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Midvale Journal

Decade-long senior center-senior high school dance tradition returns post-pandemic

Jun 02, 2023 11:52AM ● By Julie Slama

For more than a decade, Hillcrest High students have joined Truewood by Merrill residents for dances, including a senior prom—until the COVID-19 pandemic.

This spring, it was the return of that tradition, recently a prom and earlier a Sweethearts’ dance—in amongst a growing phenomenon nationwide of senior center-senior high school dances.

“This is something we were doing here every year until COVID,” said Truewood senior residential community program director Amy Tran, who has coordinated the effort the past four years. “It’s a highly requested activity so it was one of our first promises to bring back the dances with the Hillcrest kids. There are a bunch of people who enjoy dancing and listening to music just as the kids do.”

Truewood, located in Fort Union, provides individual living, assisted living and memory care for up to 120 residents, who range from 70 years to the upper 90s, she said. 

The connection between residents and students is not only fun, but strong.

In addition to love of music and dancing, another commonality between some Truewood residents and the Hillcrest teenagers is while in high school, both sets of students had their school lives disrupted, seemingly overnight. For some Truewood residents, it came with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into a world war. More recently, the interruption has been the global pandemic.

“Some of those residents may not have had a prom because of World War II, so they missed some of the school experiences with dances and proms,” Tran said. 

These nights, much like the traditional formals, bring people together to put on their best dress for a night of swaying to the music, including at the Sweethearts’ Dance, boogying to the live band, The Mixed Nuts. The dances also bring back socialization for both generations of the party-goers as they excitedly chat during a break from the dancing and music while enjoying refreshments.

There may be a few differences, though.

Eighty-one-year-old Clara Dawes said her mother made her knee-length pink puffy sleeved dress when she attended West High’s prom back in the day.

“I wasn’t prom queen; I was the bishop’s daughter, so I had to behave when I danced,” she said. “I did turn loose a couple times though.”

While she danced back then to Big Band music and “any Bing Crosby song,” at this prom, she was dancing to more modern-day music played by Larry Turner, “The Singing Sensation.”

When a slower dance played, 74-year-old Karen Giles took the opportunity to try to teach some of the younger generation dance steps from her era.

“Not too many of them know how to waltz, so I try to teach them,” said Giles, who wore an opaque purple-aqua dress at her East High prom and remembers dancing to “Bony Maronie” and “Johnny B. Goode.” “Last time I danced was 20 years ago at Octoberfest at Snowbird so this dance definitely is the highlight.”

The Hillcrest High students were members of the National Honor Society and the Peer Leadership Team. In addition to dances, they have joined residents for monthly activities, such as baking homemade banana bread, creating gingerbread houses, playing board games and making homemade ice cream.

Hillcrest High senior Maggie Baumgarten, who is the school’s National Honor Society chapter service coordinator, helped organize the high school students’ participation.

“Some of the activities aren’t too long, so we get to have time to chat with the residents,” she said. “For the dances, we all dress up. The seniors like dancing and remembering their youth so it’s just a good time we can have fun together. We recognize a lot of the seniors from coming every month, and we know their names. It’s fun to talk to them and hear the stories while we play games or do activities and create more memories.”

Her classmate, senior Claire Nielsen, has joined the residents at both springtime dances. She especially loved doing the limbo with them.  λ