Prom Night is a milestone event in any young person’s life. A night to get dressed up, have a fancy dinner, and dance with your friends. A prom is capable of transporting young people out of the routine of their daily lives and into a special night that seems radiant—as if anything could happen. It’s a kind of magic that most people only witness as a teenager, but on the evening of June 18, 2015, I was fortunate enough to witness it a second time in my life.
I was invited to attend No Worries Now’s Prom event at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Hollywood, California. Amidst the bright lights and meandering tourists of Hollywood Boulevard, a red carpet had been laid out for over 200 very important guests—this unique prom is thrown for teens with life-threatening and terminal illnesses who might not live long enough to attend their own proms.
“This is the one night of the year where the kids can just be kids,” Marta Belcher, the Executive Director of No Worries Now explained to me. “They can escape their treatment schedules, [wear ball gowns instead of hospital gowns], and they can be with people who understand what they’re going through and won’t judge them. They can be a part of a community.”
The program was founded in 2006 by (then 15-year-old) Fred Scarf, inspired by Fred’s friendship with a young girl named Shiri Gumbiner, who had lost her battle with osteosarcoma at the age of 16—a few years shy of attending her own prom. Tiffany Brown, founder of WOW! Special Events, volunteered their organization to sponsor the first No Worries Now prom in 2007, an annual tradition that has grown over the last eight years.
As a guest at the event, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of these nervous and excited teenagers, giggling and absent-mindedly bobbing to the music with their friends. I knew that I couldn’t even begin to understand what these kids had been through (and are still going through), but tonight, none of that mattered. Tonight, everyone looked beautiful in their suits and gowns, and whatever nightmares they had to deal with on every other day of their lives had vanished for the moment. These kids were here now… and they were ready to dance.
As Marta would later describe, “You can really see the worries that they carry around with them for years, months, days… you can see it melt away on the dance floor.” There is something about dancing that inherently brings all of us to the present moment—that beckons us to move to a rhythm and beat without even thinking about it. Under disco balls and multi-colored lights, I felt an amazing sense of freedom on the dance floor, and I cannot describe the infectious energy of the moments I witnessed: the entire room dancing the Cuban Shuffle “To the left, to the left.” A young girl recognizing the opening notes to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and turning to her friend with a reaction that screamed, “THIS IS OUR SONG!” as they jumped up and down together. A shy hug and kiss on the cheek—what would a prom dance be without young love.
Later in the night, I chatted with one of the guests, a 16-year-old boy named Nathan Newman, as his date smiled on at him. When asked what it meant to him to be able to dance, Nathan replied, “It makes me feel like a normal teenage boy. That’s all I have to say. Dance at my prom—that’s all I ever wanted to do and that’s what I’m getting to do tonight.”
I asked Nathan if the night had been everything he had expected, and he exclaimed, “It was more than I expected it to be!” and both Nathan and his date’s faces lit up with excitement as they described their limo ride, posing with the celebrity wax figures, walking the red carpet, and taking endless photos to document the night.
I know this is an old cliché about Prom, but this was a night I will truly never forget.
— Jamie Lew