Last Dance

For kids and communities across America, prom night is both a rite of passage and a sign of the times

Gillian Laub for TIME

San Luis High School. San Luis, Ariz.

The word prom first appeared in 1894 in the journal of an Amherst College student on his way to a dance at Smith College. But it took root as a high school tradition: before the ritual parting of graduation, one last, fleeting night of fun. "I mean, where else do you get to wear a fancy dress and dance for four hours?" says Norah Owings, a senior at Elkton High School in Elkton, Ore.

These days, getting ready for prom plays as big a role as the dance itself, and it plays out to big business. A survey published this spring...

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