlash and led state lawmakers to delay work on crime legislation he wants. Parson on Monday asked lawmakers working on sweeping crime bill to give Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office that authority — a move that was widely seen as a criticism of Democrat Kim Gardner, the city's first Black prosecutor who supports greater police accountability and using diversion programs instead of incarceration. Parson and Schmitt, both Republicans, have insisted the goal is to help fight a surge in violent crime in the state's larger cities.

  • Virus-quieted oceans open window for Shark Week researchers

    The coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay put, but it gave sharks a travel passport and scientists a rare opportunity. Ocean spots cleared of fishing boats and other intrusions by COVID-19 quarantines saw increased and even unusual marine life behavior - and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week jumped through hoops to capitalize on the brief window. The 32nd annual slate of all things shark is now airing on Discovery Channel through Aug. 16. (Aug. 12)

  • Business lobby raises concerns over Trump payroll tax break

    The nation's leading business group on Wednesday raised serious concerns about President Donald Trump's move to defer Social Security payroll taxes for American workers, warning that the plan for a shot of economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic could prove unworkable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a White House ally in battles to cut federal regulations and taxes, said in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Trump's directive is “surrounded by uncertainty as to its application and implementation” and “only exacerbates the challenges" for companies trying to quickly put his action in place. Trump on Saturday directed the Treasury Department to temporarily defer the 6.2% Social Security tax on wages paid by employees, beginning Sept. 1 and lasting through the end of the year.

  • Let it flow: Trump Administration eases showerhead rules

    The Trump Administration wants to change the definition of a showerhead to let more water flow, addressing a pet peeve of the president who complains he isn't getting wet enough. Publicly talking about the need to keep his hair “perfect,” President Donald Trump has made increasing water flow and dialing back long held appliance conservation standards — from light bulbs to toilets to dishwashers — a personal issue. Since 1992, federal law has dictated that new showerheads shouldn’t pour more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute (9.5 liters).