The Dance of a Life­time

These high school proms went be­yond mem­o­rable. They be­came fa­mous across the na­tion.

Reader's Digest - - Contents - JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA

These high school proms went be­yond mem­o­rable. They be­came fa­mous across the na­tion.

DOES THINK­ING BACK to your se­nior prom still make you smile—or make you queasy? In ei­ther case, May is part of prom sea­son, which makes this a good time to prom­e­nade (yes, that’s where the word comes from) through some of the most note­wor­thy dances since the first coed mix­ers be­tween Smith and Amherst Col­leges in the 1890s.

HEART­BREAK HO­TEL

He had a funny name: Elvis. He wore funny clothes, too: In­stead of the stan­dard white tuxedo, he was dressed in a dark blue suit and—no joke—blue suede shoes. Yet the most sur­pris­ing thing about Regis Wil­son’s date for the 1953 prom at Humes High School in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, was that the fu­ture king of rock ’n’ roll said he couldn’t dance. In­stead, 18-year-old Pres­ley

and his 14-year-old part­ner spent their evening qui­etly sip­ping so­das and watch­ing the other cou­ples swing­ing on the dance floor. Wil­son some­how mis­placed her prom photo, but Pres­ley held on to his— and he looks mis­er­able in it. But things soon changed for the guy with the slicked-back hair and long side­burns. He ob­vi­ously learned to dance. And he also found the proper venue for those suede shoes.

PRES­I­DEN­TIAL PARTY CRASHER

It takes guts to show up at a se­nior prom with­out a date. For­tu­nately, when Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy crashed the John Bur­roughs Se­nior Prom on June 7, 1963, he brought co­me­dian Jack Benny with him. Cal­i­for­nia Democrats were host­ing a fund-raiser in the Bev­erly Hil­ton Ho­tel the same night as the prom, but af­ter Kennedy learned this had al­most caused the dance to be re­lo­cated, he stepped in—lit­er­ally. The pres­i­dent walked into the ho­tel’s grand ball­room and de­clared to the stunned seniors, “Ac­tu­ally, this is a bet­ter room than the room we have up­stairs.”

PARTY AT THE WHITE HOUSE

In 1975, Su­san Ford (above, cen­ter) ac­com­plished some­thing no other teenager in his­tory could boast:

She per­suaded her dad—aka the pres­i­dent of the United States—to host her se­nior prom at the White House. The event, held in the East Room on May 31, 1975, was at­tended by 74 stu­dents from Wash­ing­ton’s ex­clu­sive Holton-arms School and their very well-be­haved dates. For the record, the govern­ment didn’t pay a penny for the soiree. The girls raised the $1,300 nec­es­sary for the dance through bake sales and other fund-rais­ers. Un­for­tu­nately,

it wasn't enough to hire their band of choice - the Beach Boys (who se­ri­ously en­ter­tained the of­fer

BREAK­ING A BAR­RIER

In 1997, ac­tor Mor­gan Free­man ap­proached a high school in Charleston, Mis­sis­sippi, and of­fered to pay for its se­nior prom on one con­di­tion: It had to be ra­cially in­te­grated, some­thing that had never hap­pened be­fore in Free­man’s home­town. The school board turned him down. But when Free­man re­turned with film­maker Paul Saltz­man in 2008, they agreed to hold the first in­ter­ra­cial prom in the school’s his­tory. Saltz­man’s doc­u­men­tary Prom Night in Mis­sis­sippi, which fol­lowed the prom’s de­vel­op­ment as well as lo­cal re­sis­tance to it, was later nom­i­nated for a top prize at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val.

THE LAST WALTZ

What's the long­est a lady should wait to be asked to a dance? For Rock­ford, Ohio, res­i­dent Delores Den­ni­son, the an­swer is some­thing north of 70 years. Delores was 89 when she was first asked to a se­nior prom, and she went on the arm of her great-grand­son, Austin Den­ni­son. He wanted to make up for the fact that “Granny DD” had never at­tended hers, and he pulled out all the stops. They went to din­ner at Bob Evans (her fa­vorite), boo­gied when the band played the Frank Si­na­tra song “Dolores,” and beamed when the young­sters at Park­way High School gave them a stand­ing ova­tion. Now, that’s what you might call an awe­some se­nior’s prom.

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