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Dazzling more at prom time

Promenade, a South Jersey tradition, is the pre-prom photo op that gathers in family, friends - just about anybody.

Kena Cantiveros walks down the aisle as seniors prepare to promenade for family and friends at Eastern Regional High.
Kena Cantiveros walks down the aisle as seniors prepare to promenade for family and friends at Eastern Regional High.Read more

Allison Mair, a senior at Eastern Regional High in Voorhees, bought a buttery yellow strapless satin ball gown to wear to her May 11 prom.

The 17-year-old had her blond shoulder-length hair highlighted and curled, her nails done in a French manicure, and her feet pedicured with a gold flower design on each of her big toes.

Surely that much attention to detail, resulting in a glorious transformation from scrappy kid to glamorous young woman, deserves maximum exposure. Yes, her folks will take snapshots in the living room, but shouldn't she be seen by everyone on her block?

Doesn't the entire neighborhood deserve a glimpse? Why shouldn't every taxpayer in Eastern's three feeder towns (Voorhees, Berlin and Gibbsboro) savor the sight of their once-gangly teens wearing evening gowns and tuxedos?

That's the thinking behind a South Jersey tradition known as promenade. From Cherry Hill East to Cherry Hill West, in Haddon Township as well as Haddonfield, parents, grandparents, neighbors, alumni, friends and perfect strangers gather at area high schools on prom night for what is essentially a pre-prom photo opportunity.

Like an old-fashioned Easter parade, promenade makes the most of the dress-up experience by having high school seniors strut their stuff in public. They still gather in small groups for pictures at his parents' home or hers - as is the custom in much of Philadelphia and the surrounding suburban high schools.

But Jersey takes it one step further with this public display of attention.

"It's a community event," says Nick Koutsogiannis, a senior class adviser at Eastern Regional High, where promenade has been conducted every year since 1991.

"Everybody gets to see the young ladies in their dresses and the young men in their tuxedos. It's our version of the red-carpet treatment."

Promenade fosters individual and community pride, builds township loyalty, and creates camaraderie.

The event is captured on videotape, airing live on E-TV, Channel 19 on the public-access dial, and is rerun on slow news days throughout the summer.

Seniors at Washington Township High School have been promenading for 18 years, said Carol Costello, the senior class adviser. More than 1,500 onlookers showed up this year, and gladly paid $5 to get in.

"It's so popular, we use it as a fund-raiser," she said, to defray the school-sponsored post-graduation party at Dave & Buster's in the Franklin Mills mall.

Promenade might also help at the polls.

In New Jersey, unlike Pennsylvania, residents vote to approve or reject school spending plans. Koutsogiannis did not care to speculate on whether the positive press garnered by the promenade might generate support from taxpayers. His is not to reason why.

But the cost is negligible - and the resulting public pride has got to be priceless.

Last week at Eastern, the scrubbed and shined young men and women (last seen in ripped jeans and construction boots) lined up "backstage" in the cafeteria.

"Folks, spit out your gum at this point," ordered Kevin Farrow, a math teacher on prom duty.

Parents and other onlookers packed the bleachers in the gym, which was decorated to resemble a night-time cityscape, with gleaming skyscrapers painted on black construction paper, and twinkling white lights lining a path over a symbolic bridge.

At the appointed moment (in this case, 5 p.m.), David Lindenhofen, a history teacher and student council adviser, took the microphone and announced each couple in turn:

"Here are Allison Mair and her escort, Mark Graff," he said, over the sounds of Sinatra on the school stereo. His use of the term escort neatly avoided the is-he-your-boyfriend or just-a-friend question.

A roar of applause rose from the bleachers as the couple strode through the cafeteria doors to the flash of their parents' cameras. Across the bridge they came and then, following strips of white tape on the gym floor, around the perimeter of the room - stopping to pose at designed spots.

The entire Mair family - Mom with a digital camera, Dad with a movie camera, older brother, older brother's girlfriend, cousin with cell phone camera, and grandparents - were there to cheer Allison on.

Once around the room and out through a different door the couple went - to the line of waiting limousines.

"I just came out to see it because its exciting," said Linda Warner, whose daughter Lauren is a junior at Eastern.

"I've known some of these girls since they were little," Warner said. "Over the years, my daughter has been in every conceivable sport and I was a Girl Scout leader from the time she was in kindergarten to third grade.

"So seeing them now in their beautiful dresses," she said. "It's a sight."

New Jersey doesn't have an exclusive patent on promenade. The Internet is rife with references to promenades in Kansas, Oklahoma - even suburban Pittsburgh. We just don't see much of it on the western shores of the Delaware.

Attendance at promenade is not mandatory. But about 300 couples from a pool of 700 attended at Eastern last week, according to Koutsogiannis' estimate.

It's a bit of a burden for the students, piling on one more activity to an already crowded agenda. There will be more pictures to take at home, dinner at the dance, and post-parties. Mair had an entire weekend planned in Ocean City with 10 friends - and she needed time to pack.

But with every other aspect of prom night geared toward the students, promenade seems to be the least a kid can do for his or her parents.

Christina Kosyla, a prom-goer in a green strapless dress she bought online, said she dashed out of school when the 12:24 p.m. dismissal bell rang, went straight to the hairdresser's and then home, where she showered, dressed and made it to the gym on time.


But now here's Stephanie Carney, calm and composed as she waits to be announced:

"It's good," she said of the promenade. "Because you spend so much money on prom and with the promenade you get your money's worth."

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