Taking pictures that run from $12 to $89 is one the best reasons to go to this annual rite of springtime. ("Buy extra wallet photos!" shouts a display.) Even though I overhear one promster say: "We've got to eat, do a slow dance, and get out of here . . ."
While Brandy sings about her "Baby, Baby," junior Donaita Hodges, 17, has been standing in line for almost an hour to get a $50 set of prints that will go directly to . . . "my parents," says Hodges, who came to the prom to ''take some pictures, get dressed up," she shrugs. Her date's here "to make her happy," says 18-year old Richard Allen, a senior at Gratz High. "I don't get no kick out of it."
Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but that's not enough for South Philly High senior Jimella Monroe, 18. She wants a few thousand more, so she brought a video camera. "I want to remember this for the rest of my life," she says. "It's a special night for me, 'cause I won't see these people for a long time. Maybe not for the rest of my life."
Photos really are the best place to show off promwear. Short dresses were about the biggest fashion risks young women took, except for the occasional
slit-up-to-there gown. Then there's the cut-out midsection of Dina Bovo's shiny, white $460 dress. This is the 17-year old junior's fourth prom and her fourth dress as well.
Surprise! It's the guys who are really fashion-forward this evening.
A handful of young men arrive way after dark in expensive Oakley e-frame sunglasses. Many, like junior Michael Palestini, 17, are without a tie. He dresses up by dressing down in a black sweater and a $1,300 Issey Miyake three-button suit. OK, so he's not that dressed down. The suit matches his $3,700 Rolex watch. His date, Margie Mullen, 16, wears a skintight dress made of a cool, shimmering holographic fabric that cost $125.
Frank Ferrara, 17, wears just a T-shirt under his brand-new checkered suit. Of course, it's a $213 T-shirt by Gianni Versace. "You only live once," he says.
Is this the prom or an episode of "90210"?
R. Kelly wants to bump and grind with somebody, but no one seems to be interested in the music or the food at the buffet table. A line finally forms around 9:15 as the hotel's banquet staff watches. "Weddings are probably more fun than proms," says server John Coleman, but his colleague disagrees: "I like proms," says Sharon Bramanti. "The girls don't eat in front of the boys and there's less to clean up."
No one gets up to dance under the three huge black-and-silver balloon hearts until 10:15. And the song that makes the juniors and seniors come together for perhaps the last time is "The Electric Slide." Pairs of satiny high-heeled shoes outline the portable parquet wood dance floor, young women pull up their hems, and young, tuxedoed men try to find the right steps without looking stupid.
The dance floor doesn't fill up again until 69 Boyz' "Tootsie Roll" rings the DJ's speakers.
"These things get expensive," says Mark Ponzio, 18, from Delaware Valley High. "Eight-hundred-dollar suit," he says; "$300 dress," his date Rochina Scavia, 17, pipes in. "Hotel room for after, alcohol . . . I have to pay for part of the limo." The pair have no curfew. "My mom trusts me because I'm responsible," says Scavia, proudly.
Sixteen-year old Lisa Colonna is thinking about her mom on her first prom, too. That's because she's sitting a few tables away with her teachers from school. Her mother and older brother are here at the Ramada Inn Airport's Meadows Ballroom.
They're chaperones for South Philadelphia High. Her brother's on loan from a Marine Corps base in North Carolina. He looks pretty sharp in his snappy
dress blues. Lisa's not sure it's so great having the family around: "Nobody else's mom and brother are here."
The music stops and the prom king and queen are crowned around 11:30. The crowd then slow dances to Boyz II Men's "End of the Road."
"This is the first thing that I've achieved in a long time," says the prom king, David Saxon, 17. "I just feel really nervous." But the real prom king is English teacher Aurelio Pontarelli, prom committee advisor. This is his 13th.
"It's like planning a wedding," he says. "And instead of just the in- laws, you have all these different personalities to make happy."
"I have a headache," says senior Melissa Pandola, 18, one of those personalities who helped plan tonight's event. "I want to get out of this
dress!" Tired, but happy, she declares it a success. "It seems unreal . . . I guess I don't want to grow up."
By 11:30, Kurt Cobain's mumbling something about "Teen Spirit" and the class of 1995 and 1996 and a few from 1997 file out the same way they arrived - two by two.
Did they have a good time? Was it all they had hoped? Will the memories last forever?
"Yes, sir," says senior Leonard Ware, 18, who's already signed up with the Army and packs his duffel bag in August. "I didn't go to my junior prom. I'm here with my best friend . . . It feels kind of good and it feels kind of bad."
That's kind of how proms go.
THEME: "Before I Let You Go"
BEST DRESS: Margie Mullen's holographic wonder at $125.
COSTLIEST DRESS: Ieasha King's custom-made $500 confection of multi-colored sequins, with three tiers of ruffles at its hem.
BEST GAL'S HAIR: Melissa Pandola's gorgeous head of spiral curls. "I was in a salon from 12 to 5."
BEST GUY'S HAIR: Junior Tashombi Simmons Snoop Doggy Dogg-style braids.
BEST HAT: Nadirah Lawrence, 17, who wore a white felt derby and white gloves.
BEST TUX (honorable mention): 1993 grad Lance Cpl. Ronald Colonna's Marine Corps dress blues.
MENU: Stuffed shells with red sauce, string beans, turkey and gravy, roast beef, scalloped potatoes. Dessert table of pecan or apple pie, chocolate or spice cake.
BEST FLOWER: Orchids. Why? "They're pretty." Stupid question.