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Amy at prom in 2004 [Photo: submitted by Amy Allender]
Amy at prom in 2004 [Photo: submitted by Amy Allender]

She's Not from Around Here: Prom in Hot Dish Territory

Amy Allender
 March 31, 2022
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On Saturday, Minot’s teenagers will dress to the nines and scoot off to prom. Which means, this the perfect time to chat about an outsiders take on Hot Dish prom.

Before going further, let me be candid. I love prom. Though my prom years are long passed, I still carry an affinity for the formal wear, flowers and late 90s/early 2000s movies with elaborate prom scenes.

When we first moved to Minot, my husband and I volunteered with our church youth group. As spring drew near, I got excited just thinking about how fun it would be to have high school girls to chat about prom with. I’d live vicariously through photos of their dresses and Pinterest boards of hairstyles and jewelry. It would be nostalgic and girly and delightful.

Amy at prom in 2005 [Photo: submitted by Amy Allender]

Then one evening in February, while closing out Wednesday night youth group, one of the girls called out to me. “Amy, do you wanna see a picture of my prom dress? It just came in!”

This took me aback as the temperature was well below zero and I was clad in snow boots and flannel. “Whoa, you’re really ahead of the game, aren’t you? I always procrastinate when it comes to stuff like that,” I said. Prom had to be months away, right?

“What do you mean? Prom is only a couple weeks from now,” she said. Then she walked over and we flipped through photos of a dazzling, ice-blue gown.

That’s when I learned they do prom a little differently here.

I had assumed prom would take place closer to the end of the school year — not teeter on the edge of winter. But like many of my assumptions about life in NoDak, I was wrong.

Where I come from, prom is one of the last events of the year. My school district typically held prom over Mother’s Day weekend. Where I come from, by May spring has decidedly arrived for good. Mother’s Day weekend is typically warm — even in the evening. Warm enough to accommodate strapless gowns without needing wear a jacket over the top.

Here, where freezing temps and snow are notorious for staying around well into April (and a May snowstorm isn’t unheard of) — prom is held early in spring.

When I first learned prom often happens in March (although this year it falls to the first week of April), I had one thought: Okay, but why?

Why host an event tailored toward bare arms and plunging necklines when winter hasn’t even faded from view? Why not just wait? Why doesn’t anyone around here think this is weird?

I’ll never know the answer. I may never stop wondering or experiencing empathy chills for all those who head to prom weeks before the Easter bunny dares to venture out.

“You’re coming to Grand March, right?” asked the girl with the ice-blue dress. I paused while my forehead wrinkled. I had a feeling admitting I’d never heard of a Grand March was going to be as awkward as the time I admitted I had no idea what SnapChat was.

I was right.

The girls around us laughed with good-humored indignation as they explained “Grand March” to me — a girl who grew up eating casseroles, of all things.

Here’s how Grand March works: The City Auditorium fills with spectators while prom-goers parade down a catwalk. It’s an elaborate photo opp, and the place to invite anyone who may want to see you in prom attire.

The concept of a Grand March had never crossed my mind before that first encounter with North Dakota prom. When I describe it to people “back home,” they usually ask, “Doesn’t it take a long time? Why don’t they just take photos in someone’s yard like we did?”

To which I reply, “Yes, and they do. But they do Grand March, too. Or maybe they don’t because it might still be snowing on prom weekend.”

I may never fully understand, but I do really like Grand March. It’s prom, after all. Strut for as many as you can. Take all the photos you want. Just don’t hold your breath for anything as magical as the prom scene in Ten Things I Hate About You — real life never holds a candle to prom movies.

So far, prom 2022 is on track to be one of the best yet. It’s in April, not March. The snow is gone and they’re forecasting a high of 50˚. Strapless weather, if ever there was such a thing. Happy prom, Minot! Here’s to a beautiful night and hoping for no wind.

Do you have an observation that is uniquely Dakotan or Minot? I’d love to hear from you. Reach me on Instagram @amy_allender or by email at [email protected]

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