A simple ‘Go to the dance with me?’ doesn’t cut it anymore

For weeks, South Pasadena High School senior Alex Hom knew he wanted to ask freshman Brooke Drury to winter formal. But it wouldn’t do to just pop the question — too boring — or, even worse, to text it.

So he rounded up more than 20 friends, supplied them with red roses, choreographed a dance routine and wrote out his plea on signs. Then he had a friend bring Brooke, blindfolded, to a spot on campus for the big production.

“I thought, this is my senior year and I gotta go out with a bang,” Alex said.


He’s not the only student elevating the art of the school dance invitation.

Students are folding the question into homemade fortune cookies, tucking it into pinatas, knitting it into scarves, spelling it out with pepperoni on pizza and orange chicken on fried rice.

There are animal-themed invitations, using live puppies and turtles as messengers. There are glow-in-the-dark schemes. One student at Lincoln High School spelled it out in candles: “HC” (homecoming), “yes” and “no.” The date blew out her answer (yes).

Then there are those who choose to go the performance art route.

Camille Santos, Van Nuys High’s student body vice president, recalled one student who dressed up as a knight and got a friend to dress up as a dragon to “attack” his prospective date. Then he rode onto the scene on the back of another friend dressed as a steed, “slayed” the dragon and popped the question.

“We live in a generation where flashy is good, bigger is better,” said Camille, whose boyfriend placed his invitation to prom two years ago inside a rhinestone-studded fortune cookie box after dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

“We want to be seen. We want the world to know how romantic we are.”

Youth culture expert Melanie Shreffler said that today’s high school students are part of the “millennial generation” — those born between 1982 and 2004 who grew up with technology and social media and find it perfectly natural to post their experiences and opinions online for mass consumption.

As teens see others post videos and photos of creative dance invitations, it emboldens them to follow suit, she said.

Commercial films also serve as inspiration: One South Pasadena student invited his date to winter formal this year using a series of signs, as portrayed in the 2003 film “Love Actually.” And last year’s movie “Prom” featured students asking dates out in unusual ways.

“Now it’s a matter of making the invitation as big a deal as the event itself,” said Shreffler, editor of Ypulse, a youth media, marketing and research firm. “It’s about being incredibly creative and cool, and doing something that hasn’t been done before.”

Allie Hodgen, a freshman at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, went online to look for ideas before her Girls Service League dance last fall.

She liked one suggestion about using a T-shirt but took it a step further: She wrote the names of several girls on the shirt with washable markers, added her name in permanent ink, and told her prospective date to wash the shirt to find out who was asking him.

Although many students still go the conventional route, Allie said, it was an “unspoken rule” at her school to be creative, not repeat an idea and not turn down the invitation.

Andy Chen, a Poly senior, came up with his own idea last year to personalize his junior prom invitation to girlfriend Courtney Yang.

Knowing she liked turtles, Andy left gifts of turtle chocolates, a turtle pillow and a turtle key chain for her throughout the day at school; when she returned home, she found a live turtle in a tank with the note: “Will you go to prom with me?”

At Torres High School in East Los Angeles, Andre Jahchan said the asking ritual sometimes becomes a high-stakes competition. “You’re in a race against someone,” he said. “You want to win over the next guy.”

And woe to those who text their question.

Camille, the Van Nuys student, said that gutless way ranks right down there with getting someone else to ask for you.

“I want it to be heartfelt,” she said of an invitation. “I want to know they have the courage to face me and all of my friends.”

That’s what Alex managed to do for Brooke — in front of more than 30 of their friends and onlookers last month on campus. His crew videotaped their routine and entered it into South Pasadena High’s annual winter formal video contest.

They came in third place. But to Brooke, the effort ranked No. 1.

“I nearly fainted,” she said. “I can’t believe anyone would do anything that amazing for me.”

As for the dance invitation — she said yes. The couple plan to attend together Saturday.