x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A glitzy goodbye to school days

Now an integral part of school life and popularised by teen high school movies, they are a coming-of-age ritual in the US and Canada and a significant first step into adulthood.

The school prom. Short for promenade, it traces its roots back to the mixed socials in American universities in the 19th century when graduates were formally paraded at a party.

Now an integral part of school life and popularised by teen high school movies, they are a coming-of-age ritual in the US and Canada and a significant first step into adulthood.

The black-tie dance has caught on in Britain, too, where in the last decade it has quickly eclipsed the leavers' ball, which once marked the end of school life.

Nor is it the preserve of the western world: most countries mark that initial tentative foot into an adult world with some sort of celebration, from the matric dance in South Africa and the graduation prom in Lebanon to the JS prom in the Philippines and the farewell dinner in Pakistan, complete with a lady and gentleman of the evening.

For many of the teenagers taking part, from the girls posing awkwardly in their ballgowns to the boys in ill-fitting tuxedos, it is their first grown-up event and an introduction to the mores of a lavish formal affair.

Nor is the UAE exempt from prom fever; while it may not be common in Arab culture, the 200-plus nationalities living here have imported this rite of passage and prom season has been under way for the last eight weeks; limo companies, dress fitters and florists have all been inundated with requests.

With a range of luxury five-star hotels at their disposal, schools have been competing to hold the most lavish events. One particularly glamorous prom took place in the Armani Hotel in Dubai; at another, there were whispers of guests arriving by helicopter (in the event, they settled for a Rolls-Royce).

"The girls started shopping for their dresses as far back as last summer," says Deanne White, who helped organise the American School of Dubai prom last month.

"Our event was very chic with red roses in black vases everywhere. They all dressed up and arrived in limos - although they still wanted burgers and chips to eat, and the music was not very traditional; I think they call it techno."

Paul Coackley, principal of the British School Al Khubairat, says there are three proms held during the school years - at the end of years six, 11 and 13 - but denies they have become a commercial exercise putting pressure on parents to spend large amounts of cash on their offspring.

"It is a rite of passage," he says. "They are super occasions and the students do not get a chance to dress up every day."

tyaqoob@thenational.ae