Prom leaves dancing ban in the dust

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For more than eight decades, there was absolutely no fox-trotting or twisting at Graham High School, and no disco or moonwalking.

Generation after generation in Weleetka, Okla., had believed the deed for the land on which the school stands contained a ban on dancing. No one knew for sure why dancing was banned, but no one seemed to question it.

Until this year. A group of juniors petitioned for a prom, faculty and local clergy approved, and Graham Superintendent Dusty Chancey even located the original deed - there was no ban after all.

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For the first time in its 85-year history, tiny Graham High dressed itself for a dance Friday, with more than 100 yards of gossamer, 100 spray-painted stars, and 20 strips of lights dangling over the basketball court.

"I'm about as excited as the kids," said Debbie Puckett, member of the class of 1971 and mother of Melissa, a 17-year-old student at Graham. "I'm finally getting my prom."

After group pictures were taken, the lights suddenly went off at about 8 p.m. Friday. The students hurried to the floor's edge. Strobe lights started as parents and faculty cheered. "We begin a new millennium and a new tradition!" the disc jockey yelled. And with that, the first song began - "Footloose," from the 1984 movie about teenagers rebelling against a small town's ban on dancing.

One couple headed to the middle of the floor and started to swing. Others watched. Slowly, they walked out onto the floor, a few barefoot girls at a time. A couple of guys slid across the floor. Couples began to bounce. Soon it was a dance.

Students had taken dance lessons, traveled miles to the nearest town for flowers, and made sure the pickup trucks were shiny. Just like any prom, though, this one had the occasional mishaps: Melissa's date showing up late. The stiffness of new shoes. Trying to put on jewelry with new long fingernails. And the frustrations of a bad-hair day.

The school serves a rural area and sits alone next to a cornfield about an hour outside of Tulsa. It's 10 minutes on a curvy road to Weleetka, the nearest town.

About 10 years ago, some parents rented a hotel room and had a small gathering with dancing. But it wasn't a prom for the whole school. Last year, students held a bonfire party in place of a prom, but there was no dancing.

On Thursday, students practiced dance steps in the gym with a volunteer instructor. Clumping around in tennis shoes and boots, the two-stepping teen-agers giggled as they took one step forward, one step back.

All but one of Graham's 25 juniors and seniors signed up for the dance. Their dates had to be a high school graduate or currently enrolled in high school.

Cheryl Smith drove 10 miles Friday with two friends to get sparkles and curls put in their hair. Just hours before the dance, she looked in the salon mirror and tugged a curl.

"It looks real nice," she said. "Just what I always wanted."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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