The name the Mid-Semi Winter-Formal, wait… the Mid-Winter Semi-Formal, has undergone many changes throughout Blair’s history. But it all started with the literary contest and the Contest Prom. But you have never heard of those. (Losers.)
This tale began eighty years ago right here at our very own Blair Academy. Between 1924 and 1932, the fuddy-duddy townsmen would observe a fascinating phenomenon every winter: while other places were slowly withering in the dry, weary cold, this town was miraculously having a blast. It all began with a zestful cry shouted across our fair campus, back then an all-male prep school: “Girls! Actual girls!”
Real– oh yes– real girls flocked to campus each February to attend the two day “Contest Prom.” Some were students’ girlfriends and siblings, and many traveled from nearby prep school, Centenary Collegiate Institute (now Centenary College), to participate in the biggest social event of the year.
The dance was part of “Contest Season,” which originated as a contest between the Blair Greek literary societies (there were two!) on the subjects of declamation, essay, debate and oration. Local intellectuals were also invited to participate and alumni returned as spectators. The event eventually grew to also involve athletic competitions including wrestling, basketball, hockey and swimming.
Here are a few quotes on the Contest Season that were published in the Blair Breeze in the 1920s:
“The town will be full of pretty girls; two hundred and sixty fellows will be experiencing
the time of their lives, while the other ten will be experiencing something bordering on
“Contest means to every Blair Boy a certain something that is hard to define, and, to
outsiders, impossible to understand.”
“There will be the dance, and it will be a good one. SHE will be here, who will make the dance and the whole occasion just that much more enjoyable.”
For some boys, Contest Season was about literature, for others sports. For many it was about love, sometimes requited, and for others not, hence the casting oneself face down on the ground in humility, submission, or adoration over the rare sighting of a girl.
These girls had one amazing accessory we’re lacking today: the dance card (programme du bal).
Every girl would receive one of these cards to write down the names of boys with whom she intended to dance.
If the social rules or the omnipresent teacher chaperones we have now seem aggravating, keep in mind that back in 1935, the rules looked like this:
“…all young ladies must be chaperoned”
“…no couple without an invitation from Dr. Breed’s office will be admitted to the gym”
“…couples are not allowed to leave the gym”
Sounds archaic right? We don’t have Mr. Fortunato checking if all the ladies are of appropriately high status, Mrs. Stival won’t be swaying over your shoulder during slow dances, making sure there’s room for Jesus, and the dance isn’t in the gym.
The rules were even too much for girls back then. Annette McCabe, one of the girls who came to the Contest Prom in 1949, told the Breeze reporters:
“Chaperones! Ta-boo! Otherwise [the dance] is perfect.”
Another complaint from one of the girls named Doris Faulks was:
“I dislike all the doors being the same in Locke.”
So… some things never change…?
Good thing nowadays the rules are more flexible on dating options and chaperones. Though we were sad to see the catchy name Sadie go, we are grateful not to have to worry so much about heteronormativity and gender norms. The only thing we have to worry about is the awkward cocktail party in Sharpe House and the constant photo taking.
Today, Blair no longer hosts the literary contest nor the Contest Prom. However, the winter dance tradition lives on. Have a grand ol’ time on Saturday! Go Bucs.
(Copyright 2018 Chris Liu. Thank you Ms. Skeffington for providing all the information regarding the Contest Prom)