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High School Dance
The Sadie Hawkins Dance.
In my khaki pants.
There's nothing better. (Oh, oh, oh!)
The girls ask the guys.
It's always a surprise.
There's nothing better
Baby, do you like my sweater?
Sadie Hawkins Dance, Relient K

The High School Dance, especially on television directed toward a pre-teen audience, shows these teen events at their most watered-down and dated. If it's a theme dance, then everyone will dress up. It's quite possible that some sort of awkward "boy has to ask a girl as his date" scenario will crop up at some point. For extra drama, it can be a Sadie Hawkins dance (named after a character in Lil Abner) where—gasp!—the girl asks the guy out. There will almost always be colourful streamers, a punch bowl full of something orange, and happy-go-lucky kids dancing in the most parentally-approved manner possible to the most generic (and, of course, parent-safe) dance/party music ever.

There's certainly never any bumping or grinding at one of these. However, unless it's a comedy with Middle School-aged kids, it's unlikely to go boys' side/girls' side.

Also, you won't see anybody sitting alone or just standing around and talking with their friends (unless, of course, it's one of the main characters). Literally everybody is dancing and flailing around throughout the dance's entire however-many-hour duration, with nary a hint of exhaustion or sweating.

Since many dances nowadays don't feature refreshments or proper "dates", the High School Dance is often an unintentional example of writers harkening back to the era they grew up in. The Beautiful All Along plots always end at this type of dance. Homecoming/Prom King/Queen is usually a big deal as well, especially with the Alpha Bitch involved. Also, be on the lookout for that shady character who always manages to spike the punch.

If this is a teen movie, the climax has to happen at a big dance.

This trope can be an example of Truth in Television, however, since some real-life high school dances contain elements of this (mostly just with regards to decorations and refreshments). Customs are always evolving, and while Hollywood remains Two Decades Behind, movies made in the 2030s will represent what's going on right now. (Sorry for the delay.)

Compare School Festival, which uses different window dressing but often fills the same storytelling niche in Japanese works.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Revolutionary Girl Utena, Nanami invites Anthy to the dance and tells her she's a candidate for Dance Queen, but it's just a pretext to embarrass her in front of the whole school.

    Films 
  • Mercilessly parodied in Not Another Teen Movie, where the entire cast has a musical number all singing about the coincidence of everyone's respective plotlines all leading up to the big dance.
  • The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance from Back to the Future, or the "rhythmic ceremonial ritual" as Doc calls it. The lack of inappropriate dress and dance is pretty well justified, seeing how the dance takes place in 1955. On the other hand, Lorraine does clandestinely smoke and drink in one scene. (Again, it's 1955.)
  • Appears in 10 Things I Hate About You as the climactic end point. Secrets are revealed, tempers flare, and someone gets punched in the face. Good times.
  • Subverted in, of all places, High School Musical 3, where there is a graduation dance and at least one of the big song and dance numbers relates to picking out the perfect costumes and how much it sucks/is great, only to completely skip actually showing the school dance when Troy decides to visit his love interest halfway across country. Of course this being High School Musical there's still tons of dancing happening all over the place.
  • The plot of Mean Girls is wrapped up at the Prom.
  • Footloose ends with the prom the school is allowed to have after the no dancing law is overturned.
    • Actually the law isn't overturned, they just more the dance outside the city limits so the law becomes irrelevant.
  • In Carrie, the Prom is THE event in the movie.
  • In Jawbreaker, this is where the Humiliation Conga against the Alpha Bitch occurs.
  • Grease takes the trope Up to Eleven with all the expected cliches, including a scheming Alpha Bitch, cheesy decor, and a hoodlum who spikes the punch. Quite unusually (for 1950s or any era), the dance is broadcast live on television, with Vince Fontaine and Johnny Casino & The Gamblers (the Kayfabe identities of Sha Na Na) on hand to entertain. Also unusually for The Fifties, there is some decidedly "dirty dancing" on the floor - and it's implied to be commonplace, because the principal even warns the students not to do any vulgar dances before the show begins (and, of course, everyone ignores her).
  • In The Rose Tattoo, Rosa meets Jack at her high school dance and, misinterpreting her mother's advice, dances too closely with him. (This is only mentioned in the play, but shown in the film.)
  • In American Graffiti, Laurie and Steve turn up at their high school's end-of-the-year dance and are compelled to do a "spotlight" dance with each other, though they are on the verge of breaking up.

    Comic Books 

    Literature 
  • The Winter Formal in Beautiful Creatures. Ends up resembling a much tamer version of Stephen King's Carrie, but the mayhem's not actually Lena's doing.
  • The Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, complete with the "fighting a dragon is easier than asking out a girl" summation. Somewhat justified in that, in Harry's case, he literally does have to go. It's part of his responsibilities as a Triwizard Tournament Guy. The ball does occur in the middle of the novel, rather than at the end, so it ends up creating problems rather than wrapping them up.
  • Most YA novels geared towards girls have this as a plot. Sweet Valley High appears to be the king of this trope.
  • The first Twilight book alone has two! Admittedly, most of the tropes are Averted: Bella doesn't go to the first one at all, even though three different boys ask her (despite it being a Sadie Hawkins-type dance!), and Bella doesn't want to go to her prom either, but Edward surprises her with it anyway.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Brady Bunch: Like many Dom Coms, The Brady Bunch had several episodes depicting either "boy asks girl" situations leading to a dance, or the family preparing for some theme dance:
    • "Brace Yourself": One of the earliest "dance" episodes, with Marcia not wanting to go because she's "ugly, ugly, ugly!" and not because she's a hermit-like girl who kissing reminds one of licking an ashtray or some insensitive classmate cruelly told her as much ... but because she just got braces and is convinced that her date, Alan, won't want to take her now to the sixth-grade dance. It's never implicitly said, but Alan indeed backs out, claiming he's going to visit his sick grandmother out of town; whether this is a "yeah, right" moment is left to the viewer, because nobody investigates the claim. Instead, Mike, Greg and Alice each try to set up Marcia with substitute dates, only for the whole thing to be ruined due to a lack of coordination. Eventually, Alan is able to go to the dance after all, after he too gets his own set of braces!
    • Other episodes involving dances — both school and community event types — include "Getting Davy Jones" (Marcia hastily promises that she can get the ex-Monkee to come to their junior high dance); "Jan, the Only Child" (a country hoedown, where the family practices a square dance); "The Subject Was Noses" (where a certain "Ooh, my nose" event results in Marcia's would-be boyfriend cancelling their dance date); and "Never Too Young" (the family plans to go to a Roaring 20's Party and do the Charleston, but only if Bobby hasn't contracted the mumps from 12-year-old babe Millicent).
  • Family Matters: With several episodes themed around high school dances, the most famous was arguably the one that introduced Steve Urkel to the world. The episode "Laura's First Date" aired December 15, 1989, and was similar to the Brady episode "Brace Yourself," in this case Laura unable to get her crush, Mark, to ask her to the dance; when he doesn't ask her and Laura frets about her predicament, the rest of the family pitches in to find Laura a dance date. It is her father, Carl, who makes the call that will forever change his life (and the course of the series): He calls up Urkel's dad to set up the date.
    • In a crossover with sister show Step by Step early in the latter's run titled "The Dance," Urkel helps tomboyish Al Lambert get over the disappointment of her crush not asking her to a school dance. (Of course, it was that boy's complete loss ... by the end of the series, Al had gotten soooooooooo hot that she was never without a prospective date for the big dance!)
  • Step by Step: In addition to "The Dance," one of several dance-related episodes was "Prom Night," where high school senior J.T. is set up with a junior high girl (by one of his buddies as a pretty immature joke, one that would get him arrested and on the sex offender's registry these days); while Dana is dumped by her hunky date when he decides to get back with his ex-girlfriend. The two step-siblings, who are forever insulting each other and at odds in every other way, are left to share a dance ... and in the process gain a gruding respect and appreciation for one another.
  • iCarly: Although the actual dance is never shown, iSpeed Date revolves around the trio finding a date to the Sadie Hawkins/Girls Choice dance. Carly and Freddie end up slow dancing together after their crappy dates leave.
  • The world of Lizzie McGuire had a lot of school dances like this. In "Come Fly With Me", every student comes to the Rat Pack-themed dance with full hair and wardrobe — with no ladies of questionable dress in sight.
    • In "A Gordo Story", the "boy has to ask a girl as his date" theme is used. Gordo asks a girl he likes to go to the school dance with him, but she turns him down because he is too short.
    • It's a plot point in "Just Friends", too, where Lizzie is nervous about asking Ethan to the Sadie Hawkins dance.
  • In Naturally Sadie, when Sadie was planning the school dance for komodo dragons. The end product was a room festooned in blue-and-white streamers, a refreshments table complete with punch bowl, and dancing so G-rated the teens barely touched hands.
  • Life With Derek makes use of the 'boy has to ask a girl' theme to a tiring extent, resulting in a long-winded "hilarious misunderstanding" about who asked who.
  • All of the Degrassi series have had at least one or two of these per season. There might be drugs or alcohol, but never any sexual subtext. Mostly just relationship drama.
    • And other kinds of drama; the school burned down at one, the police were called to one for a knife incident, a gangbanger shot up the most recent prom. It's been said in the fandom that Degrassi dances are cursed.
  • Neds Declassified School Survival Guide: The "Guide to School Dances" refers to these as "school sanctioned events that kids take dates to" whose sheer purpose is to provide the perfect scenario for a "boy asking out a girl."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • The Freaks and Geeks pilot episode has one of these. Somewhat justified since the episode takes place in 1980 (before popular/controversial forms of dance music like rap took off). It's even lampshaded in the discussion Lindsay and Sam have with their clearly old-fashioned parents, who are pressuring them to go to the homecoming dance even though neither of them really wants to.
  • The Steve Harvey Show has several episodes whose plots center around a homecoming dance, a spring fling, and 2 proms.
  • Gossip Girl has had too many to count.
  • Kyle XY had a high school dance that involved lots of preparation, girls banding together to do each other's makeup, balloons, and, amusingly, Kyle spending the entire night trying to fix problems that kept cropping up before having a genuinely cute moment with his siblings as they all sort out their respective problems. The final dance includes floating.
  • The Love Ball from Skins' third season is this trope gone wild. Naomi And Emily, Thomas And Pandora and even Doug And Harriet all get (back) together by the end of it, although its focus is actually Emily finally standing up to Katie (and shedding her twin skin in the process).
  • The Secret Life of the American Teenager
    • One episode has a bizarre example with a mother/daughter dance that ends with everyone dancing the hora after the guidance counselor makes a speech about the Holocaust and how all the girls need to stop being petty bitches. Seen here at the three and a half minute mark
    • A more typical example is the season four episode "Dancing With The Stars" where the students attend the "Senior Dance", which is essentially prom.
  • There's a very typical example (though it's really a Middle School Dance) in Dårfinkar & dönickar. This is the scene in which crushes and jealousies come to a head, and the events set up the big reveal and the dénouement of the series.
  • Same thing in Eva & Adam, another Swedish kids' TV series. There are several dances, including a school dance at the end where middle-school romantic entanglements are sorted out.
  • My So-Called Life has the "World Happiness Dance" in "Life of Brian". The only two characters who actually dance there are Rickie and Delia. That was a much more realistic example than the others on this list, since at most real High School Dances, there are just as many kids sitting/standing around on the sidelines and talking as there are kids actually dancing.
  • Kamen Rider Fourze had the prom for the graduating class that nearly got ruined by a Zodiarts who was basically a girl who couldn't stand leaving the school.
  • In The George Lopez Show, Carmen has her parents drop her off at her homecoming dance far away from the school building because she is embarrassed by them, and also because the boy who she introduced to them as her boyfriend didn't take her to the dance (because they had a Secret Relationship).
  • House of Anubis- Plays around with this trope a bit as both of the dances have reasons they were watered down and dated. With the prom, that was exactly the way the girls intended it to be- a traditional prom. In season 2's masquerade ball, it is shown that the students setting it up DO want it to be more modern, but as the classic loving principle basically gave the students no choice but to follow his plans, that is the way the dance turned out.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place - Many are talked about, but only one is actually shown in an episode.
  • The Inbetweeners had one at the end of series 1, with Will organising the whole thing. Simon plans to use it as an opportunity to express his feelings for Carli by having Jay stop the music so he can make it as romantic as possible. Of course, he chickens out and Neil takes the heat off him by trying to kiss Ms Timms. It's different from the usual examples in that alcohol is allowed (albeit limited to two drinks per person, though Jay implies that they control the alcohol anyway).
  • On My Name Is Earl, one of these happens at a Prison, because Earl was trying to get a spoiled young inmate to apologize to his parents for a) (accidentally) burning down their house and b) cooking meth in their basement (which is what started the fire in the first place). The inmate in question is one of those Never My Fault types, and only agrees to do a fake apology if Earl will make a prom happen for him because his parents didn't allow him to go. Even after becoming prom king, it still takes Earl literally torching his cell to get him to apologize.

    Music 
  • The Sylvers had a disco song that shares the title of this trope — if you can't figure that out, the song was "High School Dance" (about just that). The song was a Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1977.
  • The Statler Brothers' 1972 country hit "Do You Remember These," a nostalgic look back at the 1950s, includes a lyric about "the Sadie Hawkins dance" (a common high school-dance type, this being a girl-ask-boy event).
  • Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" is about an experience at a high school dance.
  • "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus:
    Man I feel like mould
    It's prom night and I am lonely
    Lo and behold
    She's walking over to me
  • The video to Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" has nerdy, sneaker-wearing blonde Taylor get an upgrade from Unlucky Childhood Friend status at the High School Dance when her love interest realises what a Jerkass his cheating, cheer captain brunette Taylor is. And just in case he had any last minute doubts they're even dress coded for his convenience.
  • XTC's "Life Begins at the Hop".
  • This is the setting of Fall Out Boy's "Dance, Dance"

     Professional Wrestling 
  • The Jackyl called Luna Vachon "The Prom Princess of the World Wrestling Federation" when she, Golga and Wrestling/Giant Silva walked down to the ring for the Oddities' debut on the May 25 (taped May 19), 1998 Raw, adding how her "inner beauty" transcends the attributes of "a Sunny or a Sable."

    Theatre 
  • The premise of the musical Best Foot Forward is the invitation of a movie actress to one of these.

    Web Comics 

    Web Animation 
  • Spoofed on Homestar Runner, in a Strong Bad Email where Strong Bad is asked about his senior prom, and Strong Bad talks about the time he crashed the "Entrapment All Up on the Moon Dance".

    Web Original 
  • The big Halloween dance, complete with costumes, at Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. Although the invasion by dozens of Syndicate dropships and the attempted assassinations make it a bit more messy.
    • There's another one a couple of weeks later, in "Dreams and Awakenings," which goes a bit better. We also get to see what a High School Dance might be like at a Superhero School; flyers with sparklers putting on Blue Angels-style performances and three different conga lines: one on the ground, one on the wall, and one in the air. There's also a "stomp stage," a special mosh pit area for the super-dense types who might otherwise cause earthquakes with their dancing.
  • The Descendants had one of these. On the way there, they had to fight cyborg nerds.
  • In Survival of the Fittest, the lead up to and eventual event of the High School Dance in v4 is ultimately what takes up most of the Pre-Game.
  • Looks to feature prominently in School of Thrones. "We are Starks...and Prom Night is Coming."
  • Several events at Absit Omen, such as the yearly Halloween dance and first-and-second-years-only Valentines Dance. They're more common than in the source material due to the game moving slower than real life and dance threads making a fun get-together for students.

    Western Animation 
  • The first batch of Kim Possible episodes ended at The High School Dance, and featured the long-awaited getting together of protagonists Kim and Ron.
    • Later in the series (after Kim and Ron were well established) there was a complicated episode where the sub-plot was the Alpha Bitch (Bonnie) had rigged the Homecoming vote so she and Ron would be the royalty, which turned into helping her get a boyfriend. The main plot being Señor Senior, Jr. kidnapping a Programmer. Episode turns out that there was no big evil plot and all Señor Senior, Jr. was looking for was a girlfriend, and the episode ends with Bonnie and Jr. dancing at homecoming. Now, this is just plain WEIRD.
  • An episode of The Simpsons involves Lisa being pressured into planning a school dance at the request of some of her classmates. After a brief "oh no, I need a date!" period, she got her courage up, entered the gym — only to be met with boys on one side of the gym and girls on the other. Of course — it's only elementary school, not high school!
  • Family Guy: A running gag in the series involves homely Meg frequently asking a popular jock to a high school dance, only for the boy to come up with some crazy excuse (or in at least one situation, fake his shooting of a 2-year-old brother) so he doesn't have to go with her. One episode — "Barely Legal" — actually saw Meg make it to the prom, bringing a dog (literally ... Brian) as her date.
  • The whole premise behind one of the most infamous X-Men: Evolution episodes: Shadow Dance.
    • That and Nightcrawler accidentally brings a bunch of monsters from another dimension to crash the dance. Hey, it's X-Men.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man, where, after agonizing over who to bring Peter has to go leave Mary Jane in the lurch to fight Green Goblin. What a twist!
    • Mary Jane, unusually, does make the best of it, getting unexpectedly crowned queen and dancing with anyone that takes her fancy.
  • One episode of Danny Phantom had Danny juggling a popular girl as his date (caused by an elaborate trick from her end to break up Danny and Sam with assumptions that they are a couple) and battling a dragon ghost who happens to be the same popular chick via a magical amulet. It's complicated. In the end, he loses her and winds him sharing a platonic dance with Sam. Considering the line "Please promise me you'll keep your pants on" uttered by Sam, is it really platonic?
  • An episode of The Weekenders focused on the group preparing for a school dance (Middle School, but the trope still applies) and their attempts to overcome "Lateral Gravity Syndrome", which invariably pulls boys and girls towards opposite walls for the duration of the dance.
  • No less than three times in Code Lyoko, each with their own set of dating dramas:
    • The 'prom' of "Teddygozilla" — Milly is humiliated by Sissi after being rejected by Ulrich, who is going with Yumi; he makes this right after the Return to the Past, and Yumi goes with Odd.
    • The 'techno party' of "Final Mix" — Aelita is upset that Jérémie refuses to attend; Yumi and Sissi fight for Ulrich's attention.
    • The 'End of Year Dance' in "The Key" — Sissi asks Ulrich, Ulrich accepts to make Yumi (who he thinks is going with William) jealous, Yumi turns down William at the same moment; Odd can't get a date because of his reputation as a KidAnova... and then none of them actually end up going anyway.
      • Notably, this is especially ridiculous when you consider this kind of high school dance is ever rarer in France (where the series takes place) than it is in USA.
  • A Teen Titans episode features one of these, wherein Killer Mother's daughter, Kitty, threatens Jump City with her dad's swarm of giant steel eating moths if Robin doesn't take her to the dance. Note that Robin has never even met this girl, nor does he go to her school; she just wants a famous superhero for a date. Robin's actual Love Interest, Starfire comes along to investigate and cleans up nicely.
  • The series finale of Clone High was a giant two part episode that lampshaded every prom-related trope there is. Word of God said that had the series gone on, it would have revealed that there are dozens of different dances and proms throughout the year, and that the finale just took place during 'winter prom'.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode 'May I Have This Ed,' the Eds, well, go to a school dance. Edd is terrified of going, but Eddy assures him his brother's book on picking up chicks will help! It does, sort of. The end result? Edd gets to dance with Nazz, and the Eds' hijiks end up destroying the gym used for the dance.
  • Daria used the school dance as the "uncool" component in a Party Scheduling Gambit.
  • The Venture Bros. wrapped up their season with one, though it played with it alot:The Prom was homeschool so the only guests were The Boys themeslves, Hank's friend Dermott, Triana as Dean's date(though just as friends) with the rest being Dr.Ventures freinds and paid escorts. The only small bit of teen drama is Dean being jealous of Triana's boyfriend and getting tipsy on punch, causing her to leave. The three boys head out after her and go with Dermott's crazy plan to burn her name on giant straw letters in the lawn while Dean dresses up as a ghost and ends up getting mistaken for a KKK member.
  • Played painfully straight not once but TWICE on Doug. First with the school dance in Doug Can't Dance and then the square dance in Doug's A Big Fat Liar.
  • In My Little Pony Equestria Girls, the importance of the Fall Formal is different from typical applications of this trope. Twilight Sparkle's Cool Crown is mistaken for a prop crown intended for the princess of the dance, and to get it back, Twilight ends up having to compete with Sunset Shimmer, who intends to use the crown's magical properties to invade Equestria. In the end, Twilight wins the title, but Sunset steals the crown from her anyway.
  • Sym-Bionic Titan: Ilana decides to set up Sherman High's dance in to resemble her home planet's festival in "Under the Three Moons." She, Lance and Newton pair up with Jason, Maribel and Kimmy respectively, buy dress, clothes, etc. Unfortunately, the three of them have to bail out on their dates to fight a Mutraddi. Kimmy becomes incredibly upset with Newton and breaks up with him.
  • Parodied on Adventure Time, when Lumpy Space Princess freaks out that she almost forgot about her school's "weekly prom-coming" in "Trouble in Lumpy Space".
  • King of the Hill has a few. "Love Hurts and So Does Art" has Bobby developing gout, which proves a convenient excuse for having cold feet in asking Connie to the junior prom. He ends up going anyway. "Kidney Boy and Hamster Girl" shows them invited to a high school prom after posing as teenagers. "Luanne Gets Lucky" has Luanne attending a high school prom with an awkward teenager, mostly to spite Lucky (who prefers stumping with friends to taking her on a date). Lucky's friends try to crash the prom, but are foiled by Lucky himself, who shares a dance with Luanne.

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