It’s not just any prom: it’s Promdemonium, “Ottawa’s radical, community-oriented, gender-bending, bike-loving, enviro-humping, queer-diggin’, slow dancing, big-dress prom that you never had.”
It’s a night where peeps don powder-blue suits, vintage ball gowns, gothic wear, traditional black tuxedos, flowing cocktail dresses or whatever takes their fancy.
Ottawa’s funky formal affair attracts an eclectic bunch from all walks of life: social justice types, environmentalists, gung-ho cyclists, radical queers and ordinary professionals. It started in 2008 and was inspired by Vancouver’s wildly successful People’s Prom.
Tara Lyons, social justice diva and one of the Promdemonium organizers, sums it up: “It is a fun party, but at its heart it is also a social-justice and creative fundraiser for groups and people who would otherwise have problems getting money,” she says.
This year the money will be split evenly between POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate Resist), Books 2 Prisoners Ottawa, The Leveller, Organizing for Justice, and Unconditional Love, Unconditional Choice – Reproductive Justice Organizing Retreat.
Matthew Pearson is an enthusiastic prom-goer and part of the organizing team. “For me the great draw is that we are raising money for these groups, but the feedback that I hear from others is that it is actually the night where you feel like anyone and everyone can come together,” says Pearson.
For the past two years Promdemonium has been held at St Brigid’s Centre for the Arts and Humanities. This year it’s moving uptown, upscale and into the National Arts Centre. The decision to move was guided by the desire to make the event wheelchair accessible – and having a spot overlooking the canal adds a certain panache.
Promdemonium is a political space; there are no security checks, gender-neutral bathrooms are available and sexy chaperones with yardsticks feel the vibe and monitor the slowdancing.
“It’s a really safe space,” says Pearson. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; everyone at prom is there to have a good time, and I think it has shown in the fact that we have had big sell-out crowds every year.”
Both Pearson and Lyons love the prom vibe. For Pearson it is about watching people arrive, feeling the energy build and enjoying the day after, when he can check out Craiglist’s missed connections and read about star-crossed lovers.
For Lyons, it is about fundraising, having a blast and dressing up. “My favourite part is raising money for the groups, but also it is one of the only times in a year that I wear a dress – which for me is like drag almost,” she says.
In keeping with the prom’s “enviro-humping” mandate, the decorating committee have let their fingers do the walking – and tearing – through the yellow pages. With the theme “recycled and up-cycled,” the pages and pages torn from the discarded yellow books are the perfect touch.
Promdemonium is Ottawa’s funkiest formal, an event not to be missed. And, as Pearson says, it is “at the heart of the events in the city and of the spring.”