Jessica Simon won't be going to Mesquite High School's junior-senior prom on May 3 at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa. She says she wouldn't be comfortable with the music lyrics, the way some teens dance, and the revealing gowns girls wear.
So she and her date are headed tonight to the Latter-day Saints Prom at a church gym in downtown Mesa where they'll willingly adhere to spelled-out, no-nonsense rules.
"You don't have to worry about what you are listening to," said the 17-year-old junior from the Gilbert school who will join more than 200 teens for the alternative prom open to any Valley high school students ages 16-18. The event is sponsored by the Greenfield and Stapley stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and just $5 per person will be charged at the door for entry, food and photos.
"We will enforce a strict dress code, unlike most high school proms," said John Sachs, a youth leader for the Stapley Stake.
For girls, the event's Web site www.ldsprom.net states, "modest formal dress, very modest neckline, shoulders and backs are covered, no hemlines or slits above the knee." For guys, tuxedos or Sunday suits and ties are required, along with neatly trimmed hair "above the bottom of the collar and out of the eyes, no facial hair, no chains, no hats, no tattoos, no earrings."
"Dancing permitted will not include the kinds of suggestive dancing that I have witnessed at my school dances," Sachs said. A disc jockey will play music "that has been previewed and approved for our youth to listen and dance to."
The prom, whose theme is "A Moment Like This," is 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the gym of a church chapel, 15 W. First Ave., Mesa, and is open to upperclassmen from any high school regardless of religious affiliation.
It's the second year for the prom targeted especially to upperclassmen in the Gilbert Unified School District. "We did it last year as an experiment," said Beverly Bentley, Greenfield Stake young women's president. "The success was overwhelming."
"We don't exclude anybody," she said. "Anybody and everybody is welcome. We have standards to abide by, and as long as they are willing to abide by those standards. ..."
"It is cleaner music, and there is not, like, dirty dancing," said Mesquite senior DaLynn Brown. "It's a cleaner, funner atmosphere to be in."
Brown, who helped plan the LDS Prom, said she went to a winter formal dance and found things "disgusting and dirty. You shouldn't be doing that at a school dance, I don't think." High school guys, she said, are astonished by the $5 tickets.
Most of the students will be coming from Mesquite, Gilbert and Highland high schools, said Simon, who attended the first one last year.
"It was really, really cool," she said. The decorations, music and food, provided by a church stake, made it special. "It was nice because we didn't have to worry about bad music or worry about people being immodest - the immodest clothes," Simon explained. "We could just have good fun."
"At school dances, we kind of keep to ourselves," she said.
Often, the teen added, "you can't feel very comfortable because you know people are dancing inappropriately, and I don't feel comfortable dancing."
Sachs said students took the initiative to have an alternative prom because of what they witnessed at dances.
"That is just not the standards that the youth live by," Sachs said. "So they said let's have our own."
The LDS Prom has been organized by a stake youth council with support from adult advisers. Nearly 40 adult chaperones and three off-duty police officers will be on hand. "Individuals will be asked to leave the premises if behavior is not within acceptable guidelines," Sachs said.
Sachs said last year's LDS Prom was held the same night as Mesquite's junior-senior prom "and created a little friction" with a school adviser. "They hated us having one at the same time they did and drawing away from the number of people who would attend the school prom," he said.
But Sachs said the controversy gave him the chance to explain what is objectionable.
"We changed the date because they were saying, 'You are taking away a lot of kids who would like to come' to the school prom," Simon said, adding that the $5 cost is a gift compared to $70 per couple and $40 for pictures at the school's prom. "That can get very expensive, and here you can have a lot of fun," she said.
Efforts to reach a Gilbert district spokesman Friday were unsuccessful.
At the first LDS Prom, "we turned some kids away," Sachs said. "Some girls came in dresses that were too revealing - spaghetti straps, low-cut in front." Just as hosts did last year, they will again have some jackets and wraps available to wear for girls who may be pushing the limits.
"It is hard to find a prom dress that is modest," Bentley said. "We don't want to turn anyone away," so loaning such cover can let them stay.
Even with the contrasts between the two proms, Sachs estimates half of the students coming to the church prom will also go to their school proms.
Simon said she won't be among them.