by Terri Winder
Arriving early, most of the 23 guests of honor line up against the west wall. The guys are wearing their best clothes; many of the girls are wearing new dresses.
Some of them have been to the beauty salon to have their hair done. A few of them are wearing corsages. All of the honored guests are wearing smiles.
Just right music, provided by Alton and Darcie Chamberlain, begins to play, giving expression to the air of excitement—excitement that has been building over the past year.
The North Chapel Cultural Hall is decorated with Chinese lanterns strung across the ceiling and placed as centerpieces on the refreshment tables. A large assortment of cookies are laid out on a tray, with great expectations, but unlike many youth activities, the refreshments here are not the main attraction.
An annual Blanding LDS Stake event, they call it Special Prom and it certainly is, for several different reasons. The most obvious is that it is planned specifically for a group of people with special needs, most of whom are clients at Transitions, a center for people (as they say it) “with abilities”.
However, the dance is also unique because it captures the best parts of a prom without social risk or price tag. The dance is free; there are no dates; anyone is welcome to attend; and the focus is not on one’s self, but rather on making others feel accepted and happy.
Sandra Asbury, Transitions director, says, “It is the highlight of the year for our clients. We’re so grateful for it; we think it’s awesome.”
It is also a highlight for the youth of the community. “It’s a very tender experience,” youth leader Renee Palmer states. “Not only do the special needs kids enjoy it, but everyone else does too.”
“It’s a very positive experience,” 16-year-old Adam Ward observes, “interacting this way.”
“It’s where you can let yourself out of your shell and have lots of fun,” 16-year-old Jillian Fahey concurs.
Seventeen-year-old Michael Blake adds, “I really like seeing people get out of their high school cliques and focusing on others. It gives us a common purpose and unites us as youth.”
There is a lot of bouncing going on, accompanied by spontaneous laughter. A new song begins and Alice Eppel squeals with delight. She loves Michael Jackson and she flings her arms into the air and moves to the beat with passion. Her dance partner, 18-year-old Mason Shumway, is displaying an equal amount of enthusiasm.
“I came because dancing is my life,” Sarah Kyles confides. “And we don’t get as many dances as we used to,” her sister Talia adds. Then they say together, “And this is the best one they have.”
Kerri Jo Jones darts in and out of the crowd, taking pictures, until a young man asks her to dance. She hands her camera to her friend, Opal Flemming. For health reasons, Opal can’t dance, but she wouldn’t miss this event for the world. “I like to come and watch,” she says.
The music changes to a soft melody. “I don’t know how to dance,” Tyrone Nabahe confides shyly, as 16-year-old Emma Moses approaches him. This is his first time at the Special Prom.
“I’ll teach you,” she says as she takes his hand. She leads him onto the dance floor and places his right hand at her waist before placing her left on his shoulder.
Emma looks beautiful in her red satin prom dress, her naturally curly light blond hair cascading down her back.
After a few waltz steps Tyrone has caught onto the rhythm and he beams triumphantly as they move gracefully across the crowded dance floor.
Wheelchairs are being pushed in circular patterns amongst the dancers, the young people pushing them swaying to the music as they go. Though confined to her wheelchair, Wanda Lansing is rocking and clapping to the music.
An hour into the dance, it is time to announce the royalty. This prom has fourteen queens and nine kings. One at a time they are introduced as they re-enter the room, accompanied by an escort.
They have been draped with silk ribbons proclaiming their status, a keepsake most of them will treasure. The queens are presented with a spray of flowers; the kings have boutonnieres pinned on them. The crowd claps and cheers.
Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Pugh sums up the scene before him, “Just seeing how happy everyone is – it is a very magical night.”