At Seton High School, Senior Paige Schultz says the pre-prom excitement is already well underway. Girls lug dresses down the school hallways to bargain with friends, tanning appointments are scheduled, and the two most important questions of the season are repeated across campus:
“Who are you asking?”
“Do you like this dress?”
There is more than a glimmer of hope in Paige’s voice. She remembers that time last year, watching her class of 2020 friends miss their final two months in high school: the father-daughter dance, the seniors awards ceremony, the prom.
But now things feel almost normal.
“I still can’t believe it,” says Paige. “And now I have so much to think and prepare for, and I’m just very excited for the next two months.”
Seton, an all-parish school for girls in East Price Hill, took its older students into the auditorium for an announcement a week after lifting the 300-person capacity limit for banquet halls and catering facilities. The March 2 Health Ordinance means you can dance again at weddings, proms, and other Ohio events, provided all other COVID-19 safety guidelines are followed.
More: UC, NKU, Miami, Thomas More, and Xavier are holding spring ceremonies on campus
“People can plan a prom, they can plan a graduation,” DeWine said during a coronavirus briefing on Feb.25. “There is no reason these events cannot occur as long as they follow the security protocols.”
During the Seton meeting, which was livestreamed to the rest of the school, headmistress Karen White tried to get the word out, but was interrupted by about a dozen faculty members in ’80s-style ball gowns. Seton President Kathy Allen Ciarla said they danced to a verse of the “Cha Cha Slide” before announcing that each grade would have their own dance this spring, with separate proms for juniors and seniors in music Hall Ballroom in Over-the-Rhine.
“When I looked out, all these girls in their masks, you could see them smiling under their masks and tears … and I was suffocated,” said Ciarla. “These girls missed so much and they were excited about it too.”
To Determine: The Details of a Safe Prom
Many schools in the area limit their proms to seniors only or, like Seton, hold separate dances for different grade levels to meet state health protocols. Others, like Wyoming High School, plan outdoor proms.
St. Ursula Academy in East Walnut Hills is planning separate junior and senior proms in different locations on the same day, district spokeswoman Jill Cahill said. Betsy Fuller of Lakota Local Schools says both Lakota East and Lakota West prom events are for seniors only and no outside guests are allowed. Kings High School in the Deerfield Ward is holding a senior-only dinner and dance at the Manor House in Mason on April 17, said Dawn Gould, community relations coordinator. William Mason High School also announced a prom in April at the Manor House.
“We’re investigating how to dance safely,” Mason City Schools spokeswoman Tracey Carson told The Enquirer.
Fran Russ of Cincinnati Public Schools says CPS students will also get outdoor proms. Every school principal works to finalize the plans. Scott Marshall, communications coordinator for Springboro Schools, says the Warren County district is considering “any type of social event” that meets state and county guidelines.
Other schools in the Cincinnati area say they are waiting for further instructions from the governor before making official prom plans. But the governor’s office has approved Proms, DeWine’s press secretary Dan Tierney confirmed to The Enquirer. Separate “guides” are currently being finalized, although it is not clear when these will be released.
Some traditional venues for local proms, like the Xavier University Ballrooms and the Cincinnati Art Museum, aren’t planning proms this year. There are also no proms booked at the Newport Aquarium or the Taft Museum of Art. Ben Bernstein, chief financial officer of BB Riverboats, told The Enquirer that his company is holding a few proms this year, but “certainly not as many” as in previous years.
Cody Hefner, senior director of marketing and communications at the Cincinnati Museum Center, says some schools would like to have their proms at the Cincinnati Union Terminal and possibly the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
“Since DeWine has only recently updated logs, everyone is wrapping their heads around them and acting accordingly,” Hefner said in an email.
In general, many schools in the Cincinnati area say they will have a prom, though the details are yet to be finalized a month before the season starts. While the school administrators search for dates and locations, some students are given a go-ahead for their own planning rituals.
“The floodgates opened” in local clothing stores
17-year-old Paige already has a dress that she bought “cheaply” at Dillard’s with her mother for her junior prom. The ones she was never allowed to wear.
Now she’s itching for a new one.
“If this is going to be my only prom then I really want to love it,” she said.
Tina Minshall, general manager of Bridal and Formal, felt the teenagers’ hope in the weeks leading up to DeWine’s announcement. They came to the store to look at clothes even though they “hadn’t bought all of them,” she said.
“And as soon as (DeWine) made that announcement, it was like opening the floodgates,” Minshall said.
Typically, promgoers start shopping in December and sales start rising in late January, Minshall said. This year she hasn’t seen anyone looking at prom dresses until early February, but things have improved in the past few weeks. Hybrid learning allowed some customers to come in during the day so it was easier to clear people out.
On a Friday afternoon at Kotsovos Bridal Furs & Prom in Montgomery, Oak Hills High School junior Alesia Brockhoff finds herself between two ball gowns: one with a strappy back and a grapevine-patterned front, the other with sparkles. Her mother Jena says Alesia tried on about 20 dresses before narrowing them down to the last two.
Alesia stands on a platform in front of a tri-fold mirror, moans and looks up at the ceiling.
“It’s so difficult,” she says.
But for the most part, she’s smiling. She only found out a week earlier that there would be a senior-only prom, and since her date is a prom, she is allowed to go.
High schoolers should be in love with their prom dresses, said Victoria Kotsovos. She and her husband have owned Kotsovos Bridal Furs & Prom for more than 40 years.
“I think (students) are putting more into the dress this year because they didn’t leave last year. So they want that special dress you know They want the special memories that they didn’t get last year, “said Kotsovos.
She said the store was fully booked with prom dress shopping dates for the next three weeks. This year they are holding a raffle for customers and giving away free photo shoots with a professional photographer to make things “special”.
Little girls come to the store all the time, said Kotsovos, to look at the pretty dresses. Your clients have often dreamed of prom nights for years before it is their chance to leave.
“There are so many problems with girls this age and they don’t feel good about themselves,” said Kotsovos. “And that really matters to me, whether they are a size 0 or a size 24.” Make them feel good about themselves and have a very special experience. “
In March, students usually start visiting tuxedo stores for prom. Lexi Ford, assistant manager at Men’s Wearhouse on Eastgate Mall, says some students have begun to get involved in tuxedo rentals, although “significantly less than in previous years”. Dave Brogan, owner of Brogan-Hesketh Formal Wear in West Price Hill, says many schools are holding senior-only proms this year to allow for adequate social distancing.
“We don’t get the full classes we normally get,” Brogan said. “And a lot (the seniors) don’t go to prom. But after missing last year, I hope they will probably go this year.”
“All you need is a little hope.”
Ellie Minick, the Mason High School student body class in 2021, had planned to go to prom last year. She bought a dress and everything, she said, calling the prom “a rite of passage.”
On that prom day last spring, Ellie put on her dress and took pictures on her porch. It was disappointing, she said. The junior prom was the first of many social events that she was deprived of due to COVID-19. In the fall, she and her colleagues missed soccer games and homecoming activities.
Mason High School administrators began sending surveys to students and families in January to get a head start on prom and graduation planning for approximately 860 graduating seniors. The overwhelming response, Carson said, was that the students wanted to “get together” in person at the end of that school year.
“We’re so proud of (the seniors),” said Carson. “You really have shown all kinds of perseverance, flexibility, adaptability, and even optimism at a time when it is difficult.”
Prom and after-prom activities will be in person this year, but Carson said things will be different due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The students wear masks. Seating is distributed so that social distancing is possible, just like during the school day.
But that’s okay, says Ellie. The senior class will take every “bit of normality” they can get.
“All you need is a little hope,” said Ellie. “And I know everyone looks forward to living the rest of their high school the normal way.”